Land is infinite in Balochistan. It is the one place in South Asia where if you ask someone how much land they have, they will generally have no idea. Instead, it is water that matters.
The most arid of the provinces in largely semi-arid Pakistan, Balochistan has the highest poverty rate in the country, and more than 70 percent of its population is spread across the vastness of its uplands and plains. Most of the rural population can be characterized as pastoralist and agro-pastoralist, with a rising cohort of sedentary agriculturists colonizing the valley floors in the province’s uplands and one major canal colony in the eastern lowlands. Groundwater is vital to agro-pastoralist and sedentary agriculture, and for more than a millennium the linchpin of groundwater tapping technology in Balochistan has been the karez system.
Saving these karezes from extinction will be one of the keys to restoring peace and dignity to the rural poor of Balochistan. The depletion of groundwater as it is currently happening will spell doom for that province, both socially and environmentally. The number of functioning karezes in the Quetta valley has been reduced from scores to barely one or two. In the neighboring Mastung valley in the 1970s, there were 365 karezes; now there remain barely a dozen.
This essay is part of the Middle East-Asia Project (MAP) series on “Harvesting Water and Harnessing Cooperation: Qanat Systems in the Middle East and Asia.”
Read the full article by Daanish Mustafa on the websites of the Middle East Institute.
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