ISLAMABAD  -  The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Board of Directors has approved a $100 million loan to address chronic water shortages and increase earnings on farms in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and poorest province.

The Balochistan Water Resources Development Sector Project will focus on improving irrigation infrastructure and water resource management in the Zhob and Mula river basins.

Agriculture accounts for almost two-thirds of Balochistan’s economic output and employs 60% of the province’s 13 million population, but frequent drought and poor water management has put the industry, and those who rely on it, at risk. Poverty rates in the province are almost double the national average.

“Agriculture is the backbone of Bolochistan’s economy,” said ADB Principal Water Resources Specialist Yaozhou Zhou. “This project will build irrigation channels and dams, and introduce efficient water usage systems and practices, to help farmers increase food production and make more money.”

Among the infrastructure that will be upgraded or built for the project is a dam able to hold 36 million cubic meters of water; 276 kilometers of irrigation channels and drainage canals; and facilities that will make it easier for people, especially women, to access water for domestic use. In total, about 16,592 hectares (ha) of land will be added or improved for irrigation.

The project will protect watersheds through extensive land and water conservation efforts, including planting trees and other measures on 4,145 ha of barren land to combat soil erosion. Part of the project’s outputs are the pilot testing of technologies like solar-powered drip irrigation systems on 130 ha of agricultural land, improving crop yields and water usage on 160 fruit and vegetable farms, and demonstrating high-value agriculture development. The project will also establish a water resources information system that will use high-level technology such as satellite and remote sensing to do river basin modelling and identify degraded land for rehabilitation.

ADB will also administer grants from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (JFPR) and the High-Level Technology Fund (HLT Fund) worth $3 million and $2 million, respectively, for the project. JFPR, established in May 2000, provides grants for ADB projects supporting poverty reduction and social development efforts, while the HLT Fund, established in April 2017, earmarks grant financing to promote technology and innovative solutions in ADB projects. A separate $2 million technical assistance from JFPR will help Balochistan’s provincial government improve its institutional capacity to address the risks and potential impact of climate change in the agriculture sector, as well as build a climate-resilient and sustainable water resources management mechanism in the province.

Meanwhile, Werner Liepach, director general for Central & West Asia Department (CWRD) ADB, has said that ADB is committed to continue its support to the deprived segments of the society in Pakistan, through the platform of BISP.

He expressed these views during a meeting with Secretary BISP here at BISP Head quarter. The meeting was attended by country representatives of ADB and director generals from the BISP HQs. ADB has allocated $300 million specifically for BISP, under its Country Operations Business Plan (COBP) for Pakistan, for the next three years from 2019-2021. This funding will be used for up-scaling of the ongoing programs and launching of new BISP initiatives, especially targeted towards poverty alleviation and gender empowerment. ADB is exclusively focusing on the BISP graduation model and has assured full financial support for its implementation. The pilot phase of ADB financed programme for graduating of BISP beneficiaries out of the poverty has already been initiated and based on its success, a full scaled project will be launched for the BISP beneficiaries across the country.

Werner also assured that the portfolio review of the ADB financed projects of BISP would be accelerated to enable preparation for the upcoming projects.

Werner Liepach stated that the newly elected government of Pakistan has much more emphasis on social sector initiatives and is more inclined towards executing social sector initiatives through indigenous funding or soft grant options. ADB appreciates this approach and is strongly committed for future mutual cooperation keeping in view the GOP priorities by offering concessional funding, Werner further stated.

Secretary BISP Omar Hamid Khan welcomed the support exhibited by ADB for BISP programs and stated that ADB has a pivotal role in supporting women empowerment and poverty reduction in the country. He added that BISP engagement history with ADB reflects harmony in mutual understanding of both the organisations. Reciprocating Werner’s commitment for support, secretary BISP ensured full cooperation in timely and efficient execution of all future programs and initiatives.