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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


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

Not a zero-sum game, at all

During my recent visit to this mega-city, I collected some impressions — the first and foremost is that Lahore has expanded too much. It is such a large city that one can’t be sure where it begins and where it ends. It has so many facilities but its problems are also gigantic.

By Riaz Missen

Frankly speaking I have not seen most of Lahore. Many historical places that I had read about in school days still remain a mystery for me. Reason is that Tahir Baig is too much busy with his ‘Red Woods’. Last summer he confined my movements to the Karim Block in Gulshan-e-Iqbal where he was painting his shop red. This time he was thinking about establishing franchises in other cities of Punjab, including Bahawalpur.

I have not visited Lahore frequently though it is the capital of the province I live in. My fifteen years in Islamabad did not make me a frequent visitor of this city, for trains and buses plying between Bahawalpur and the federal capital have found short cuts to escape it.

That the city is hundred of miles away from Bahawalpur is not an issue now when district government being are in place, Lahore has devolved some powers to Bahawalpur, but there is lot the people of this far off region have to seek in Lahore. I mean by this jobs, promotions and justice.

During my recent visit to this mega-city, I collected some impressions — the first and foremost is that Lahore has expanded too much. It is such a large city that one can’t be sure where it begins and where it ends. It has so many facilities but its problems are also gigantic.

 The suburb of Lahore is as underdeveloped as many areas of Punjab. A little ran could make life miserable. It is what I had seen when I was returning to Bahawalpur. It was daytime and I could see a glimpse of the towns of my own region in the suburb of Lahore. The industrial units were surrounded by filth. Poverty was flourishing under the shadows of skyscrapers.

To my understanding city ended where a link canal is flowing southward. I saw its waters keenly for I had once seen a report in Multan based daily that industrial waste of Lahore was being flown to the Sutlej River. I don’t know whether it is the same link canal that empties itself in the Sutlej but I am sure that its water was polluted.

 While passing through Lahore’s suburb I remembered the claims of the ex-chief minister that his government had allocated record funds for the uplift of Southern Punjab. The projected figure is Rs. 130 billion. I have not seen rest parts of the region but what I know is that my own village has got its streets brick-lined and a network of mettle roads is in place.

 Too, the Bahawalpuris have found health infrastructure operative now after a neglect of decades. The Bahawal Victoria Hospital (BVH) is serving patients free of cost (almost). I myself had the opportunity to visit a nearby Basic Health Unit and found both the staff as well as the patients satisfied with the newfound love of the government with public health system.

Education was another passion of the Punjab government for last five years. It deserves the credit of making it free up to the High School level. That it was gender sensitive adds more to its achievements. Many parents have put their girls in schools due to the reason that not only it does disturb their budgets.

 The happiest moments this time in Lahore were those in which I had opportunity to chat with Tahir’s school going daughters. They want to become teachers — nay, educationists! I don’t know what their third sister, Fatima, really thinks about her career. But I know Tahir since last ten years. He will encourage them to make their way through life on their own choice.

The next day when he was on the road to drop me on the bus terminal, he was ready to give credit to the last government for road expansions and a better-managed traffic system but still he thought it necessary that the ‘Lion’ should come out of its den. Too much ‘cycling’ has badly affected the cultural side of his city.

Lahore has developed specific civic norms, which it can’t now compromise. When Tahir said this I clearly understood that Lahore is looking not around but on itself. “Do you think the next elections will be fair?” I asked. He was quick to remind me of the statement of Ghulam Mustafa Khar: If Moonis Elhai wins his seat from Lahore the elections are rigged, for sure.

The journey to Lahore was a happy exercise. It is connected with all major cities of Punjab with motorways. The buses running at more than 100 km/ hour take now fewer hours to reach Lahore from any part of the province. From Bahawalpur the promised hours are six but it takes more than seven. The situation is far better when the figure used to be 10.

“Lahore has the potential to even grow more if it just takes care of itself.  It should not expand further and contain itself to certain limits. It should also think about getting smart and slim, if possible,” I thought loudly when the bus was crossing over the Sutlej River. By that time night had fallen. There was some water in the river but I can’t tell exactly whether it was polluted or clean.

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