Category Archives: Nature

Farming in dry regions threatening aquifers

Pakistan has not undertaken any crop management plan. More credit supplies but little availability of canal water in dry regions, like Bahawalpur, has raised the input cost of agriculturalists as they have to sink tube wells and have increased the use of fertilizers and pesticides. The aquifers are on the course of depletion threatening cities and towns but there is no chance of getting the same refurnished as rapidly as their consumption.

Riaz Missen

British colonized Punjab with a view to make it basket of food and to recruit youth to defend their empire in India. A large swath of land was brought under cultivation by clearing forests and evicting the families living there. Pakistan did not change this policy and the lands are still being brought under cultivation. Cholistan, the tiny desert in Punjab bordering India, can be cited as an example in this regard.

Most of the agricultural lands in Pakistan are cultivated on commercial basis. Intensive cultivation and mindless use of chemicals have not only deteriorated soil fertility but also inflicted a blow to environment, including the flight of crop-friendly birds and insects and acidity in the subsoil water.

The government has not undertaken any crop management plan. More credit supplies but little availability of canal water in dry regions, like Bahawalpur, has raised the input cost of agriculturalists as they have to sink tube wells and increase the use of fertilizers and pesticides. The aquifers are on the course of depletion threatening cities and towns but there is no chance of getting the same refurnished as rapidly as their consumption.

Similarly, water management policy is nowhere in sight. In some areas, this source is available in abundance causing salinity and related problems. Others have got reduced water share due to more areas becoming under cultivation. Bahawalpur provides an interesting example in this regard. Farmers here are receiving 40 per cent per cent of the water available to them half-a-decade back.

The Indus Basin Treaty giving complete right to India over the utilization of water of its three rivers — Ravi, Beas and Sutlej — is nothing but a blunder committed by the people then at the helm of affairs. Contrary to international law, the treaty gave upper riparian the right to use the water of these rivers. No where in the world, a party can divert water in a way that could affect the flow of a river to the detriment of the lower riparian.

Bahawalpur happens to be the worst victim of the Indus Basin Treaty. The perennial rivers gone to India, major cost is being borne by the aquifers for being used extravagantly when water in seasonal rivers is short of enough supplies. The water reservoirs which were constructed to compensate the loss of Sutlej and Beas, have only ended up in increasing the share of Sindh and Central Punjab. The more lands being allotted to the settlers of Central Punjab in Cholistan, the share of the ‘sweet belt’ has significantly declined forcing the cultivators to pump out subsoil water at a time electricity and diesel are turning costly by every passing year.

A study of Water and Power Department of Punjab has found that 75 per cent of water in southern districts is not fit for crops. While the Indus Basin Treaty remains intact and raging controversy surrounds the construction of water reservoirs on the Indus River. The fate of lower regions — cotton belt — is almost doomed.

Welding livestock, fisheries and forestry with farming reflects a not-so-wise approach. As more emphasis is laid on farming, the more it proves a restraint for the livestock, fisheries and the forestry. Promotion of cultivation in semi-desert areas, like Cholistan and Balochistan, has caused a decline in livestock population due to the loss of space available to herding communities.

As for agriculture, landlords must turn to forestry and livestock. This step is necessary to regain soil fertility. Their income will witness downward slide for a few years but will pay in long-term. There is no reason to keep fisheries as an allied subject of agriculture. It should be dealt separately; credit supply to this new sector will revive hope in a large community associated with this sector.

Meanwhile, some quarters are pressurizing the government to defer water conservation plans on the plea that it was useless to invest in this fast declining sector. The move is intriguing, for having storage dams is must as the same can be used as a guarantee to ensure water supplies in dry-months. It is necessary because ours is an agriculture-based economy and that the country now has seasonal rivers for fresh water supplies.

The agricultural policy needs a revision. Pakistan must evolve a strategy to replenish soil fertility through shifting emphasize to forestry and livestock from cultivation. Meanwhile, water resources should be managed to ensure supplies during dry-months. The government should divert credit supplies from crops to forestry and livestock. Meanwhile, crop management policy should be brought forth while taking into consideration the water availability in different parts of Pakistan.

The wastewater must be given biological treatment to meet the watering needs of the wheat crop, particularly in the southern districts of Punjab. This measure will not save the aquifers but also save cities from the deadly water born diseases like Hepatitis. Fisheries and forests will get boost with wetlands becoming pollution free.

Weekly Pulse

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Sutlej flows down to Bahawalpur but with poisonous waters

Water passes down the Empress Bridge near Bahawalpur

By Riaz Missen

Sutlej River is flowing down the Empress Bridge, near Bahawalpur, due to heavy rains in northern India — thanks to the early arrival of the monsoon. More water is expected this year. Reports suggest that it was in high flood last week inHimachal Pradeshand the waters had reached Ferozepur district of Indian Punjab on July 9.

The people in Bahawalpur districtare pleasantly surprised to see waters in the Sutlej River, for it has become almost a dead stream due to Pakistan accepting India’s exclusive rights over it through the Indus Basin Treaty of 1960. The water table on its banks has sunk down to 120 ft which was available at 20 ft at times it used to carry floods.

The waters of Sutlej River are harnessed through a number of dams and canal headworks by India.Bhakra Dam is the major reservoir wherefrom canals carry its waters to Punjab and Haryana. Indira Gandhi canal carries the waters of Sutlej as far as Rajasthan. If something is left, it is diverted by Pakistan at headworks of Islam and Sulemanki constructed under Sutlej Valley scheme in 1927. It is only rarely that waters are released to reach Head Panjnad.

The waters of Ravi and Beas have also been added to Sutlej in India through link canals and are being used for the agricultural purpose. Intensive cultivation and the mushrooming of industry utilizing the agricultural produce in its catchment areahave made the Sutlej the most polluted river of South Asia. The unrestrained use of pesticides in agriculture and industrial waste being diverted to the river makes its water ‘E’ class in Doaba region.

The people in Farid Kot, who are using the waters of Sutlej to quench their thirst and to cater to the needs of agriculture, are developing deformities. A report of Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) prepared after various tests on the river’s waters, at various points in the 2010, rated Sutlej waters as ‘A’ class (pure) at Nangalheadworks, which become ‘E’ class and ‘D’ class (highly unfit for drinking) respectively at the confluence of BudhaNullah in Ludhiana and East Bein or Chitti Bein in the Doaba region.

Accumulation of chromium, nickel, zinc, and pesticides is high in the sediment of Chitti Bein. Traces of metals like chromium, nickel and zinc were detected in soil samples of the fields irrigated by the waters of the Bein. There is high level of inorganic and organic pollution in both the east Bein and the Kala Sanghia drain.

In Doaba region, Sanghia Drain is pouring polluted water intothe Chitti Bein because of untreated industrial and sewer waste from Jalandhar and Phagwara. The Beas also gets C class classification at Goindwal Sahib and Mukerian, where industrial waste is discharge into it. When Sutlej River enters Pakistan, Qasur’s tannery industry further pollutes it.

Sutlej waters are used by people both for quenching their thirst as well as of their livestock particularly in Rajasthan and Cholistan. The Vehari district also uses the waters of Sutlej River and here many cases of children developing deformities have been reported. Not only the fresh water is polluted but impurities have seeped down on the banks of the river and underground water is also affected.

 There is no solution to the problem which Sutlej River and the people using its waters are confronting but that the environmental regulations are strictly implemented. Punjab Environmental Board, on Indian side, is reported to impose heavy fines on industrial units releasing effluents into the river and its tributaries but no steps have been taken up by Pakistan to keep its tannery industry under check.

According to estimates 32 MAF wastewater, from urban areas and industries, joins streams, canals and rivers of Pakistan every year and destroys fisheries besides causing dangerous diseases like Hepatitis C. Luckily, environmental technologies (using bioremediation techniques), are available that can not only put an end to pollution of the wetlands but also make available enough water (treated) to cater to the entire needs of the wheat crop of Pakistan.

Weekly Pulse July 15, 2011

Saving ecology, agriculture in Bahawalpur

It is time for the politicians (I am specially talking about of the souls belonging to Central Punjab and upper Sindh) to get out of the useless politics they are now involved in. If you don’t want new dams and can’t afford to have smaller units ( so that they can look after their own developmental needs) play your role in making your cities and waterways clean and let the scientists undertake their noble task they have taken up to themselves to make available the water required for the wheat crop .

By Riaz Missen

 The attempts of the South Punjab’s politicians to make the link canals flowing down from Chashma and Taunsa headworks perennial (as a step to compensate the southern part of the country for its losing of three eastern rivers) has caused uproar in Sindh. Pervez Musharraf era did bring a relief in terms of the opening of these canals but it is not possible as long as the PPP remains in power and PML-N depending for its support in Punjab. Even if these canals remain open for, at least three months of the winter, the damage done to the water table on the both sides of the Sutlej River (it has become brackish due to constant pumping from the farmers to water the wheat crop) is irreparable.

 The human settlement on the left bank of the Sutlej River witnessed an upsurge 300 years back when some tribes fled the anarchy of Sindh, brought by raiding Afghans, and made the region their abode. The Abbasids who had led them there were wonderful agriculturalists. They allotted lands to their followers, sunk wells and dug canals to ensure their survival. The formation of the state was yet another miracle they brought in the no-man land where Sutlej meandered in the times of plenty. A long spell of peace and stability helped the growth of culture and civilisation. But all changed after 1947: the state was first merged into Pakistan and then into Punjab.

 The Sutlej River gradually dried up due to its selling by the Ayub regime to India through the fateful Indus Basin Treaty (1960). The huge amount the defunct princely state had paid to construct water reservoirs on the Sutlej River (Head Sulemanki, Head Islam and Head Panjnad) was almost rendered wasted when India started exercising its complete control on the perennial river.

 The cotton boom of 1980s made mud houses vanished and the cemented houses were lit up with electricity. A road was constructed during the Musharraf era. The cotton boom is over as the crop has been constantly hit by deadly virus for last eight years. But this did not discourage the farmers to sow cotton for many years: they needed stems to burn them as a fuel. During a whole decade, the farmers had not planted trees on the heads of their fields wrongly assuming that they reduced the per acre yield. Now they have no cotton but don’t have trees either.

 At the very time the per acre yield of cotton had started dropping the government had offered one-window facility to farmers to get loans from Zari Taraqqiati Bank (ZTBL) instead of probing into the reasons as to why the farmers were suffering the loss. Actually, the mindless use of pesticides and chemical fertiliser had disturbed the ecological system and it had become unfit for the proper growth of this crop.

 As I have mentioned earlier the farmers not only did not planted new trees but also sold the existing ones to the kiln owners.  The mechanisation of the agricultural sector sent the bullocks to the slaughterhouses; the short-term prosperity made them feel no urge of raring goats and sheep. The animal dung was now not available to replenish the soil fertility. They used chemical fertiliser but it eroded the fertility of the soil. The pesticides not only killed the crop friendly insects and birds but also proved hazardous for human health.

 

The authorities responsible for taking care of the environment remained silent spectators as the farmers treaded the suicidal path. I don’t know exactly whether the cotton produce did bring foreign exchange for the country. Even it did so but who will pay the cost the farmers have suffered in terms of both health and ecological system (1.8 percent of GDP is spent on the treatment of water-born diseases) ? About the loans given to the farmers, the fact of the matter is that these loans were given at the mark up higher than the market. The Mobile Credit Officers (MCOs) and Patwaris made billions for facilitating the farmers to get the easy money. When the reversal course started and crop failures became a reality, farmers’ lands were put on sale. No political party stood by farmers during the 1990s when all this happened.

 Now what is the fate of the small farmers? Their children now travel to the far flung areas in search of jobs because the few ginning factories and cotton mills can’t cater to the employment needs of the growing population. The region is not supplied even with its due share of canal water. When the cotton crop has failed farmers’ dependency on wheat crop has increased. But the problem is that this crop needs water in days when there is no water at all. So the water has to be pumped out. Now think about the mounting energy rates. The profitability is on decline with the every passing year. No industry, no agriculture.

 The mindless pumping of the ground water is turning it brackish besides making it slip downward (more diesel/ electricity consumption). A day is not away when the people will know the cost of sowing wheat, too. They will have to buy it up to quench their thrust. Will they migrate in search of water? I don’t know exactly if people are thinking about such option (politicians, are you ready to lead the people on the trail of tears!). The ex-Chief Minister of Punjab evolved the habit of sacrificing the water of Bahawalpur to earn good will of Sindhis. The situation changed only when a delegation of Cholistanis travelled to Lahore and told him that the Sindhis used the very water to have a good crop which they (Cholistanis) needed to quench the thirst of their children and livestock!

 Irony is that Punjab has double the cultivable area than Sindh but the lower riparian gets canal water nearly equal to the former. The will of the Punjab to get its due share is paralysed in the face of the fact that the Central Punjab is catering to all its needs by the canal water. The northern regions can’t have a canal system but only on a smaller scale. In the southern belt (except Bahawalpur), the owners of the large tracts also manage water for their crops anyhow. Only the small farmer is deprived of this facility.

 Against all these odds, a rare breed of agricultural scientists has brought ahead a solution that should galvanise the political parties to action: It is about the cost-effective treatment of wastewater through bio-remediation techniques, to cater to the agricultural needs of the country. As per estimates, the total size of the wastewater (used by household and industry) is 32 MAF which, if managed properly, can cater to the needs of the entire wheat crop. The project is ready with the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) for its implementation throughout Pakistan by its National Institute of the Bio-remediation (NiB) and it can turn up a ray of hope for the small farmers of the dry regions of Pakistan, particularly the South Punjab, which is predominantly an agricultural belt but lacks the political vigour to get what is due to it. Sindh and Central Punjab cater to their 95% needs through canal water.

It is time for the politicians (I am specially talking about of the souls belonging to Central Punjab and upper Sindh) to get out of the useless politics they are now involved in. If you don’t want new dams and can’t afford to have smaller units ( so that they can look after their own developmental needs) play your role in making your cities and waterways clean and let the scientists undertake their noble task they have taken up to themselves to make available the water required for the wheat crop .

Status-quo is, of course,  not acceptable because it is darkening the future of the country and its people. Times have changed and it is time for politicians and the political parties to change as well. Try to understand that the future of the country and politics lies in understanding the nature and adjusting our ways according to its dictates — remember flash floods of 2008?

-The Post