MANAGING THE SCARCE WATER RESOURCES IN BALOCHISTAN

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
July 07 - 13, 2008

Balochistan is a water-starved province. The groundwater tables are on decline due to mismanagement of water resource in the province. Most important use of water is for irrigation purposes in the province. The main problem confronting the local farmers is the shortage of irrigation water. The only possible solution to this problem is to save the rainwater by construction of small dams throughout the province especially in highlands, in order to raise the underground water table on priority.

In Balochistan, the main source of water for agriculture and orchards development is rainfall and ground water. The rainfall is unevenly distributed with high degree of variation and the choice mostly left to farmers is to use ground-water resources. Hence water, if and whenever available, is used for irrigation of orchards and vegetables in highland Balochistan. The farmers of the areas over-irrigate, if they get more water (somehow), with a view to retain moisture for longer till next irrigation. Due to water imbalance between recharge and discharge of the aquifer of the sub-basin, a major problem has been on rise, which demands immediate steps to introduce remedial measures for an optimal solution.

SMALL SCALE IRRIGATION PROJECT

World Bank will provide a credit of $25 million for the Balochistan Small Scale Irrigation Project under the International Development Assistance (IDA). The project will support the provincial government to improve the management of scarce water resources in Pishin Lora Basin in the northern part of the province. In this regard, an agreement has reportedly been signed among the Government of Pakistan, Government of Balochistan and World Bank. The interest-free credit will be repaid in 35 years including 10 years of grace period. It will however apply the service charges at the rate of 0.75 per cent per annum and commitment charges of 0.50 per cent on undisbursed balance.

Main components of the project include partial restoration of water storage capacity in Bund Khushdil Khan, development of small-scale irrigation schemes in Pishin Lora Basin, and institutional strengthening and capacity-building of the Irrigation and Power Department (IPD), water management institutions and farmer and community organisations and further studies and preparation activities for the next phase. Project activities are designed to recognise the importance of direct participation of water users and other stakeholders. Key indicators include increased surface water availability and reduced groundwater depletion; increased water productivity through a combination of engineering, management and agricultural measures; and expanded local capacity and participation of farmers to implement similar schemes and formulate plans for sustainable water resources' development and watershed management.

WATER POTENTIAL

The hydrological map of Pakistan shows the groundwater regions, potential, quality and various hydrological parameters of the province. According to the map, out of total three main hydrologic units, two are located in Balochistan. These hydrologic units are: Indus River basin, Kharan desert basin and Mekran coastal basin. The province is blessed with extensive groundwater resource.

Kharan desert basin covers the northwestern part of Balochistan between Siahan range and Raskoh belt and constitutes a closed drainage system. Undulated deserts characterize most of the area. The Mashkhel and Kharan rivers are principal sources of water of the basin. The water discharges into Hamun-e-Mashkhel after passing through the Kharan desert.

Mekran coastal basin comprises of the central and coastal Mekran ranges and the Pab hills and the sub-mountainous areas in the southwest. The Hub, Porali, Hingol and Dasht are the principal rivers of the basin with erratic discharges. Hingol is the biggest seasonal river of Balochistan with a catchment's area of more than 2,500 miles, starting from central Balochistan to Ormara. Makran coastal zone and several other basins contain highly brackish groundwater. In the absence of alternative sources of water, the local communities are compelled to use brackish groundwater. Balochistan can be divided into three hydrological regions: the Nari Basin, the Kharan closed Basin and the Mekran Coast. There are about 73 small or large rivers and streams constituting the three hydrological basins. Only about 30% of this potential of rivers and streams is utilized through different schemes. A thorough and comprehensive investigation of all the basins in Balochistan is highly needed.

What is needed is to carry out a thorough and comprehensive investigation of all the basins in Balochistan. Such investigation obviously requires the resources and expertise, which should be arranged and made available by the federal government. Watershed degradation is a problem in Balochistan. It causes decline in groundwater table. The watershed management is aimed at recharging groundwater aquifer, rehabilitating rangelands, controlling flash floods and enhancing fuel wood production in the target area.

EFFICIENT USE OF IRRIGATION WATER

Efficient use of irrigation water increases both area and production. Increase in acreage results from saving in water and increase in production from added area and therefore increase in per unit yield and overall good impact on provincial economy. In order to obtain maximum irrigation efficiency, new water management techniques were recently introduced in Balochistan. The hill torrents in the province bring a substantial quantity of flash floods, which can be harnessed, for the beneficial use. It has been envisaged to analyze the ground-water potential in conjunction with the availability of surface water at different levels of assurances for irrigation purposes to attain optimum water resources utilization. This was achieved by adopting trickle irrigation system and lining of water distribution network to minimize conveyance losses.

The water table in highland of Balochistan is falling every year. It indicates that water availability for irrigation purposes is decreasing with the passage of time, adversely affecting crop productivity and the farming community at large. Furthermore, the farmers of those areas are using underground water resources at least twice as fast they are being replenished. Already, excessive ground water mining has caused land subsidence in several regions of highland Balochistan.

The efficient use of available water can be increased through the following measures: (a) control of evaporation from water surface in reservoirs and canals, (b) lining of open channels and use of pipes to transport water for reducing seepage losses, (c) use of improved irrigation practices such as drip irrigation system in place of furrow irrigation etc. The district governments must control related problems with excessive or irregular irrigation; and this can only be materialised if improved surface irrigation practices are adopted.