AGRICULTURE IS LINKED WITH WATER DEVELOPMENT IN BALOCHISTAN

BY SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
Sep 17 - 23, 2007

Balochistan is the largest province of the country, yet it is a water-starved region. Agriculture development is linked with the development of water resources in the province. Only about 2 per cent of the total area of Balochistan is cultivated due to scarcity of water. Approximately 11.77 million acres of land in the province is still lying arid, barren and uncultivated. Out of the total land area of 34.7million hectares, 18.6 million hectares have been reported. Out of this, only 4.6 per cent i.e.1.6 million hectares is cultivated and the remaining is classified as wrangled with negligible area under forest.

The culturable waste in the province must be brought under cultivation through water resource development. Agriculture in the province with respect to source of water may be classified as canal irrigated, Karezat irrigated, tubewell irrigated and rainfed or barani agriculture. Except Naseerabad district, there is no perennial system of irrigation in Balochistan. It depends on rain, Karezat and tube-wells for irrigation.

The 9th five year plan for Balochistan describes total water potential of the province as 12.2 million acre feet (MAF) originating from the following sources: -

1- Inland and coastal streams = 5 MAF (41%)
2- Indus assured supplies = 3.9 MAF (32%)
3- Flood supplies = 2.5 MAF (20%)
4- Groundwater = 0.8 MAF (7%)

The most important use of water is for irrigation purposes in Balochistan. The extent of cropped areas with different types of irrigation is as follows:

Indus system: 285,300 hectares
Canal diversions: 60,160 hectares
Karez and springs: 44,700 hectares
Open wells: 17,430 hectares
Tube wells: 121,140 hectares.
Total: 529,180 hectares

Balochistan is a water-starved province. The groundwater tables are on decline due to mismanagement of water resource in the province. Besides streams, other sources are at the risk of over exploitation Water scarcity has been instrumental in weakening and destroying the agriculture. The persistently existing drought-like situation calls for developing the province's own water resources to avoid the disasters resulting from the calamity. According to an estimate approximately 1186 underground water channels had been identified as "dried up" during the recent droughty spell in the province. The drought from 2000 onwards not only affected the whole agricultural system but also the water table become low and karez almost totally dried up.

Naseerabad is the only canal irrigated district of Balochistan that receives water from the tail end of the Indus River system at the time of sowing cotton and paddy. The long term water management program in Balochistan will meet a long felt need of the province for adequate quantity of water for agriculture, especially the expanding acreage of fruit orchards. Federal Government has embarked on an ambitious plan for the construction of concrete water courses throughout the province. According to this plan Rs 5 billion would be spent in Balochistan for the construction of pucca watercourses to help irrigated orchards of more than 500,000 acres.

For tackling the water shortage problem in the province, the government must carry out the lining of open channels and steps should be taken to control the evaporation from water surface in reservoirs and canals. There is an urgent need to promote drip irrigation system in the province.

Central Development Working Party (CDWP) recently approved a Rs1.5 billion project to develop irrigation system in five districts of Balochistan including Quetta, Pishin, Killa Abdullah, Mastung and Kalat districts. The project will help in the development of agriculture in the area and alleviate poverty through improvement of water management. It would help improve small-scale irrigation schemes through lining of 15 existing channels and improvement of the traditional underground Karez storage ponds and rehabilitation of structures in flood protection schemes

Persistent drought conditions in the province had a severe impact on the livelihood pattern of local people, mainly because of drying up of irrigation and potable water resources, degradation of forests and rangelands and reduction in agriculture production. The key strategic choice made in the project is to formulate it as a part of a long-term framework (12-15 years) which would allow it to enforce and support adoption of basin approach for sustainable planning, development and management of water resources for agriculture. The project has been divided into three components:1) Partial restoration of water storage capacity of Khushdil Khan protective embankment by raising its level by 2.2 metres; 2) Remodelling of its spillway; 3) Constructing another protective embankment and repairing the headworks and outlet channel.

Karezes as traditional system of tapping groundwater for irrigation is practiced in Balochistan for centuries. The system is unique, as it needs no energy to pump groundwater being flowing under gravity. Over the years, however, the system has come under great stress, because of the commissioning of a large number of deep tubewells in the valleys. These tubewells have been instrumental in causing ground water mining and lowering of the water table. The Government of Balochistan has imposed a strict ban on the installation of tubewells in certain areas such as Quetta, Mastung, Mangochar, and Pishin.

Balochistan enjoys diversity in topography and geology and therefore it is rich in groundwater resources offering best projects for developing groundwater. Expansion of agriculture and other economic activities in the province will require tapping of groundwater potential of the province. The recent estimates of the availability and use of groundwater indicate that this resource has been heavily overexploited affecting both the quality and quantity of the groundwater. What is needed is to initiate groundwater investigations on scientific lines in the province.

TABLE

COMPARISON, AREA IRRIGATED BY DIFFERENT SOURCES OF IRRIGATION

Area: (000) HECTARES

SOURCES

YEARS 2000-01

1990-91

PERCENTAGE INCREASE
/DECREASE

By Canal

489811

442830

10.6

By tub-wells

229824

141570

62.3

By wells

20454

11165

83.2

By karezes, spring and others

84927

47830

77.6

TOTAL

825016

643395

28.2

Source: Agriculture statistics 2002