Friday June 21, 2024

Balochistan water woes

By Abdul Zahoor Khan Marwat
June 11, 2018

Water scarcity and low rainfall in the far-flung areas of Balochistan have contaminated water sources, particularly in the Awaran District, leading to water borne diseases and deaths. Six people died within four days after drinking contaminated water in District Awaran of Balochistan. Commissioner Kalat Division Muhammad Hashim Ghilzai said that 120 patients were being treated at the Jam Ghulam Qadir Hospital. The unfortunate incident occurred in Tranchik, a village on the outskirts of Awaran, where people drank contaminated water present in a pothole on May 16.

In order to provide aid to the people, the Pakistan Army conducted a special relief and rescue operation in epidemic affected far-flung areas of Awaran on the request of Government of Balochistan. According to Inter-Services Public Relations, special Army medical teams with adequate medicines reached Awaran and treated the patients and a special helicopter was used to evacuate a large number of critical patients of gastro diseases from Tranchik to Hub to provide them with medical relief. “In addition, around 1,000 liters of drinkable water, mosquito nets, ration packs, water tanks and hygiene kits have also been distributed amongst the local populace,” the ISPR statement added. Newly-commissioned officers of Pakistan Army from the drought affected areas may be temporarily attached with these camps to instill confidence amongst the local population.

This natural calamity is being propagated by Baloch Sub Nationalists (BSNs) as a deliberate effort by armed forces to eject locals from villages in order to deny support to BSNs in their strongholds. This is absolutely untrue.

The Balochistan Province constitutes 44 per cent of Pakistan's land mass and its population is scattered throughout the province in 18 river basins. Agriculture, the mainstay of Balochistan economy, represents 60 percent of GDP with two-thirds of the population living in rural areas and mainly dependent on agriculture. Over-exploitation of groundwater resources and changing climate are hurting the water supplies in the province.

Meanwhile, the government of Balochistan has launched the Balochistan Integrated Water Resource Management and Development Project that would meet the requirements such as hydro-meteorological, flood protection works, On Farm Water Management (OFWM) and institutional capacity. The prject will cost Rs21.95 billion, including Rs 20.85 billion foreign aid. The project is located on Porali Basins and Nari Basin, the latter covering 20 percent of Balochistan being the largest river basin in the province. The Porali River is one of the four rivers of Balochistan draining into the Arabian Sea. The basin crosses the Lasbela, Khuzdar and Awaran Districts of Balochistan.

The UN’s World Water Development Report has warned: “The total actual renewable water resources in Pakistan decreased from 2,961 cubic meters per capita in 2000 to 1,420 cubic meters in 2005.” Now, according to the ADB, it has fallen to 1,000 cubic meters per capita. As compared to Pakistan, the per capita water availability in the US is 6,000 cubic metres, Australia 5,500 cubic metres and China 2,200 cubic metres. The ADB report further stated: “At present, Pakistan's storage capacity is limited to a 30-day supply, well below the recommended 1,000 days for countries with a similar climate."

About the agriculture sector, the ADB added: "Achieving the major challenge of boosting agricultural productivity and strengthening food security requires improving the management, storage, and pricing of water for irrigation. Improved water management is critical to deliver sufficient water to the 80% of farmland in the country that is irrigated. Anecdotal evidence suggests that agricultural productivity could be doubled with appropriate reform."