Water scarcity may invite desertification
June 08, 2012
Chakwal is a hyper-arid district of Punjab province, having temperate climate and very little greenery across the area (except of tehsile Choa-Saidan Shah). Dullah is one village out of hundreds in this deprived region of potohar platue (geographical location), situated 127 kilo-meters south-east of the lavish federal capital of Islamabad, certainly, a better place to live with tape-water available to almost majority of urban house-holds but the situation is entirely different in rest of the country particularly in arid regions.
In Dullah, life kick starts with a dream of prosperity which still seems to be a mirage, as problems are getting worst than ever. Today, due to dried-up wells, dropping underground water level, deforestation and low rain patterns, land becomes water scarce whereas emerging desertification has aggravated the situation.
After nineties, only a slight number of women were fetching water from far-flung wells or ponds because water was almost available beneath the earth but now, situation is changing furiously.
Farmers of village Dullah are the closely witnessing the squeezing ground water from the last many years.
Muhammad Sharif, 68, is one of the small farmer said, “earlier, we were producing sugarcane and maize but now we are only growing vegetables and wheat for domestic consumption and its because of logged water on available in morning as well turned dry rest of the day, it would be a terrible thing, when fertile soil turns into a barren piece of land”. Sharif told Weekly Pulse.
Majority is stressing on taking practical measures to limit this worsening situation.
Talking to Weekly Pulse, an only female science teacher in a government boy’s high school, Dullah and a twin gold medallist environmentalist, Rabia Nousheen said, “Overexploitation and low rains, massive deforestation, and plantation of eucalyptus trees are all major reasons of water shortage while this phenomenon is leading us to desertification”.
Natives of this area are worried about changing monsoon patterns, squeezing winters and stretching summer times but dropping underground water table becomes permanent headache.
Meteorologist and former director general meteorology department, Dr. Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhary said, “Our country comprised of arid and hyper-arid zones, which are witnessing short rain spells and in that situation extreme groundwater abuse could resulted into desertification”.
Thanil Kamal, another village at some four kilometres from Dullah, where villagers are blaming the former provincial government (during 2002 to 2007) for shrinking water resources due to the construction of Lakhwal Dam, a small water reservoir build at the upstream.
Ammad Hussain, 28, a resident of Thanil Kamal, said “rain water was flowing regularly through this drain called “Sauj” but now it remains dry since many years, this was persistent source of irrigation but water is nearly vanished after construction of Lakhwal dam”.
Majority believe that problem could be resolved through regular downstream water discharge to increase ground water recharge capability.
While elaborating the severity of problem, Muhammad Sharif said, “Now, water level dropped to nearly 300 feet, it’s saline and bitter in taste but people have no other option but drink the same”.
On water quality, Rabia Nousheen added, “due to drastically dropping ground water, low rains, limited fresh water recharging and inefficient sanitation system…. drinking water becomes unhygienic, injurious to health and obviously a huge source of diseases”.
Pakistan Council Research on Water Resources (PCRWR) has recently given an account on water quality in the country, which later published in Economic Survey of Pakistan (2011-12) says that majority in Pakistan is exposed to the hazards of drinking unsafe and polluted water from both surface and ground water sources.
“Four major drinking water contaminants are bacteriological (68%), arsenic (24%), nitrate (13%) and fluoride (5%), whereas trend analysis shows that out of 357 water resources, 45 (13%) were found ‘safe’ and rest of 312 (87%) were unsafe for drinking purposes while 68% drinking water consumption is from ground water for both urban and rural areas”, came into lime-light when National Water Quality Monitoring Programme carried out by PCRWR.
Massive deforestation and complete absence of plantation trend is another serious issue in this arid district, Afghan refugees are also a vital factor as wood cutting becomes a profitable business in this arid area due to these migrant communities.
Wood vendor and a resident of Chakwal city, Nawab Khan, 39, while sitting at his ‘taal’ (wood gowdown) said, “yes, Afghans are involved in illegal wood cutting across the district, as they are not natives and simply intend to earn no matter whatever the sources may be”.
“Locals are also not far behind, selling trees instead of planting them and the reason behind is poverty, unemployment and low agriculture yields to support large families”, he added after a slight pause.
But, there are some people who are stressing on massive plantation campaigns on war footings to avoid any future disaster.
Yaqoob Ali Khan, a retired naval officer and in love with plantation since many years, said, “Trees are ornaments of mother earth, necessary to protect population from severity of weather, from increasing carbon concentration and land from erosion, through these green factories of nature we can invite rainy days to visit more frequently and raise the lowering water tables”.
Like, Dullah, there are several other areas of Pakistan, which are drifting towards desertification as a result of water scarcity and deforestation. Southern Punjab, provinces of Sindh and Balochistan are facing acute water emergency in most areas and deserts like Cholistan, Thar and Dasht are rapidly grabbing precious fertile lands.
Scientist warns that the situation, which is being emerged due to unsustainable use of water resources, human interventions climate change and barren lands could cause severe water scarcity, food insecurity and this will ultimately be a reason for rural-urban unrest, conflicts and would be a vital factor of mass migrations and rapid urbanisation, which would again be a prime reason for several socio-economic obstacles in near future.
Land and water are interconnected, it’s an unmatchable relation but if it starts trembling, it has far-reaching consequences for our ecosystems. Just think, water depends on soils’ absorption capacities to maintain the hydrological cycle. If rain falls on degraded land, it will run off quickly, because the barren ground cannot soak it up. The consequences are severe: groundwater aquifers are not recharged and erosion occurs, worsening land degradation.
United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) suggests these important ways to save precious land, water and eco-system relationship.
• First, the resource base, including water, land and biodiversity, must be managed properly.
• Second, water security requires social security systems to be in place, so that poor people have a secure income and do not contribute to further degradation by over-exploiting the natural resources due to a lack of economic alternatives.
• Third, international trade has a crucial role to play, mostly as a buffer against shocks.
• In agriculture, water is often neglected in negotiations about investment, pricing and trade policies – but these are critical determinants of water demand.
Most consider integrating water and land management is a complex task which creates numerous practical challenges but for some its possible by working together and through shared responsibility.
“If we consider the following principles in our approach to an integrated land and water management, we will be on track towards sustainable rural development and food security for a growing population,” says Sergio Zelaya, UNCCD Coordinator of Policy Advocacy on Global Issues.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed out at World Water Day 2012 that “challenges are increasing competition between communities and countries for scarce water resources, aggravating old security dilemmas, creating new ones and hampering the achievement of the fundamental human rights to food, water and sanitation. With nearly 1 billion people hungry and some 800 million still lacking a safe supply of freshwater, there is much we must do to strengthen the foundations of local, national, and global stability.”