PESHAWAR: Traditional watermills, or low-cost grain grinding mills that use hydropower, have disappeared across Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where they were once widely used, researchers and officials have said, with Jranda Kali being the last hamlet in the region where the technology is still operational.
By the early 20th century, the availability of cheap electrical energy made the watermill obsolete in developed countries but their use has persisted in rural communities around the world, including in Pakistan. In Jranda Kali, a dusty village on the outskirts of the city of Peshawar, more than a dozen traditional watermills, locally known as jrandas, are still used to grind corn, wheat and other grains into flour.
Irfan Uddin, a senior research fellow at the FATA Research Center, told Arab News though some watermills survived and were in use in the country’s northern mountainous areas such as Gilgit and Chitral, they were “dying at an accelerated phase” in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where they could only be found now in Jranda Kali.
“This trend is vanishing because of water shortages and the advent of new technology,” the scholar said. “The government needs to facilitate operators and owners of Jranda Kali’s watermills, which are environment-friendly and depict our old traditions.”
Faisal Amin Gandapur, a provincial minister whose portfolio is yet to be notified, called for the need to “save and promote” the watermills at a time when the entire world was turning toward nature-based, clean agricultural solutions.
“Such technology should be promoted with emphasis on improving their productivity,” Gandapur said. “I think with modern technology, the windmills’ performance can be enhanced and they can become job creators too.”
Jranda operator Sayed Zaffar Ali Shah said he had inherited the technology from his forefathers, adding that people of the region still preferred watermill ground grains over those produced by more advanced machinery. The watermills could also be run 24 hours a day without the requirement of electricity or other fuels, and were less costly for operators.
“This is the basic reason that keeps jranda surviving, otherwise they would have vanished long before due to the advent of electricity-powered mills,” Shah, whose family owns 15 watermills, said. Three of his mills had ceased to function, he said, “due to decreasing flow of water.”
Shaukat Afridi, a geologist in Peshawar, said falling groundwater levels due to the large-scale pumping of groundwater by tube-wells, meant less and less water for the mills.
“One reason for water scarcity is that the water table level is influenced by human extraction of groundwater, using tube wells, and then pumping out water for drinking purpose and irrigation of farmland,” the geologist said. “The water table continues to fall, leaving a negative impact on flow of water. This is one of the reasons for the closure of our traditional watermills.”