Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday officially inaugurated Salma Dam – the multi-million dollar hydroelectric project – in Herat.
The dam was built and funded by India at a cost of $300 million USD.
Located in the Chesth-e-Sharif district, the hydroelectric project, which is on the Hari Rud river, is expected to benefit hundreds of thousands of families in four districts of the province, by providing them with electricity and irrigation water.
Experts meanwhile stand firm that if government undertakes such big hydro-electric dam construction projects, they will not only benefit the country economically but will also help create jobs for the people.
The dam, which is 20 km in length and three kilometers in width, has a water storage capacity of 640 million cubic meters. This will be utilized to generate 43 megawatts of electricity for 40,000 families and will irrigate 80,000 hectares of farmland, belonging to 50,000 families.
In welcoming Modi to the ceremony in Herat on Saturday, Ghani voiced his “profound gratitude to you, to the compassionate people and competent government of India.”
He said that with India’s help, a dream stretching back 40 years was realized on Saturday.
He went on to thank India for completing the Salma Dam, also known as the Friendship Dam, and praised security forces for ensuring security.
“Afghanistan and India have a long and continued relations and today millions of ties bind our nations together,” he said.
He said Herat is the cradle of culture, knowledge, wisdom and civilization and that the “assistance of people and government of India in constructing this splendid dam restitutes the ancient ties” of the two countries.
“We can partake in spreading hope, light and sincerity, not fear, intimidation and ignorance,” he said.
“We are immensely thankful to India for presenting a new model whose essence is constructiveness, cooperation and participation. Today the name of India in our country and region brings back sweet, historic and cherished memories.”
Ghani stated that in addition, India has completed over 200 other small and big projects for Afghanistan and that through scholarship assistance by India, over 17,000 Afghan youth were able to acquire an education.
He said that with the inauguration of the Afghan-Indian Friendship Dam, the first generation of large Indian assisted projects is completed.
“Our hope is to see at the right moment the launch of the second generation of such large and sustainable projects.”
“Afghanistan will not be stopped here. We are determined to move forward despite the challenges and difficulties,” he said.
He also said however that he wants to “give the good news to my people that the Afghan-Indian Friendship Dam is prologue to construction of many dams”.
Directly following Ghani’s speech, the two leaders together hit the button to kickstart the giant turbines at the Salma Dam. Immediately, the sluice gates opened and water started flowing. At the same time, workers at the dam released colorful balloons into the air in celebration of the historic moment.
Addressing guests at the event following the start of the hydroelectric project, Modi said was humbled by the generosity of Afghans and that this moment had been a very emotional one not only for Afghans but also for Indians.
Modi said the project will not only supply water to 560 villages in Herat but it will also provide electricity to 250,000 homes in the province.
Modi said Afghans envisioned the project in 1970 but war and conflict not only damaged the country but also damaged a generation.
But he said that war will not stop the dreams of Afghans from happening.
He went on to say that Afghans have chosen the way of peace and negotiation with those who have tried to destabilize the country with the support of others.
He said that his country’s support will not be limited to Kabul, Kandahar & Herat in future but it will be expanded to include entire country.
He did however call on Afghans to live together in peace; saying that the division among them will benefit others.
Modi said Afghanistan’s success is the hope of every Indian. “We want your improvement in economy, security and other sectors.”
He added that “we see others doubt in your future but your will is strong and you will reach your dreams”.
The dam was originally built in western Herat province in 1976 before being damaged during the civil wars of the 1990s but has now been rebuilt by some 1,500 Indian and Afghan engineers. In 2006, India committed to funding the completion of the Salma Dam.
India has poured more than $1 billion into Afghanistan reconstruction projects and humanitarian aid, making it one of the largest donors to the war-torn country.
A new parliament building in Kabul and major power line and road construction have been among the main projects funded by India.