KARACHI: Facing an extreme water crisis, Pakistan’s resource rich province of Baluchistan needs at least $5 billion in the short term to mitigate the prevailing water crisis, say officials.
“Asian Development Bank’s $100 million loan to address extreme water shortages is timely and meaningful funding,” Senator Anwar ul Haq Kakar, member of the Senate’s committee on water scarcity, told Arab News.
The ADB Board of Directors on Monday approved a $100 million loan to address chronic water shortages and increase earnings on farms in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and poorest province.
The Balochistan Water Resources Development Sector Project will focus on improving irrigation infrastructure and water resource management in the Zhob and Mula river basins.
Baluchistan’s 67 percent economy solely depends on agriculture and employs 60 percent of the province’s 13 million population, but frequent drought and poor water management has put the industry, and those who rely on it, at risk. Poverty rates in the province are almost double the national average.
“This project will build irrigation channels and dams, and introduce efficient water usage systems and practices, to help farmers increase food production and make more money,” said Yaozhou Zhou, ADB principal water resources specialist, in a statement.
Senator Anwar ul Haq Kakar, who belongs to Baluchistan, said: “The funding shows that they want to invest in a meaningful project because the sustainability of human life depends on water.” The ADB funding is very much required and timely for Baluchistan”, he added.
Among the infrastructure that will be upgraded or built for the project is a dam able to hold 36 million cubic meters of water; 276 kilometers of irrigation channels and drainage canals; and facilities that will make it easier for people, especially women, to access water for domestic use. In total, about 16,592 hectares of land will be added or improved for irrigation.
The project will protect watersheds through extensive land and water conservation efforts, including planting trees and other measures on 4,145 hectares of barren land to combat soil erosion. Part of the project’s outputs are the pilot testing of technologies such as solar-powered drip irrigation systems on 130 hectares of agricultural land, improving crop yields and water usage on 160 fruit and vegetable farms, and demonstrating high-value agriculture development.
The project will also establish a water resources information system that will use high-level technology such as satellite and remote sensing to do river basin modelling and identify degraded land for rehabilitation.
A separate $2 million technical assistance from Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (JFPR) will help Baluchistan’s provincial government to improve its institutional capacity to address the risks and potential impact of climate change in the agriculture sector, as well as build a climate-resilient and sustainable water resources management mechanism in the province, the ADB statement said.
Sardar Shaukat A. K. Populzai, president of the Baluchistan Economic Forum, called for diverting 20 to 25 percent of ADB funds toward setting up solar tube wells because of the costly procedure of supplying electricity to the remote areas of the provinces. “Due to the draught the water sources in Turbat, a date-growing hub, have dried up and the underground water level has also lowered to an alarming level,” Populzai added.
Calling for the channeling of water resources in the provinces, Populzai said: “All existing dams in the province need dredging as, due to constant negligence, the silt deposit level has increased.”
The ADB will also administer grants from the JFPR and the High-Level Technology Fund (HLT Fund), worth $3 million and $2 million respectively, for the project. The JFPR, established in May 2000, provides grants for ADB projects supporting poverty reduction and social development efforts, while the HLT Fund, established in April 2017, earmarks grant financing to promote technology and innovative solutions in ADB projects.