Khurram Hussain

Pakistan needs to immediately adopt modern agriculture techniques and crops which need a lesser amount of water as the underground water-table depletes regularly, warn experts.

Recent studies have suggested that Pakistan’s ‘breadbasket’, the central and southern regions are facing a gradual decrease in the water table and farmers have lately faced issues of irrigation for proper growth and production of cash crops such as cotton, sugarcane, rice and mangoes.

Doctor Muhammad Ashraf, Chairman, Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), who is currently overseeing a project to measure the lower Indus ground water, says that the situation is alarming to the extent that in some areas water has depleted to three meters.

“The ratio of underground water reduction is higher in urban areas but it’s also decreasing in the rural areas, which means that we should take alternate measures to keep on our agriculture products,” he said.

According to recent PCRWR study, the water table in Quetta has reduced up to three meters, in Punjab particularly near Lahore, to one meter and in Pothohar such as near Islamabad from 0.50 to 1 meter.

This situation has brought additional crisis for the farmers at the tail ends of Pakistan’s historic canal irrigation system as they were already worried about the water supply to their farms.

Water reaches to dead level in late months of calendar year when most of the canals are shut down for cleaning, but during the season also, supply remains to be reduced because India continues to stop water entering in Pakistani rivers.

However, doctor Ashraf says that the crisis is deepening for the drinking water because the quality of drinking water has also been hugely affected. He thinks that water conservation process should also be initiated in the country on a priority basis.

“There are two things: one, the water table increases or at least remains the same and two, we should use the lesser water,” he says.

“But unfortunately, nothing of this sort is happening here,” Ashraf adds saying that we should try to avoid wasting water at homes and in fields and reuse the available water.

“The rainwater doesn’t go underground because we have cemented our floors, streets and carpeted all the roads in residential areas, while in fields we are making excessive use of available water. We should design our farms and houses to properly increase the water reservoir underground. We can dig a pit at the end of our fields to conserve the flowing water,” he said.

The PCRWR chairman also advocated for nonconventional methods of farming and enhancing the use of modern seeds with the consultation of agriculture scientists to reduce the use of water.

“The scientists have invented several new types of crops which require lesser water. There are also efficient methods of farming which help to get bumper crops by using lesser water and modern techniques, we should adopt these techniques sooner, it’s important,” he said.

The farmers, however, seek government assistance.

“The government should assist farmers for the establishment of a dripping system or other modern irrigation tools because farmers can’t adopt new changes themselves,” says Muhammad Ali, owner of Mango orchard and vegetable fields in Multan.

About Author: Khurram Hussain is Islamabad based journalist with interest in human angle stories.