Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thar Drought: Precursor of Dust Bowl in Water-Stressed Pakistan?

Deaths of dozens of malnourished and sick children after a 3-year drought in Pakistan's Thar desert have finally got the media attention and forced politicians to take notice of the unfolding tragedy. Emergency aid is now being provided by the Pakistani military and the civil society. And promises are being made by the politicians to do more for the poor, mostly Hindu, residents of the affected region.

Dust Bowl: 

The Thar situation today reminds of what happened during America's Dust Bowl in the 1930s that lasted almost a decade. It forced millions of people in Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas to migrate to other parts of the country, particularly California.  Drought caused windblown dust and devastation of agriculture in the region. Some believe with good reason that the Dust Bowl accentuated and extended the Great Depression for several more years than would have been the case otherwise.

Here's what John Steinbeck wrote about the Dust Bowl in his 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath:

"And then the dispossessed were drawn west- from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas, families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out. Car-loads, caravans, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless - restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do - to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut - anything, any burden to bear, for food. The kids are hungry. We got no place to live. Like ants scurrying for work, for food, and most of all for land."

Like the residents of the American plains affected by the Dust Bowl in 1930s,  the people of Thar desert region rely on their crops and livestock for their livelihood. Since there is a very limited irrigation system in the area, they depend almost entirely on rains to grow their crops and raise cattle.

The area currently affected by drought is relatively small but it could expand rapidly and turn into a much bigger tragedy unless the government and the people wake up to it. In addition to providing immediate relief, there is a strong need for a longer term strategy to improve water storage and irrigation in the region.

It's not just Thar region. The problem that needs to be addressed is much bigger. Pakistan has increasingly been suffering from cycles of severe droughts followed by massive floods in the last few years. This recurring pattern of shortage and excess of water gives us a preview of the growing challenge of climate change. This situation calls for a comprehensive water management effort to deal with a potentially existential threat to Pakistan.

Flood-Drought Cycles:

Before the summer floods of 2010, the Indus had turned into a muddy puddle in parts of Sindh. Britain's Financial Times reported at the the time that "angry farmers marched through villages in Sindh demanding access to water. Those who can no longer turn a profit in the fields are increasingly resorting to banditry or migrating to urban shanties".

Earlier, there was a 2009 report by the Woodrow Wilson International Center saying that the melting Himalayan glaciers have exacerbated Pakistan’s shortages. And the World Bank warned that Pakistan could face a “terrifying” 30-40 per cent drop in river flows in 100 year’s time. Now large parts of Sindh are under water for the second year in a row, destroying lives and standing crops.

Growing Water Scarcity:

According to the United Nations' World Water Development Report, 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. A more recent study indicates an available supply of water of little more than 1,000 cubic meters per person, which puts Pakistan in the category of a high stress country. Using data from the Pakistan's federal government's Planning and Development Division, the overall water availability has decreased from 1,299 cubic meters per capita in 1996-97 to 1,101 cubic meters in 2004-05. In view of growing population, urbanization and increased industrialization, the situation is likely to get worse. If the current trends continue, it could go as lows as 550-cubic meters by 2025. Nevertheless, excessive mining of groundwater goes on. Despite a lowering water table, the annual growth rate of electric tubewells has been 6.7% and for diesel tubewells about 7.4%. In addition, increasing pollution and saltwater intrusion threaten the country's water resources. About 36% of the groundwater is classified as highly saline.

So what can Pakistan do to manage these disastrous cycles of floods and droughts?

1. Build Dams and Dykes:

As the flood disasters took their toll , there were reports of USAID and ADB considering funding the $12 billion Bhasha Dam in Pakistan. The project is located on Indus River, about 200 miles upstream of the existing Tarbela Dam, 100 miles downstream from the Northern Area capital Gilgit in Gilgit-Baltistan region. The dam's reservoir would hold so much water that it could have averted last year's devastating floods. It would also provide enough electricity to end  Pakistan's crippling shortages, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper. The massive dam on the Indus river would provide 4,500MW of renewable energy, making up for a shortfall causing up to 12 hours of load shedding on daily basis across Pakistan. The reservoir would be 50 miles long, holding 8.5 MAF (million acre feet) of water.

In addition to large dams, there is also a need to build and maintain dykes and start other flood-control and overground and underground water storage projects and drill deep wells in areas like Thar, Badin and Thatta in Sindh.

2. Conserve Water:

Building Bhasha and several other proposed dams will help in dealing with water scarcity, but the growing population will continue put pressure on the vital resource.

Serious conservation steps need to be taken to improve the efficiency of water use in Pakistani agriculture which claims almost all of the available fresh water resources. A California study recently found that water use efficiency ranged from 60%-85% for surface irrigation to 70%-90% for sprinkler irrigation and 88%-90% for drip irrigation. Potential savings would be even higher if the technology switch were combined with more precise irrigation scheduling and a partial shift from lower-value, water-intensive crops to higher-value, more water-efficient crops. Rather than flood irrigation method currently used in Pakistani agriculture, there is a need to explore the use of drip or spray irrigation to make better use of nation's scarce water resources before it is too late. As a first step toward improving efficiency, Pakistan government launched in 2006 a US $1.3 billion drip irrigation program that could help reduce water waste over the next five years. Early results are encouraging. "We installed a model drip irrigation system here that was used to irrigate cotton and the experiment was highly successful. The cotton yield with drip irrigation ranged 1,520 kg to 1,680 kg per acre compared to 960 kg from the traditional flood irrigation method," according to Wajid Ishaq, a junior scientist at the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology(NIAB).

Beyond the government-funded experiments, there is a drip irrigation company called Micro Drip which is funded by the Acumen Fund. Micro Drip develops and provides products and services as poverty alleviation solutions to small farmers in Pakistan’s arid regions. It provides a complete drip irrigation system along with agricultural training and after-sales support to enable farmers to extract a higher yield from their land at a much lower cost of input.

So what is holding up Pakistan's progress on water management?

1. Lack of Funds:

Pakistani government revenues continue to be limited by slow economic growth and widespread culture of tax evasion. The biggest culprits are the ruling feudal politicians who oppose any attempt to levy taxes on their farm income. The limited resources the state does have are usually squandered on political patronage doled out to ruling politicians' supporters in the form of capricious grants, huge loans (defaulted with impunity), and plum jobs in bloated government and the money-losing state-owned enterprises. The result of this blatant abuse, waste and fraud is that the budget allocations for vital long-term investments in education, health care and infrastructure development projects are regularly slashed thereby shortchanging the future of the nation.

2. Corruption and Security Concerns:

The NY Times has reported that "Washington’s fears of Pakistani corruption and incompetence has slowed disbursal of the money". The story reinforces the widely-held view that even after the funding is arranged, the corrupt and incompetent politicians and their hand-picked civilian administrators make any development progress slow and difficult. Such problems are further exacerbated by significant security issues in parts of the country severely plagued by ongoing militancy.

Existential Threat:

It can be argued that the threat from climate change is bigger than the Taliban threat which gets all the coverage in Pakistan. Generations of military families have periodically fought FATA insurgencies. For example, Shuja Nawaz, the author of Crossed Swords says that his grandfather, his uncle and his cousin have all been deployed in Waziristan by the British and later Pakistani governments in the last century and a half. Pakistani military is quite capable of dealing with this threat to defeat the Taliban.

Climate change and the growing water scarcity pose a bigger long-term existential threat to Pakistan and the region. Water per capita is already down below 1000 cubic meters and declining. What Pakistan needs are major 1960s style investments for a second Green Revolution to avoid the specter of mass starvation and political upheaval it will bring.


As to the current Thar crisis, corruption, incompetence and poor governance have characterized the Pakistan People's Party rule at the federal level and in Sind province for years. What is happening in Tharparkar now is symptomatic of it. The PPP voters in Sind, particularly in Tharparkar, are mostly poor haris many of whom are followers of powerful landowning feudal pirs who represent them in Sind assembly and in the national parliament. The voters never hold their representatives accountable for their total neglect of their areas. Instead, the powerful and ubiquitous media born on Musharraf's watch is doing it, as are the Supreme Court judges. I think it's a good development in Pakistan which will likely help the poor who have so far been helpless.  I hope that the media focus is not just on the current crisis in Thar at the provincial level but also on the larger national issues of water management, storage and irrigation infrastructure the country needs to avert a much bigger disaster in the future.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Growing Water Scarcity in Pakistan

Political Patronage in Pakistan

Corrupt and Incompetent Politicians

Pakistan's Energy Crisis

Culture of Tax Evasion and Aid Dependence

Climate Change in South Asia

US Senate Report on Avoiding Water Wars in Central and South Asia


Shams said...

You are claiming that Punjab should build more dams when you can literally walk across one bank of Indus river to the other along Kotri-Hydrabad bridge? There is zero water feeding Kalri and Haleji lakes, which has turned that water poisonous.

The drought in Thar is the result of diverson of 100% of Indus water to Punjab. Recently, some people in our family were able to walk in the Indus river bed from Kotri side bank to the Huderabad side bank. There is zero water in Indus 10 miles down the Kotri bridge.

Punjabis sold three rivers' water to India for 60 million pounds to use the money for lining Punjab's canals. Now those canals are fed water from Indus and Jhelum, whereas Jhelum was feeding Indus. All that water is used in Punjab. All the Indus delta mangroves are gone.

Thar desert has billions of cu-m of subsoil water. But the Sindh government has zero money (and zero intelligence) to tap that.

Suhail said...

Thar desert has a very deep sand layer so all the rainwater is stored below grade as subsoil water, thus creating a more efficient reservoir than dams (and supply canals downstream) where evaporation losses are high. However, due to the deep sand bed, water is at a much greater depth than conventional wells. One of my friend's father, had started a welfare trust scheme digging deep wells in Thar villages, and Iqbal is still continuing it. So it is a proven fact that water shortage in Thar can be easily overcome by digging deep wells without going into mega schemes which will never materialize, and even when done will not help Thar water problem. People living in Thar areas bordering India say that villages on Indian side are fully developed with no water or infrastructure shortage.

The only reason for Thar water crisis is the extreme incompetence of PPP governments, and the extreme stupidity of Sindhi people who continue supporting PPP regardless of the losses they're suffering even at personal levels.

Mayraj said...

Where were the babus!

Anonymous said...

Thar Desert forms the extreme southeastern part of Pakistan, covering about 50,000 km2 area. It is one of the densely populated deserts of the world. Population of Thar is living primarily on limited agricultural products and by raising goats, sheep, cattle, and camels. The region is characterized by parallel chains of the NE-SW trending parabolic stable sanddunes having desertic varieties of vegetation, generally on windward sides, upto the rests. Interdunal areas are favourable for agricultural activities,
where crops are mainly dependent on rainwater.

Average rainfall is significant but inconsistent, due to recurrent drought-cycles causing inverse impact on food-production and socio-economic development. In spite of extensive groundwater-
exploration projects, accomplished by a number of organizations, the water-crisis of the region could
not be controlled, most probably due to lack of systematic exploration & development of deep groundwater potential. Management of the available water- resources is also not adequate,even to sustain a short period of drought-cycle. On recurrence of a drought-cycle, a significant section of the population is compelled to migrate towards other parts of the Sindh province, which affects their socio-economic stability.
har desert has semi-arid to arid climate. The present climatic situation in Pakistan is mainly influenced by the circulation of the monsoons, which depends on the movement of the intertropical convergence-zone. Strong, humid
and cold southwest-monsoons prevail in the summer months from May to September. The strength of the southwest monsoon depends
mainly on the pressure-gradient between the low air-pressure in Central Asia and high air-pressure
above the Indian Ocean.

Rate of annual rainfall increases from northwest to southeast (Figure-1). In the north of the Thar Desert, a, low rainfall region (with an average annual rainfall of less than 100 mm), exists around Rahimyar Khan.

On the other hand, in the southeast, comparatively high annual rainfall, up to 1000 mm, is received on the Indian side, across the border, around Udaipur. At western margin of the desert at Umarkot, an average of 208 mm/yr
rainfall was observed for a period of 42 years from 1897 to1929/1938 to1946 (Radojicic, 1980), but
an average of only 160 mm/yr rain was recorded from 1944 to 1958, indicating a cyclic fluctuation
of precipitation. To the southeast at Nagarparkar, about 360 mm/yr rainfall was recorded. However,
the rainfall is erratic and continuous spells of droughts, lasting for up to four years, have been experienced.

Practically, no rivers or streams exist in the Thar and the drainage is internal. Rainwater flows to
the nearest topographic low, as sheet flow that eventually either evaporates and/or infiltrates.
Most of the rains occur during July-August monsoon from southwest direction, whereas the prevailing winds are from the northeast during the rest of the year. During a good rainy-season, the
area becomes "Green Hilly Thar"

1. The present study indicates remarkable groundwater potential in the Thar Desert. Three sources have been identified: the bottom of the Dune Zone, the coal-bearing sedimentary units, and the basement.

2. In general, the regional gradients of the surface and top of the subrecent zone are towards south and southwest. The aquifers at the bottom of the Dune Zone significantly vary in quality (Saline to brackish) as well as in
their yield being dependent on rainfall in the northern areas, where the annual average is about 150 mm. The quality of water ranges from bad to marginal, but is usable under....

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a piece by Arif Hasan on Thar desert in Pakistan:

A subsistence economy existed in the Thar before the 1960s and the barter system prevailed amongst the peoples there and in their ties with the outside world. The desert people produced almost everything they needed for their existence, manufacturing even cloth, shoes and blankets locally. Their food consisted almost entirely of millet bread (bajre ki roti) and yogurt (lassi). Such items as tea, biscuits and city-made clothes and shoes were unknown and there were no shops in Thar villages. Animals were rarely sold for cash and the people"s only source of income was from the sale of ghee.

However, from 1947 onwards, there was a slow process of change in the desert, with a move to a cash economy and the integration of its economy with the Karachi and Hyderabad markets from 1972.

Pakistan"s Tharparkar district can be divided into two distinct areas: the barrage lands and the desert. The desert has a total area of 22,000 sq km and a population of about 800,000 -- which is approximately half the population of the district and more than 70 per cent of its land area.

As late as 1960 the district had not produced any doctors, engineers, lawyers or administrators and it had only a negligible number of teachers at the secondary school and college levels. Today, the district can boast of more than 4,000 professionals and the high school population has risen from about 7,500 in 1972 to well over 20,000 today.

Tharparkar professionals constitute an increasingly powerful political lobby from which a number of politically important figures is emerging.

The Thar lobby"s demands and concerns are no different from those of the peoples of Pakistan"s other arid and backward regions. However, they acquire both urgency and seriousness because they are supported by Karachi-based professionals, political figures and intellectuals.

The discovery of the Thar desert is part of the discovery of Sind by liberal Western circles in Karachi. Necessitated by the country"s political situation in 1965-75, this discovery stemmed from the need of the second generation of post-Independence Karachi residents to establish a relationship with the "culture of the soil". In the case of the Thar desert, with its fascinating ecology and colourful culture, this relationship acquired romance and passion.

Karachi"s first major contact with the Thar came in the wake of the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, when a sizeable part of the desert population had to move out of the war zone. In order to survive, migrating Tharis were forced to sell their valuables to middlemen who resold them in the Karachi market. Soon, Thari rugs adorned the drawing rooms of Karachi"s elite and high society women took to wearing silver jewellery, cholis and embroidered shawls from the desert. This was the beginning of a regular trade in handicrafts that continues to this day.

Fascinated by the tales of desert traders and the handicrafts they brought back with them, young men went into the desert and encountered a desert that bloomed after the rains, strange, red rock formations standing aloof amidst an expanse of brown sand, women who wore bangles from wrist to shoulder, dancing peacocks and ruined temples. ....

Anonymous said...

Post-2000, the awkward, inconvenient truth is that, particularly during the regime of retired General Pervez Musharraf and former chief minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim, the physical infrastructure of Tharparkar reached an unprecedented level of progress.

Where, for example, in previous times, only about two kilometres of metalled road was built in a whole year, roads of the same length and more were built every month, and in even less time, for several years.

Grid electricity to main towns, water pipelines to large settlements, preparatory infrastructure for exploitation of coal reserves including work by the post-2008 PPP government, rapid proliferation of telecommunication and mobile phones have vastly enhanced mobility, access and information flow.

Riaz Haq said...

QUETTA, Pakistan, March 13 (UPI Next) --Drought and power shortages have decimated agriculture in parts of Pakistan's largest province, Balochistan, and driven local villagers to Quetta, the provincial capital.
Gulistan, a town on Balochistan's dusty border with Afghanistan, is one such place. For decades, trees and vines bore apples, grapes, pomegranates and peaches that were sold in markets across Pakistan and abroad, yielding Gulistan's residents comfortable lives.

Now, years of drought caused by climate change that have dried up channels that used to bring water from the mountains, electricity shortages resulting from Pakistan's insufficient national power grid and militant attacks, and water storage scarcity stemming from inadequate dam construction have forced villagers from Gulistan to abandon their homes and orchards. Dead tree trunks along the road are all that remain of the lush fruit groves that once defined the town.

"Twenty years of drought and attacks by separatist militants on electricity grid lines have destroyed our crops and orchards at a cost we estimate at billions of rupees," Haji Abdul Rehman Bazai, secretary-general of the Balochistan Landowners Association, told UPI Next.

"The land I own was capable of providing 200 [220-pound] bags of wheat, enough cumin, vegetables, apples, grapes, pomegranates, melons and watermelons," Haji Muhammad Essa Khan, a landowner from Gulistan's Qilla Abdullah district, told UPI Next.

"My yields have decreased by 80 percent per year since 2008 owing to long hours of electricity outages when militants started blowing up the power grid. Last year, I used 1.4 million rupees [about $13,000] worth of diesel just to protect the grapevines and apple and pomegranate trees," he said

Before the drought, there were 3,325 ancient watering channels, Bazai told UPI Next.

"We used watering channels for irrigation. Underground tunnels were constructed to gather subsoil water, by gravity, at the foothills. This water was then either taken to the fields and villages through vertical shafts sunk underground, or it was drawn out at the foot of the hill where it was gathered," Bazai said.

These channels --'Karez' in the local Pashto -- used to bring water from nearby snow-clad mountains. However, drought has dried up 95 percent of these watering channels, Faiz Kakar, program manager at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said.

He said the channels were initially used for drinking water and were used for farming purposes in some areas.

Read more:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an AFP report on crisis in Tharparkar:

Mithi (Pakistan) (AFP) - As the death toll from the latest outbreak of poverty-driven diseases in Pakistan's Thar desert nears 100 children, experts are warning that corruption and a dysfunctional political system make a repeat of the disaster almost inevitable.

The desert region in Tharparkar, one of Pakistan's poorest districts, spreads over nearly 20,000 square kilometres (7,700 square miles) in the country's southeast and is home to some 1.3 million people, including a large population of minority Hindus.

Between March 2013 and February this year, rainfall was 30 percent below usual, according to government data, with the worst-hit towns of Diplo, Chacro and Islamkot barely touched by a drop of water for months.

Asif Ikram, the second most senior administration official in the district, told AFP on Thursday that the death toll from diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis since December 1 had risen to 161 people, including 97 children.

Life in the desert is closely tied to rain-dependent crops and animals, with farmers relying on beans, wheat, and sesame seeds for survival, bartering surplus in exchange for livestock.

The drought is not the only reason for the recent deaths -- observers say they have come about as a result of endemic poverty, exacerbated by the drought and an outbreak of disease killing livestock.

Authorities have been busy dispensing food aid and sending medics to attend to the sick following visits by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who leads the Pakistan People's Party which rules the province.

But observers say the relief work fails to address the root causes of such disasters and warn they are likely to be repeated.

A drought in the desert in 2000 killed 90 percent of the livestock.

- Politically invisible -

Zafar Junejo, chief executive of Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP), says the region has long been ignored by Karachi, the provincial capital, because it is not considered an important constituency politically.

According to the last census, Hindus make up 40 percent of the district's population, unlike most of Pakistan which is overwhelmingly Muslim, and Junejo said the authorities have little concern for the suffering of minority communities.

"We are fortunately or unfortunately a mixed Hindu and Muslim population," he said.

"Fortunate because we are living in peace and harmony unlike the rest of the country where radicalisation is in vogue....

Anonymous said...

And now comes the latest scourge: Famine.

In recent days, media reports have revealed that dozens of people—many of them children—have died from malnutrition over the last three months in the bone-dry desert region of Thar, in the southern province of Sindh. And yet things could soon get much worse. A recent UNICEF report, noting that drought has “devastated” crops and livestock and that “hundreds of thousands” of people have fled, warns of a possible “massive humanitarian crisis” in Thar. Ominously, almost 3 million people “risk starvation” across Pakistan.

Many Pakistani press accounts—and numerous Pakistani politicians—depict the Thar tragedy as a catastrophic case of negligence by Sindh’s provincial government. They fault local officials for taking too long to get food assistance to those in need late last year when drought conditions first began to set in. And they single out authorities for failing to transfer sick children in remote areas to better hospitals.

Yet the Thar famine also reflects another type of failure: that of democracy.

In recent years, Pakistan—a country ruled by the military for about half its existence— has made remarkable democratic progress. With successive free elections, civilian rule is firmly in place. Pakistan’s mighty military has mellowed. Constitutional amendments have decentralized power. The Supreme Court is increasingly targeting powerful people and institutions. And private media outlets have rapidly proliferated.

However, there are limits to this progress.

The most commonly cited obstacles to deeper democratization are the military, which continues to exert heavy influence over politics; a lack of pluralism and tolerance, which contributes to the deplorable plight of religious minorities; and the country’s abysmal law enforcement, which enables militants to operate with impunity.

Yet the tragedy in Thar underscores a more insidious and underreported threat to democracy: Astounding manifestations of land inequality.

In Sindh, a paltry 0.05 percent of households hold more than five acres of land (the figure is similar in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province). In the nation as a whole, 2 percent of households own nearly 50 percent of land, while 5 percent of agricultural households own nearly two thirds of Pakistan’s farmland.

This means that the majority of the population holds little to no land. Without land, it’s difficult to access food and water (and it’s also difficult to earn a livelihood; landless Pakistanis make up 70 percent of the country’s rural poor). Most Pakistanis must depend on a tiny, wealthy landowning minority for access to these natural resources.

These resources, and the land that holds them, are becoming increasingly precious. According to one alarming estimate, Pakistan loses three acres of good agricultural land every 20 minutes. In Thar, land and natural resources are further imperiled by Islamabad’s plan to tap into the region’s vast coalfields to ease the country’s severe energy crisis. Officials insist there will be no deleterious impacts on local communities, but there’s good reason to fear that such exploitation could cause environmental distress and displacement, and deprive an impoverished region of a critical natural resource. These are very real problems in equally dry and poor Baluchistan, a province long subjected to intensive natural resource extractions by Islamabad and large corporations. Such conditions have helped fuel a long-running separatist insurgency.

Shams said...

While Suhail may claim PPP incompetence, the fact is that Punjab is getting nearly 70% of all Sindh's gas for literally free, and to top that, OGDC is earning nearly a billion dollars in profits on that. Sindh has zero secretaries in the federal government and Punjabis decide how much to dole out to Sindh. All the garbage from KP and Punjab lands in Karachi and is a huge burden on Sindh which is spending nearly 70% of its money on security, mostly in the form of salaries to the Punjabi rangers and Shaukat Hayats.

Suhail said...


After the implementation of the 18th amendment, revenue from GST (@17%) is now going to provincial governments. Sindh govt. has extended the coverage of GST to a wide range of services including small businesses such as boutiques, hair dressers, accountants, legal and medical practitioners, software houses etc (restaurants were already included). With Karachi still representing by far the biggest share of country's economy through its industry, commerce and services sectors, this is windfall income for the Sindh govt that has further distracted their attention from all governance functions, focusing only on how to misappropriate more money.

Regarding Thar tragedy, the only action that Qaim Ali Shah took was dismissal of the Relief Minister, Makhdoom Jamil S/O Makhdoom Amin Fahim, while taking no action against his son-in-law who was a top bureaucrat related to the same functions. Yesterday, there was a patch up between Makhdoom Amin and Qaim Ali Shah and Makhdoom Jamil was reinstated. All Sindh govt actions regarding Thar negligence thus stand finished and things back to normal. The only difference is that the Sindh govt now has Rs. 1 billion of additional funds at its disposal, donated by Nawaz Sharif, probably the reason for mending fences within PPP leadership.

With PPP around and Sindhis continuing their support to it, Punjabis have very little to do for keeping Sindhis in subjugation. Plus the fact that Sindhi leadership, PPP as well as nationalists, sell themselves cheap makes the task of Punjabis even more easy. So if you want to liberate Sindh from Punjabis, you'll need to change the Sindhi mindset first, or sell the idea of colonizing Sindh to the Americans.

Nizar said...

On my visit to Karachi, my bright nephew who is studying economics echoed what I believe is the voice of the youth there. Corruption, mismanagement, poor allocation of resources and cronyism shaves off a big chunk of Pakistan GDP growth. The water problem you highlight is not due to scarcity alone but poor governance. For that we cannot blame the US or the British Raj or hostile neighbors but the disease is internal.

How much GDP growth is affected now and in the future? The problem is the politicians talk big and come up with grand plans but then everything gets fizzled.

Shams said...


You have not answered the question regarding things like - nearly $17 billion worth of natural gas being given to the Punjab at zero cost. What is a f---- Rs 1 billion compared to that.

Suhail said...


Giving away gas at low cost and such things are correct. But given the total lack of capacity of PPP government, had the $17 billion been at their disposal, all of it would have been misappropriated and nothing invested into Sindh. This is exactly what I'm saying. Unless Sindh undergoes a renaissance or is colonized by Americans rather than Punjabis, it cannot develop.

Last night, there was a news item about a peace deal between the two criminal gangs of Lyari, Uzair Baloch and Baba Ladla gangs. The deal was brokered at the Hyderabad residence of Ayaz Latif Palijo, where Uzair Baloch's negotiating team was led by the Lyari PPP MPA. You can well imagine the total lack of concept of governance when PPP legislators are openly representing the top criminal gang of Karachi. With such lack of capacity, Punjabis are having a field day.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a National Geographic piece on Thar coal development in Pakistan:

The current acute energy crisis in Pakistan, certainly the worst of all times is heating up an indigenous extractive resource scramble in a remote part of Pakistan with unusual demographics. The Tharparker District or simply the Thar Desert located in the southeastern province of Sindh is under spot light because of a 175 billion tons of estimated coal reserves lying beneath its surface. These reserves have been known for around two decades, but only recently has development gained momentum to generate power in order to propel the country’s ailing economy. The signs of a resource boom are already animating the dull landscape of the region – roads, airports, site offices, power lines, guest houses and rising real estate price are evident. Near the town of Islamkot, an underground coal gassification pilot project represents the scale of possible change where workers sourced from local communities rest their heads after long-hour shifts.

Understanding the quandary faced by the residents of the Thar Desert took me to several villages situated in the vicinity of the coal fields to gather some basic ethnographic data on community perceptions of the project. Tharparker is home to around 1.5 million people stretching its boundaries with Indian Rajasthan and the Great Ran of Kutch salt marsh. The indigenous communities of Menghwar, Kolhi and Bheel make up a large part of the rural human settlement. The land is famous for rippling sand dunes, distinct folklore, rain-starved shrubs, drying wells, bottomed indicators of health, poverty and education and the most food insecure district in the country. One of the villages Mauakharaj of Tharparker, just beside an airport being built to host coal companies, has abject poverty and deprivation. The whole village is culturally and socially crippled because of fluorosis; a disease caused by consumption of excessive fluoride in groundwater, with no remedy and still people compelled to use it.
The conversation did not lead to consensus on what approach should be dominant but there was a agreement that Thar coal development should not be a first resort but much further down the priority scale for addressing Pakistan’s energy crisis. As Pakistan’s election approaches, energy is a ballot issue and polemics are rife on panacea solutions. It is high time that Pakistanis consider their energy predicament with a multifaceted strategy that transcends petty nationalism so that communal harmony is not compromised for short-term and inefficient power solutions.

Majumdar said...

Very timely article, sir. Looks like the rot is spreading to Cholistan. Also I wud have wished that apart from high investment strategies like drip irrigation and dam building you had focussed on water and soil conservation and organic farming. Higher soil organic C content substantially increases retention of rain water and reduces dependence on irrigation, which is always a more dangerous and not to say expensive source of water.


Riaz Haq said...

Couple of reports on Pakistani politicians promising water projects:

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government in Sindh province of Pakistan is installing 683 solar-powered reverse osmosis plants in the drought-hit areas of Tharparkar and other arid regions to provide 10,000 gallons of safe drinking water daily.

“As the world observes International Water Day, we reiterate our commitment to ensuring a well-irrigated and greener Sindh and Pakistan,” PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said in a statement released on Sunday.

According to Bilawal, the PPP government has initiated the renewal of 3,420 miles of canals and embankments, construction and repair of 3,890 water courses, installation of 1,762 tube wells, introduction of sprinkle-and-drip irrigation systems and rain guns, and renovation and repair of the Sukkur Barrage, the Dawn online reported.

Five-hundred water treatment plants would be set up in the towns of Keamari and Lyari in Karachi and the world’s biggest water filtration plant would be set up in the district of Shaheed Benazirabad, also in Sindh province, he added.

The Desert Rangers Force has also joined the civil administration in relief operation and for providing drinking water to the drought-hit people of Cholistan. This was stated by Bahawalpur Sector Commander of Desert Rangers Brigadier Riazul Hassan.

The sector commander said that the relief operation regarding the provision of drinking water to the human population in the desert had been launched at the request of the civil administration.

He said drinking water was supplied to thousands of inhabitants staying around the Bijnot and Rhenalwala open water ponds, which had gone dry because of the dry spell. He said these two ponds were around 160 kilometres far....

Development minister says National Water Policy in the offing soon
Pakistan Water Summit 2014 highlights themes including groundwater sustainability, trans-boundary waters, water-food-energy nexus and innovative financing for water infrastructure among others
Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal said on Thursday that the government was taking strong measures to avoid water crisis in the country.

“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recreated Ministry of Planning and Development with a view not to repeat past mistakes in terms of water and this summit was a step towards evolving National Water Policy which would soon be announced by the government”, the federal minister said while addressing Pakistan Water Summit 2014.

Federal Minister for National Food and Agriculture Research Sikandar Hayat Bosan, Minister for Inter-provincial Coordination Riaz Hussain Pirzada and other officials were also present on the occasion. He said the summit comprises of 14 themes and the experts would present their opinions on these themes.

The 14 themes of the summit include groundwater sustainability, trans-boundary waters, understanding water security and impacts on national security, water-food-energy nexus, innovative financing for water infrastructure, drinking water and sanitation, water technologies for 21st century, climate change impacts on water availability(droughts, floods, glaciers), research and education for water secure future, industrial effluent, water infrastructure, development reforms, system efficiency for urban utilities, agriculture water productivity.

Anonymous said...

KARACHI, Pakistan, April 2 (UPI Next) -- The intrusion of the Arabian Sea into the mouth of the Indus River on Pakistan's southern coast is eroding land, forcing whole villages to relocate inland, and threatening fishing livelihoods, residents and environmental experts say.

As sea levels rise globally, low-lying coastal areas become vulnerable to the incoming saltwater.

The sea’s intrusion into the once-thriving Indus Delta in the coastal Thatta district occurs mainly because the Indus River does not carry enough water below the Kotri Barrage, a major dam 190 miles north of the coast, to hold back the saltwater from the river and its network of creeks and mudflats. The seawater intrusion turns fields and underground drinking water saline, makes land waterlogged and reduces fish catch.

In the early 20th century, the area was famous for production and export of red rice and fish. For centuries earlier, it was a center of trade and scholarship, partly due to the old port at the seafront town of Keti Bunder. Now the survival of this part of the dying delta region is threatened.

Local lawmaker Humera Alwani of the opposition Pakistan People's Party says that at the current rate of erosion, the 6,700-square-mile district of Thatta, with its population of 1.1 million, could be gone by 2025.

The effects and threats of the inflow and erosion are pronounced in Keti Bunder.

Mohammad Saleem, a lifelong Keti Bunder resident, watches daily as the sea erodes the earthen dike, near his wooden house.

Ten years ago, a few miles separated his house from the muddy waterline. Now, he points to a spot seemingly far out to sea where his and his neighbors’ homes used to be before encroaching seawater forced them out.

"We had to move here and set up our village all over again because the sea had entered our village over there," he said.

Houses are set on posts 2 feet off the ground.

Villagers will have ample time to leave if the sea makes its way to their village again after eating through the dike.

The water flowing near Saleem's home used to be drinkable -- from the Indus River -- but now it is all saline. He says the shoreline used to be a few miles farther out, meaning that river water used to surround the area until its flow was reduced, allowing seawater in.

The PPP's Alwani has predicted that if the sea level rise and seawater intrusion continue at the current pace, Thatta and a neighboring district, Badin, will be gone by 2025.

"Around 80 acres of land have been eroded by the sea in Thatta district alone. There used to be seven ports here but all of them were destroyed by the encroaching sea," Alwani, a member of the Sindh assembly, told UPI Next.

Over the past 30 years, the Arabian Sea has devoured about 1.2 million acres (1,875 square miles) of land from the coasts of both districts, says Abdul Majeed Nizamani, chairman of the Sindh Growers' Board, which represents farmers, landlords, peasants and others involved in agriculture.

"The Sindh Development Review 2008-2009,” a provincial Planning and Development Department report, cites a study estimating Keti Bunder mudflat erosion at 66 feet per year with the rate in one of the four major creeks near the town was as high as 5,500 feet per year.

Though no official records exist, 34 of the sub-district's 42 settlements have disappeared under the sea, said Zahid Jalbani, a program manager at Strengthening Participatory Organization, which specializes in development advocacy.

The intrusion accelerated after a dam was built at the town of Kotri in 1955 to divert fresh water for irrigation and flood control, Jalbani said.

"The flow of freshwater in the Indus Delta is too low to push the seawater back and sustain the areas in and around it," he told UPI Next.

Read more:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Dawn story on World Bank report on infrastructure deficiency in South Asia:

ISLAMABAD: South Asia should spend as much as $2.5 trillion on infrastructure by 2020 to bring its power grids, roads and water supplies up to the standard required to serve its growing population, said a World Bank report on Wednesday.

“If South Asia hopes to meet its development goals and not risk slowing down — or even halting — growth, poverty alleviation and shared prosperity… it is essential to make closing its huge infrastructure gap a priority,” the report said in probably the first analysis of the region’s infrastructure needs.

The report, entitled “Reducing poverty by closing South Asia’s infrastructure gap”, says that “infrastructure deficiencies in South Asia are enormous, and a mix of investment in infrastructure stock and implementing supportive reforms will enable the region to close its infrastructure gap”.

Pakistan should invest $165 billion over ten years in improving infrastructure in transport, electricity, water and sanitation, solid waste, telecom and irrigation sectors, according to the report.

For the required investment in electricity sector of up to $96bn, Pakistan should generate funds through government-private sector partnership, the report said.

The average share of Pakistan in the total infrastructural investment in South Asia is only 12 per cent compared to 79 per cent by India, the report says.

Riaz Haq said...

Sunday, July 06, 2014 - OBVIOUSLY, Arid Varsity by virtue of its name is known as a last line of defense against water scarcity, and joining the ranks & files by the present Vice Chancellor furthered the notion of its emergence as a change agent, especially for rainfed and dry land agriculture. Metrological footprints of Pakistan reveal abundant rainfall ranging from 200mm to 1500mm per annum, but our ignorance as a nation put us besides the lines by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798) while sailing in the ocean said “Water Water Every Where, Nor Any Drop to Drink”. By turning the coin, situation seems more pathetic, as this country faces mayhem of floods claiming thousands of lives, economic devastation and convert booming crops into inundated, almost every year. Is that not a dark side of the situation demanding an action oriented policy by the higher ranks of the country?
In this program 5 farm ponds with a capacity of 55 acre-ft of water have been excavated. Experience indicates that these ponds were filled to their capacity in early rain showers of the monsoon season 2013. It can be safely opined, farm ponds of same size or even larger capacity for rain harvesting in the region are imperative to cater the crop husbandry in the years to come. The University has prepared a program of raising high value crops from these ponds. The developed farm ponds are sufficient to irrigate an area of 150 acres orchard crops including olive, grapes, citrus, fig, apricot, almond, pears besides tunnel vegetables especially tomato, cucumber, etc. using drip irrigation. The University rain harvesting model is meant for production and knowledge dissemination to the Pothwar farmers. Experts understand that rainwater harvesting can be extended to other parts of the country even in irrigated area and especially with sloping lands such as Cholistan, Thar, Thal, Baluchistan, KPK and AJK. Being a water professional Prof. Dr. Rai Niaz Ahmad, Vice Chancellor played a pivotal role for initiation and completion of this pilot project at the Farm.
Ground water provides a huge natural reservoir, for instance, Rechna Doab (area between Ravi and Chena) alone equates the capacity of 5 Mangla reservoirs. This is a loud and clear message for our policy makers considering option of harvesting flood water in the groundwater reservoirs, since the flood flows carry around 30 to 40 MAF of water every year to the Arabian Sea whereas the minimum flow required to the sea is only 10 MAF. These ponds would be greatly contributing towards recharge of groundwater reservoir, which is under threat at the moment.
The rooftop rainwater harvesting in the urban areas provides another opportunity for kitchen gardening of vegetables for domestic at household level. The practice of kitchen gardening is very famous and popular in most of the developed world where rooftop rainwater is harvested and used for vegetation. It is worth considering that devastation witnessed during the monsoon floods in Pakistan can be minimized if flooding waters are ponded both at upstream and downstream along the river banks as practiced in other parts of the world. In view of all this, Govt. of Pakistan needs to initiate a comprehensive program on rain/flood water management. Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi offers its services for preparing a mega project for rainwater harvesting both and urban rural areas of Pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

From Hydroworld:

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) seeks bids to provide financial advisory services to the government of Pakistan for Pakistan's proposed 4,500-MW Diamer Bhasha hydroelectric project on the Indus River. Bids are due October 27.
USAID awarded a contract in September to MWH Global to perform an environmental and social impact assessment of Diamer Bhasha. It was reported last year that the World Bank and Asian Development Bank agreed to help finance construction of Diamer Bhasha (also spelled Basha).
Pakistan recruited firms in 2009 for design, construction supervision, and contract administration of Diamer Bhasha, which includes a 272-meter-tall roller-compacted-concrete dam, two diversion tunnels, two underground powerhouses of 2,250 MW each, a permanent access bridge, and hydro-mechanical and steel structural equipment.
USAID/Pakistan now seeks bids for financial advisory services in regard to financing Diamer Bhasha. Work is to include development of a financing strategy for the project, assistance in financing decision making and financial closure, and development of a computer-based financial model for the project. The work is expected to require one year at a cost of US$2.5 million to US$2.9 million.

Riaz Haq said...

The United States on Wednesday pledged support for Pakistan’s massive $14 billion 4,500MW Diamer-Bhasha dam project as top officials and business leaders explored investment prospects, amid exponential energy needs of America’s ‘critical partner’ nation.
Both the US officials – including US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Dr Rajiv Shah and US Special Representative Dan Feldman – and Pakistan’s Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar and Minister for Water & Power Khawaja Muhammad Asif, who is also defence minister, highlighted tremendous opportunities for American and international investors in the ‘transformational’ power generation and water storage project.
The officials spoke at a joint platform that brought together senior leaders and experts and business leaders at the US Chamber of Commerce at a meeting, co-hosted by the USAID and the US-Pakistan Business Council. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Jalil Abbas Jilani and US Ambassador in Islamabad Richard Olson participated in the daylong conference, spread over several sessions.

Pakistan needs 10,000MW of power to meet its rapidly growing domestic, industrial and agrarian requirements. The materialisation of Diamer-Bhasha dam will be a giant step in that quest.
Besides producing 4,500MW of power, the dam will help with four million acre of water for irrigation, save millions from flash flooding, boost other hydro projects and contribute vitally to extending life of Tarbela Dam by 30 years.
The Obama administration officials assured the investors of effective results, citing results from US-financed energy up-gradating projects in Pakistan.
“We know that success can take hold,” Dr Shah said in reference to completion of small projects and addition to power generation capacity of large dams.
Daniel Feldman said the US and Pakistan have a wide-ranging strategic partnership and that Washington is in for a long-term economic and investment relationship with Pakistan, particularly in the energy field. “Investment in Diamer-Bhasha dam is the smartest choice for Pakistan,” Feldman remarked, reiterating the White House and Secretary John Kerry’s commitment to back economic and energy security of Pakistan.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government is committed to encouraging foreign investment in various sectors of the economy and is crystal clear that the country needs both the Dasu and Bhasha dams. “We have demonstrated our commitment – and acquired land from own indigenous resources,” he added.
He apprised the meeting of government’s robust economic agenda, saying Islamabad has stemmed the economic downslide it inherited and now exports, GDP rate, remittances, revenue collection and industrial growth, have all registered marked growth.
“Despite demonstrations in Islamabad, the rupee has been fairly staying at stable exchange rate, while inflation has also been checked,” he added. Senator Dar said the government has paid off circular debt it had inherited from the previous administration.
Khawaja Asif said Washington’s support for the vital Diamer-Bhasha dam would cement the relationship between the two countries.

Riaz Haq said...

From Hydroworld on Diamer Bhasha dam in Pakistan:

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) seeks bids to perform a technical engineering review and upgrade of plans for Pakistan's proposed 4,500-MW Diamer Bhasha hydroelectric project on the Indus River. Bids are due November 17.
USAID also has called for bids by October 27 to provide financial advisory services to the government of Pakistan for Diamer Bhasha. It awarded a contract in September to MWH Global to perform an environmental and social impact assessment of the project.
USAID has pledged US$200 million toward development of Diamer Basha, with funds to be used for assessment of environmental and social effects of the proposed project as well as preparation of a financial package. The project is to include a 272-meter-tall roller-compacted-concrete dam, two diversion tunnels, two underground powerhouses of 2,250 MW each, a permanent access bridge, and hydro-mechanical and steel structural equipment.
USAID/Pakistan now seeks bids for technical assessment, review and upgrade of the engineering design, cost estimates and documentation for Diamer Bhasha. The work is expected to require one year at a cost of US$5.59 million to US$6.59 million.
A solicitation notice may be obtained from the U.S. Federal Business Opportunities Internet site,, by entering Solicitation No. AID39114000059 in the "Keyword/Solicitation #" box.
Bidders are to submit separate technical and cost proposals by 4 p.m., U.S. Eastern time, November 17. For information, contact Maria Hassan, Acquisition and Assistance Specialist, Department of State, USAID Unit 62206, APO 09812-2206, Islamabad, Pakistan; (92) 51-2081285; E-mail:

Riaz Haq said...

KARACHI: Asia's largest reverse osmosis plant, having a capacity to produce two million gallons of water daily, was inaugurated today in Pakistan's drought-ridden Sindh province.

The plant which is billed to produce two million gallons of water per day is expected to reduce the water crisis in Tharparkar district where last year hundreds of children have lost their lives by drinking untreated water.

Former President Asif Ali Zardari inaugurated the plant. Zardari, who is also co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party which heads the province, said his party was committed to provide clean drinking water to the people of the area.

Zardari said Asia's biggest RO plant has been set up at a cost of Rs 300 million while many smaller plants having a capacity of 10,000 gallons per day have also been set up across the region at a cost of around Rs 2.5 million each.

The Sindh government plans to install 300 reverse osmosis (RO) plants in water-starved regions of the province by February.

The number of the ROs already made operational is 150. Irshad Hussain, the chief operating officer of Pak Oasis, the company that has been working in Thar's water sector since 2004, said the government had allocated Rs 5.4 billion allocated to set up RO plants in the region.

He said these plants can be operated through electricity or solar energy and steps were being taken to convert most of the filter plants to solar energy.

"It is solar energy that matters here in this region as it makes operation of ROs cost effective," he added.

Taj Haider, a senior PPP leader who is overlooking the operation in the region said: "For years now people living in the region have had to travel several kilometres to fetch a few buckets of clean water from reservoirs in their area. The situation is going to change now for the people of Tharparkar.

Reverse osmosis plant uses a purification technology that remove salts and other pollutants from water.

Riaz Haq said...

Knut Oberhagemann, a water expert in Dhaka, Bangladesh, says that the flow of the mighty Ganges where it enters Bangladesh is at times a pitiful few hundred cubic metres a second, so low that “you can walk across the river”. When the same river, at this point called the Padma, reaches the coast, it is often so feeble that the sea intrudes, poisoning the land with salt.

Riaz Haq said...

BBC on Thar:

The last time I was in Tharparkar in 2000 it was to report on one of the more severe droughts this region has experienced.
Fifteen years later, in some ways much has changed.
Back then, I remember travelling for hours on sandy tracks in a rickety old World War Two American truck called Kekra (meaning tortoise). These slow-moving trucks were the main mode of transport between border towns and the district capital Mithi. Today, there are shiny new roads linking most of the major towns in Thar.
Back then, radio was the only mass medium and news travelled by word of mouth. Today, the arrival of mobile phones in the main villages has transformed the way people can connect with each other and the rest of the world.
Electricity infrastructure is still lacking. But solar power has gained momentum.
Travelling in Thar these days, it is not uncommon to come across roadside vendors offering to charge your mobile phone using solar panels.
And yet, despite these improvements in communications, social sectors like health and education have continued to suffer.
Water scheme
This region has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. On most measures of development, Thar is at the bottom of Pakistan's 120 districts.
Doctors and nurses are hard to find. Qualified medical staff from the region often leave to earn much more money in big cities like Karachi.
In Thar, there are many villages without schools and many schools without teachers.

It's part of an overall crisis of governance, say critics. They blame the provincial government of Sindh - run by the party of former president Asif Ali Zardari - for corruption and institutional failures.
But the government defends its performance by pointing to its massive investment in a new scheme to bring clean drinking water to the region.
The $33m project involves installing 750 water purification projects in villages across the desert region. Of these, as of this month, about 280 have already been installed, says PakOasis, the company running the project.
The scheme is being billed as a ray of hope for Thar. It uses imported Danish technology to pump underground water. Impurities from the water are then removed using American membrane technology. The filtration process is called Reverse Osmosis (RO).
Each RO plant runs on zero-electricity cost. It is powered by solar panels imported from China.
The biggest of these water plants stands on a hill near Mithi. It has the capacity of purifying 2 million gallons of water daily. At its full capacity, it is expected to benefit 300,000 people.
The project was meant to go online later this year. But reeling under heavy public criticism for not doing enough, the government inaugurated it with much fanfare in January.

Riaz Haq said...

Anti-drought measure in #Pakistan's Thar desert may also provide jobs. #desalination #FishFarming via @upi

When officials in Pakistan's Sindh province constructed hundreds of desalination plants, they were only thinking of how to counter a long-running drought.

Along with providing much-needed drinking water, however, authorities hope to provide an economic boost and new jobs for the impoverished Thar majority – in the form of fish farms. They are planning to
populate the brackish water left behind by the desalination process.
"This is a revolutionary step, which will bring sustainable development in the area," Sen. Taj Haider, who heads the Thar Drought Relief Operation, told News Lens Pakistan. "It will also generate revenue, which will be spent for the local development."

Sindh's Thar Desert, which covers 77,000 square miles in southeastern Pakistan, has been in the grip of a drought since December 2013 that has left more than 1,000 dead, most of them children under the age of 5. The drought, blamed on a lack of rain, has also devastated agriculture and killed nearly 4,000 cows, sheep and goats.

As part of the massive relief operations, Sindh officials have launched plans to build hundreds of desalination plants that use reverse osmosis to covert salt water into drinking water. They promised to build 750, but so far have built 345.

When pure water is produced by reverse osmosis, thickly contaminated salty water is left behind.

Authorities came up with the fish farming plan to use that remaining salt water. They plan to collect the remaining water in tanks and use it for the fish farms. Farms are set to start operating this month and
will be funded by the Pak Oasis, the company that built the desalination plants – with a farm being constructed on the grounds of each facility.

So far, the plan has received a mixed reception from local residents. Some complain it will do nothing to alleviate the drought and may just be a short-term fix.

"Reverse osmosis plants are not a permanent solution," said Kanji Bheel, a resident of Chacharo city. "We need permanent solution, like a canal."

"The government is unable to save sheep for which desert is habitat. How can they introduce fish farming in the desert?," Bharumal Amrani, a social activist, told News Lens Pakistan. "It's nothing but a joke [for] the people of Thar."

Others are happy to find the desalination plants in their area and see the fish farms as a chance to make extra money.

"It always took long hours every day to fetch water, and even that water is brackish. But now we have filtered water at our doorstep," said Mohsin Ali Rahimoon, a resident of Bakhwo village.

Riaz Haq said...

Rainwater harvesting brings hope to farmers in #Pakistan’s #Punjab. #Water … via @scroll_in

Extreme weather conditions and erratic rainfall had added an edge of desperation to Muhammad Khan’s struggle for survival, taking him and his family to the brink of ruin. But that is happily in the past now, says the farmer in Pakistan’s Punjab province whose life has undergone a dramatic change after he started irrigating his land from rainwater harvested in a small dam in the village.

“I had a bumper vegetable crop in the last season. I have recently bought a new tractor and also started sending two of my grandsons to a private school,” said the 65-year-old resident of Thoa Mehram Khan village in Punjab’s Talagang sub-district.

With the bounty of plentiful water, Khan has been irrigating 16 acres of his 50 acres of land from the small dam and growing off-season vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes and cauliflower as well as fruits such as grapes and watermelons. This was unthinkable earlier.

He is not the only one. Others in the village are also cultivating newer crops on land that was arid not so long ago. Rainwater harvesting is a relatively new and innovative concept for many farmers in the region who are delighted to have water for crops and livestock throughout the year.

“Rainwater harvesting has also helped raise the groundwater table from 450 feet to 200 feet in the village,” says Khan. “This is also inspiring people of nearby villages to pool money for building mini dams so they can reap the benefits of modern agriculture.”

To construct a mini dam for rainwater harvesting, a natural stream or nullah (water channel) near farmland is identified and then choked by building a wall in the front. An engine is installed and water supplied to farms through a pipeline.

The small dam, which is 15 feet in height, is built on government land in the village and has a catchment area of one square kilometre, a command area of 250 kanals (about 500 square metres) and storage capacity 29.21 acres/feet.

The cost of the $4,279 project, which has changed so many lives, was shared by 20 families of the village and by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, both sides paying $2,139, an official said.

The importance of harvesting water is underscored by a research paper published by the Pakistan Journal of Agricultural Sciences, which estimates that the Potohar Plateau, including the Chakwal, Jhelum, Attock and Rawalpindi districts of Punjab province, covers an area of 2.2 million hectares and receives as much as 70% of its precipitation in just the monsoon season.

On top of this, groundwater supplies are depleting at 16 to 55 centimetres (6 to 21 inches) a year across Punjab province, according to a study by the International Waterlogging and Salinity Research Institute.

Going macro

An estimated 64% of the country’s population lives in rural areas and earns a living from agricultural activities such as crop cultivation and livestock rearing, according to the 2010 agricultural census carried out by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. There are 50,588 villages in Pakistan but all may not have terrain suitable for rainwater harvesting. The Potohar Plateau is believed to be the most suitable area in the country for natural places for rainwater harvesting with experts identifying 74 sites.

Around 145 million acre feet of water flows through Pakistan each year, but the country’s existing storage capacity is only 14 million acre feet. “Small dams and rainwater harvesting techniques could help the country increase its water storage capacity from 30 days to the international standard of 120 days,” said Dr Pervaiz Amir, country director for the Pakistan Water Partnership.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan Army distributes 25 tons of rations in #Thar, sets up medical camp, making up for #PPP failures in #Sindh …

The Pakistan Army distributed 25 tons of rations among the affected people of Chachro in district Tharparkar in a two-day long relief operation.

According to the Inter-Services Public Relations, besides provision of rations the army doctors also treated over 1,200 patients at the medical camp. Over the last year the Pakistan Army has distributed 574 tons of rations among 36,000 families and has treated over 40,000 patients.

Riaz Haq said...

BBC News - BBC Pop Up: A lack of #water and #wives in #India. #Drought #FemaleGenocide #Women

"Who would give their daughter to this village?" That's the question posed by one man in an Indian village devastated by an ongoing drought in the country.
The majority of young men in Gopipur, in the Chitrakoot district about 400 miles south of New Delhi, say that the shortage of water, and its crippling impact on the local economy, has made it harder for them to get married.
It's one of the unexpected social consequences of a drought that the Indian government now says is affecting at least 330 million Indians.
BBC Pop Up went to the community where nearly 5,000 people rely on a small naturally-fed well for drinking and bathing water.

Riaz Haq said...

Heat stress increases long-term human migration in rural Pakistan

By V. Mueller, C. Gray & K. Kosec

Human migration attributable to climate events has recently received significant attention from the academic and policy communities 1, 2. Quantitative evidence on the relationship between individual, permanent migration and natural disasters is limited 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. A 21-year longitudinal survey conducted in rural Pakistan (1991–2012) provides a unique opportunity to understand the relationship between weather and long-term migration. We link individual-level information from this survey to satellite-derived measures of climate variability and control for potential confounders using a multivariate approach. We find that flooding—a climate shock associated with large relief efforts—has modest to insignificant impacts on migration. Heat stress, however—which has attracted relatively little relief—consistently increases the long-term migration of men, driven by a negative effect on farm and non-farm income. Addressing weather-related displacement will require policies that both enhance resilience to climate shocks and lower barriers to welfare-enhancing population movements.

Riaz Haq said...

Chinese-backed coal excavation and power plants will displace thousands of people and deplete groundwater in Thar, a region ravaged by drought.

The Thar desert in Sindh province contains 175 billion tonnes of lignite coal – one of the largest untapped coal deposits in the world. It is also one of the most populated deserts in the world – home to world heritages sites and endangered species. Most of the 1.6 million people who live in the Thar desert region live in poverty and are highly vulnerable to extreme weather events. Twenty five percent of people live within the proposed coal development area. They thought they would benefit, but that has not been the case.


It was only in 2015 that work began on the fields, when the Thar coal project was included as part of a string of energy and infrastructure deals signed under the USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. These agreements included eight coal-fired power plants and a 3,000-kilometre network of roads, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas from Gwadar Port on the Arabian sea to Kashgar, in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang.

In December 2015, China approved a USD 1.2 billion investment for surface mining of Thar coal and the establishment of 660 MW power projects. The deposits are divided into 12 blocks, each containing 2 billion tonnes of coal. In the first phase the Sindh provincial government has allocated block II to Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) to excavate 1.57 billion tonnes of coal and build a 660 megawatt power plant. The plant is expected to send power to the Pakistani national grid by June 2019 and will later be expanded to produce 1,320 MW of power.

A state-owned Chinese company, the China Machinery & Engineering Corporation, is providing the machinery and technical support for the excavation of coal and building and running the power plant. The local company will provide human resources, management and be responsible for the distribution of power. SECMC say the project has created 200 technical jobs and 1,600 menial positions. But locals have been protesting that the company has not even given them the menial jobs. Around 300 Chinese, including the engineers, miners and experts are also working on the site.


The Chinese team have started excavating the first pit. In the first phase SECMC will relocate five villages, which are located in block II, including Thario Halepoto village.

SECMC has started paying villagers for their homes and agricultural land. SECMC’s chief executive officer, Shamsuddin Ahmed Shaikh, claims that his company will do all they can to help the villagers.

“We will construct model towns with all basic facilities including schools, healthcare, drinking water and filter plants and also allocate land for livestock grazing,” he told

He said that the company is paying villagers above market prices for their land – PKR 185,000 (USD 1,900) per acre. However locals say this price does not take into account its high environmental value and they do not want to be relocated to the new towns, the exact location of which is yet to be decided.


A SECMC official said that the company will plant 10 trees for every tree cut. So far the company has planted 12,000 trees in an 18 acre area called the Green Park and more trees will be planted in next two years.


SECMC’s Shaikh rejected such claims saying his company would only use 1,400 acres for two reservoirs to store the water extracted during excavation. “It will be natural underground saline water, not toxic or poisonous in any way and it will not affect any village,” he claimed.


Riaz Haq said...

Thar Revisited:

Last week I had the chance to visit Thar again after more than a decade. While it remains an extremely poor and least developed region of the province of Sindh, I was struck by a few changes that have the potential of transforming the region into a vibrant economic player. Water is the most basic need in a desert. Last time round, I observed that Thardeep, a rural support organisation that has worked in the area since the early nineties, had achieved some success in improving provision and quality of drinking water in selected areas. Traditional birth attendants, some dispensaries and a few “barefoot” doctors was all that it could manage in the field of health. It also ran a number of schools. Linkages between craftswomen and middlemen from the market were few and far between. Government presence was minimal. The district hospital in Mithi was a mess. Roads were almost nonexistent.

Fast forward to August 2016. The road from Karachi to Thatta is a shame and Thatta to Thar via Badin is tolerable. Enter Thar and it is a different world. The main road here is probably the best highway of Sindh. It leads to coal mining areas, power stations and the gasification plant. Coal mining is a joint venture of the Government of Sindh and ENGRO, subcontracted further to a concern named Bilal. There is no knowing whether usable coal will eventually be available to the power plant being constructed next door. The coal gasification plant is no more than a monument to our atomic veteran.

The impact of the road, augmented by mobile connectivity, is multidimensional. Walking long distances has given way to motorbikes and overloaded buses have taken the place of kekras, the rickety shuttle truck-bus of the World War II vintage. Children suffering from malnutrition and other ailments are reported directly to the media as well as the hospital in Mithi on mobile phones. The high numbers of the suffering children had always existed; only the media was late in discovering these cases. The media attention did bring politicians and bureaucrats to the region, facilitated of course by the road. The hospital in Mithi is now much better staffed and well-stocked with medicines. It is now a thriving town with a good number of schools and a college. Even an English-medium private school was in evidence. A sub-campus of a university is also coming up. Locals complained about the lack of girls schools, especially at the post-primary level. This is a sign of growing awareness. There was also frustration that the locals are not given the party tickets for the National and Provincial assembly seats. Mobile connectivity and the road have linked the famous craftswomen of Thar with the main markets much more effectively. At a community meeting in Islam Kot, women were quoting prices that broadly corresponded with the prices charged in Karachi’s Zeb un Nisa Street.

Another change is the large number of government buildings, most of them left incomplete. Many that are completed, are uninhabited. Those complete and inhabited are poorly maintained. The tourist complex built at the legendary Marvi well is a case in point. A beautiful tourist complex in Nagar Parkar, designed by friend Arif Hasan, funded by Sindh’s Planning and Development Department and managed by Thardeep is another case in point.

At the end of the day, there may or may not be good quality coal or power, but the very presence of the road is rapidly opening up the area. As for power, the people are beginning to learn that the best off-grid solution is the sun that shines over Thar most of the time. I, though, had the good fortune of witnessing rains and greenery in a desert — an exhilarating experience.