Thar needs water is an essential issue that needs to be resolved because our Tharis are the sufferer. I have been seeing campaigns on social media highlighting the issue of water, thus, I have penned my thoughts to view this issue thoroughly and what should be needed.
As we all fathom that nowadays, investments in Thar coal, electricity generation, potential and exposure have opened new windows and opportunities for all i.e. investors, communities, tourists and natural resources of Tharparkar, Sindh.
Historically, Tharparkar has been home to rich biodiversity, made up of fertile dryland swatches, sand dunes and sandy tracts, mountains, Rann of Kuch, and seasonal wetlands where communities had been practicing rain-fed agriculture and livestock rearing. The livestock in this region is most often dependent on the farmland trees and other resources. Livestock is a major production and export from the drylands to the urban hubs of Sindh.
The world’s largest lignite deposits; comprise over 175 billion tons of Ignite coal was discovered by the Geological Survey of Pakistan in the 1990s, spread over more than 9,000 km2.
The Thar region covers 22,000 sq. km and has a population of nearly 1.6 million people. The district (19, 638 sq. km) extends southwards along the Rann of Kutch. Thar or Tharparkar (including Nara) is the Sindh part of the Great Indian Desert.
The region consists of vast sandy tracts broken up by undulating sand dunes and/or barren mountains. If analyzed, we may find it rather a complex of ecosystems as well as the culture and civilization.
Thar has a fertile desert and the livelihood of Thari people depends on rainfall agriculture. Culturally, it is a rich and diverse district with the dominant Hindu population. Thar is a symbol of interfaith, harmony and resilience had been surviving in challenging drought conditions since centuries with environment-friendly activities, strategies, lifestyle, and indigenous wisdom.
As we see the climate of the two regions: Thar and Kohistan is arid subtropical-monsoonal. The main minimum and maximum temperatures vary from 5C to 45C. These conditions affect even rain-fed agriculture activities in this region. In Thar and Nara region, wind velocity is more than 40 km per hour at the end of April or in May, and sometimes in June, it reaches 60 miles per hour.
The climate of Thar is arid in the north and semi-arid in the south. Rainfall varies from north to south. The rains are encountered about every three to four years and a complete drought occurs once every eight to ten years.
On the other hand, Tharis have the most common diseases among animals in the arid regions following: anthrax, black quarters, foot and mouth disease, enterotoxaemia, contagious caprine, and ovine pleuropneumonia.
The soil is generally infertile because of severe wind erosion and vegetation consists mostly of stunted scrub and bush although trees like the Kundi (Propos cineraria) occasionally dot the landscape. The nutritive grasses provide fodder for the livestock that comprise of cattle, camels, goats, and sheep. According to some estimates, Tharparkar is home to the largest livestock population and forestry resources today.
The amount of rainfall varies from year to year and the annual average for some areas is as low as 100mm. Most of the rain falls between July and September for two to three days. Although rain occurs in the form of heavy showers, it creates no runoff except in some situations. All the rainwater is absorbed by the dehydrated sandy soil. After the rainfall, pastures regenerate and subsoil aquifers get replenished.
However, after a certain period it gets completely grazed and the subsoil water depletes and becomes saline. Sweet-water is scarce throughout the year and drought recurs every third year. The atmosphere is charged with dust and fine sand which moves the most of top soil, where the sand dunes are under heavy grazing pressure or where cultivation had destroyed the vegetation.
Water Supply through Pipeline Network and Government’s response to it:
Historically Thar has been fed through rainfalls starts from Mid-May to September, all of the economic, social, cultural, and environmental life moves around this monsoon period. During British period in 1877, Tharis faced major famine, and then the ruling government formed the commission to advise the government use of water and food.
The commission suggested many including water harvesting techniques from relining Tarais, Tobas, and construction of Dug wells. The Sarswati River or Hakro bed of river Indus (Sindhu) had been other sources of water, Sarwasti River was abandoned but Hakro river bed had dried throughout British times once the barrages were constructed on the river Indus.
One theory; Hakro bed was replaced with Nara Canal irrigating the Khairpur, Nawabshah, Sanghar, Umerkot and Tharparkar districts for agriculture and drinking water purposes. When designed it also used to fed the lakes which were host to many natural habitats in Khairpur, Nawabshah, Sanghar, and Umerkot and these lakes are also utilized to store water to be used in winter desilting periods particularly for Sanghar and Umerkot districts.
In 2004, seven of these days were converted into a dam called Chotiyarion dam, and this dam is fed by Nara Canal in flooding or Monsoon days later to be used in winter. This Dam stores roughly 0.8 MAF but two nearby lakes, Kakahoo and Kalenghar if built by the Irrigation department as storage facility can also cater 0.6 MAF additional water later can be used for agriculture or drinking purposes. All these lakes are on either side of the banks of Thar.
This main Nara Canal further distributes in many small or medium canals to irrigate different areas of different districts.
Government of Sindh in 1998 initiated the project of providing water to Thar through water supply from Chhor (Command area of Nara Canal) by constructing one branch dedicated to,
a) Store water in Chhor by constructing lined water reservoirs
b) Install water supply lines to different villages of Thar Desert
Later, the capacity of this line is enhanced to cater almost all the villages up to Khokhrapar or adjoining villages, and in north, it was further expanded up to Ranakdar Achhro Thar in district Sanghar. This line provides Approximately 151,000 population and their livestock with sweet water from the river Indus.
The second project was designed on Kot Wah (Command area of Nara Canal) of the same type installed from Umerkot to Ratnaur to Bagal (phase-1) from Ratnaur to Gadro (phase-2) with all en-route villages are connected considering a minimum of 25 or more households as a village and within the diameter of 6 KM of line.
This line now provides a drinking water facility to approximately 250,000 population and their livestock. This line needs up-gradation as it is connected to the vast area of our Khaoor and Dhat regions of district Umerkot and Tharparkar. Nonetheless, the proposal is submitted through PHED for approval.
Moreover, the Third project of providing safe drinking water to villages in Thar was designed on the Nabisar Canal (Command area of Nara Canal) with the same strategy from Cheel Bund to Chachro with all en-route villages are connected, it was later extended to Waori Dora village.
To provide water in the southern region (Mithi, Salmkot, Diplo, and Nangarparkar) of Thar, two lines were designed from Naukot (Command area of Nara Canal) in 2001-02. In first phase up to Mithi, Salamkot and Thario Halepoto later in 2008 extended up to Nangarparkar targeting Approximately 190,000 population.
The same storage is also used to supply water to Diplo via Khetlari in the south of Naukot connecting to enroute villages.
Unlike Tharparkar or Umerkot district The Achhro Thar from Sanghar district the drinking water facilities were not only rare but water quality of dug wells was extremely poor. This part of Thar is less vegetated compare to the rest of Thar. Government of Sindh has initiated water supply line from Main Nara Canal to Tar Hashim connecting all enroute villages even up to few villages of Nara Taluka Khairpur.
In 2017, Government of Sindh initiated another pipeline dedicated to Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Water Supply scheme from Umerkot to Keetari. This is one the biggest and connect more villages to another line and covering two Talukas, Umerkot, Chachro targeting almost 489000 population in both the districts. This line is under construction and will have the capacity to be extended to more villages in Taluka Chachro and Dahli.
In addition to these existing lines, there are three more main pipelines from the main Nara Canal that are in the designing phase to connect more remaining villages of District Umerkot and Tharparkar.
Thar Coal Block-2 has received another flagship project of 35 Cusecs Water supply line to feed the power plant and the proposal is the supply of water to adjacent or enroute villages. This line will be feed from a dedicated canal of 200 Cusecs from Farsh Regulator (Nara Canal) to Nabisar.
In 2004 then Federal Government has launched WAPDA vision 2025, Marooara Council had launched a campaign to build the small carry over dams in Karoonjhar (Hilly Area) of Nangarparkar where in monsoon rain water flows in small or big rivers to wetland of Rann of Kuchh. Federal Government endorsed the idea and formed committee that visited the site and found these dams feasible, 06 of them were constructed.
Since 2008 we have completed 18 more dams in the region and are highly beneficial;
A: Recharge the underground surface encourage Agricultural activities irrespective of monsoon or conventional crops throughout the year.
B: Water for drinking purposes.
Small dams initially were studied by SAZDA in 80s and submitted the reports to Government of Sindh, 03 of them were constructed as storage dams for drinking water purposes. Nangarparkar has different dynamics compare to rest of Thar as its culturally rich area – archeological significance because once home to Jain religion followers (migrated during partition) bordering to Indian state of Gujrat and Rajasthan, it is full of multi minerals from China Clay, Granite and it has vast graze land area which attracts many natural habitats even the migratory birds to winter.
Government of Sindh, in parallel with water supply schemes have initiated RO plant scheme on village basis. These RO initially facilitated well to provide ample water to different villages later there were problems occurred due to poor maintenance.
This facility is to provide small submersible pumps on their existing dug wells or in some cases with a fresh bore. Another purpose to encourage villager to use smart agriculture where land is flat and fertile or home gardening.
Here, I state some suggestions to resolve the issue of shortage of water, following:
- The funds can be generated through Federal Share, Government of Sindh from its ADP, and minimum half of royalty from coal fields be used for water facilities in Thar.
- Thar canal (Lined) may be constructed from Guddu to Tharparkar and should be connected to lakes in Khairpur, Sanghar so that these lakes be used as storage dams.
- Reni Canal as flood canal may be constructed up to Thar can help recharge the underground water table.
- Nara Canal be lined to save water from theft and seepage and be connected to these lakes and water be supplied to Thar with more pipeline network.
- RO plant is a good technology but it should be discouraged to be installed on a village basis as it is difficult to maintain rather should be installed where ample water is available and then be supplied through a pipeline network to targeted villages.
- Smart agriculture should be introduced in different areas of Thar, where land is fertile and flat.
- Thar Water Authority needs to be established to look thoroughly into the issue of water in Thar.
“Think globally, act locally” if we really want to solve the issue of water in Thar then we should bring them to the table for decisions. Otherwise, their issues cannot be resolved.