CHAGAI - Lack of short and long-term planning is resulting in fast depletion of already scarce water resources in Pakistan in general and in the largest province Balochistan in particular.

Besides not taking any measures to conserve rainwater for agriculture or recharging purposes, government is acting as silent spectator on excessive pumping of underground water, meaning that the situation will only go from bad to worse in the days to come.

Though the situation is not good in the country, it is really alarming in Balochistan, particularly in the difficult terrain of largest district Chagai bordering with Afghanistan and Iran where droughts and earthquakes are regular feature.

About few decades back, Balochistan had flowing streams, karez and underground wells which were sufficient to cater to the needs of local people. But now, lack of rain and over exploitation of available resources has dried up the streams and karez.

According to reports, 62 percent of Balochistan is deprived of safe drinking water and more than 58 percent of its land is uncultivable due to water scarcity. Women have to walk miles on daily basis to fetch one container of water to meet family requirements. Sometimes pond water becomes extremely brackish, causing many water-borne diseases.

Govt acting as silent spectator on excessive pumping of underground water

Many countries are adopting measures to conserve and prudently utilize scarce water resources. Unfortunately, Pakistan has neither constructed large dams, nor built water reservoirs. Moreover, even small interventions costing little to the government kitty could transform lives of people residing in far flung areas in Chagai.

Some organizations have tried to help the local residents by encouraging use of drought-resilient seeds and water-efficient irrigation system like drip irrigation and tunnel farming that helped improving crops yield but the problem required long term planning and stringent measures.

There is need of raising public awareness about water discipline and better water management practices.

“Severe drought has caused a serious blow to agriculture and livestock, leading to migration. Poverty, unemployment, harsh weather conditions, scattered population in far flung areas and lack of education and awareness are major problems of Balochistan especially Chagai district”, said Zahoor Shah, Deputy Director Agriculture Chagai district.

Referring to the working of his department, he said that scattered population in far flung areas was a challenge. “There is need of helping growers by introducing drought resistant crops and promoting efficient irrigation methods and practices,” he said, adding, assistance of organisations like Islamic Relief was a good omen.

“Chagai is vulnerable and facing all types of disasters-earthquake, flood, drought and cyclone. Prolonged drought spells have badly affected rainwater dependant agriculture and livestock. We have introduced small but effective interventions that helped improving life of people in far flung areas,” said Muhammad Essa Tahir, Program Manager Balochistan, Islamic Relief, an international NGO working on social uplift and economic empowerment in several countries.

“We have successfully completed several projects and are carrying out a number of others for improving life of marginalized people in far flung areas of Balochistan”, he said, adding, Drought Resilient Agriculture Modeling-DRAM was a classic example that had so far achieved desired results.

“Advocacy and awareness for growers, green tunnel farming, kitchen gardening, horticulture promotion grant for developing orchards, business start-up grant, drought resistant crop varieties promotion and provision of solar dryers for food processing are part of the project. Under the same projects, growers have been helped in installing drip irrigation system. Water ponds, channels and reservoirs have been constructed for efficient irrigation and groundwater recharge,” said Ali Dost Baloch, Program Manager of IR for Chagai and Noshaki districts.

“Prior to adopting tunnel farming for growing vegetables, I was making it difficult to make both ends meet. IR has helped construction of cemented channel and provided guidance for tunnel farming. Now I earn sufficient amount by selling vegetables in the nearby market”, said Ali Dost, a small farmer in a village in Amri union council bordering Afghanistan.

Shehbaz Khan, resident of the same locality, appreciated construction of a small dam that helped recharging the groundwater level.

Aman Ullah, a resident of small village of Chilghazi union council in Dalbandin tehsil, was all praise for the intervention of provision of solar dryers for preserving vegetables.

“People in 12 villages are benefitting from these dryers placed at the office of community organization. During the off season, these preserved vegetables are sold at a store in Dalbandin city,” he said, adding, surplus vegetables were usually fed to the animals or gone waste. “Now, we can preserve vegetables that can be used at a later stage. In addition to that, these vegetables can be sold in the city during off season,” he said.