100 POTOHAR WATER SCHEMES

THE ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK IS PROVIDING $75 MILLION LOAN FOR WATER SCHEMES IN POTOHAR REGION

M.R. CHAUDHRY
Mar 31 - Apr 06, 2008

Water is a vital source of life. There are many different reasons to turn to water harvesting especially in rain-fed areas. Rain-water is free gift from nature but it is allowed to go waste for want of improper will and skill, otherwise rain water can be usefully used for so many domestic and commercial uses and can prove a real blessing for agriculturists.

History tells that before the advent of canal irrigation system in Punjab in the British rule, most of the population, whose mainstay was agriculture, had concentrated in the rain-fed (Barani) regions, the Potohar plateau and the upper Indus plain, where annual rain-all was more than 20 inches, which at that time was considered sufficient to grow enough food-grains to feed the local populace.

Although things have largely changed since then, irrigation in the mountainous region of Pakistan in Potohar plateau is still rain-fed. In the meantime the population has increased manifold. Several indigenous methods have been evolved and adopted in the mountainous areas including construction of water reservoirs to collect hill torrents for agriculture in southern areas of N.W.F.P. and a similar system is being practiced in Balochistan, evolved several decades ago to overcome water shortages. Moreover, small isolated communities living in mountainous areas have developed and adopted innovative and novel techniques to conserve rain-water for household and agriculture purposes.

Among these two systems, which are popular, are briefly described below:

1) The Diversion System, whereby a long channel diverts flood-water/torrents water to farms and plantation areas adjacent to the valleys. 2) The second is dam system, which has proven more effective and useful. Under the dam system, a large reservoir is filled with flood or rain-water. Then the reservoir water is pumped through pipes to many sprinklers installed for sprinkling this water onto crops.

For water-harvesting for households/domestic use, the following approach is practiced:

The community approach, in which communities living in mountainous and Barani regions collect rain-water in large reservoirs, which are located inside or adjacent to villages. These reservoirs are either in the form of open ponds or underground concrete tanks, which are meant to preserve water for long times depending upon their size. Households also practice different techniques for harvesting and storing water.

ADB'S LOAN FOR WATER SCHEMES IN POTOHAR PLATEAU

The Asian Development Bank is providing a loan of $75 million for the construction of several multipurpose dams, canals and schemes for supply of drinking water across the Potohar plateau near Islamabad and for irrigation in agriculture. The plateau has an area of 12,944 square kilometres with an elevation of 300 to 600 meters. It is bounded on the east by the Jhelum River, on the west by the Indus River, on the north by the Kala Chitta Range and Margalla hills and on the south by the Salt Range.

Because of low rain-fall, extensive deforestation, coal mining and oil and gas exploration, the valley has become devoid of vegetation. The project would supply irrigation water to 11500 hectares of agricultural land that has hitherto been relying on irregular and unpredictable rain-falls. Besides other benefits, the project will facilitate improving livelihood of 22,000 farming households in the region. This will help stopping migration of the local population to cities and towns for their livelihood and other facilities, which pose a bad impact on the civic amenities of the urban population already living there.

The importance of the project can be well gauged from the simple fact that unless water supply is properly and adequately maintained during crop seasons, farming in the Barani areas cannot give better yields rather crops fail in case there is a drought, with the result that cost incurred on seeds, tillage and other inputs almost go waste. Agriculture has throughout been a traditional source of livelihood in the Potohar region and the crop yield has been much less than in canal irrigated areas. It is, however, optimistically hoped that the project being funded by ADB will increase the yield of crops and livestock productivity, which will result in the increase of household income provided the project is implemented proficiently, keeping in view all the requisite pros and cons to make it a complete success.

Tracing back the history of inefficiency of dams in Potohar areas, we note that the construction of small/mini dams started in the region in 1960's but these dams did not prove as beneficial as they were expected to be. The reasons attributed to this setback were largely the lack of participation of local communities in the development and upkeep of these dams. Moreover, the farmers were not provided with financial and technical support, which was direly needed by these resource-scarce, uneducated and non-technical farmers to switch over from rain-fed irrigation to canal irrigation farming to better their fortunes. Lack of awareness is no doubt a major impediment in the required attitude for development. Then there was an acute lack of water-shed management, which resulted in great sedimentation in water reservoirs, which do not seem to have been addressed.

PLUS POINTS IN THE NEW ADB PROJECT:

Holistic approach is being used this time in the ADB project, which will at the same time address issues of upstream watershed management and the downstream irrigated areas. Out of the total loan of $75 million, $20 million will be on concession-al low interest rates and the remaining $55 million will be provided by the Bank from ordinary capital resources under the Bank's labour-based lending facility.

It is strongly urged that the loan, which ADB is going to advance for the construction of various water schemes in Potohar region is properly and judiciously utilized so that the farming communities, households and poverty stricken people inhibiting the region could derive maximum benefit from it.

It has also been viewed by experts with concern that non-availability of information about indigenous practices is a big obstruction in the communities' acceptance, adoption and replication of these technologies on a large scale. A comprehensive and consistent awareness programme needs to be launched through print and electronic media as well as through Agriculture Extension department to educate and motivate the communities for their appreciation and participation in these technologies to solve the problem of water scarcity in the country and to boost agriculture and economy of the country.