By Salal Baloch
Once tall date trees piled over one another bearing a striking resemblance with Arabian date palm found in Punjgur, in the west Balochistan. Now they stand shrivelled, their leafs withered with bony trunks as if they have not been watered for years. The place has been turned into a barren patch of land with sands filling qanats or water channels levelling them with the surface.
As rains are less frequent in an arid climate of Panjgur, qanats, the underground water channels that provide water to green date farms, were a major source of life for the date farms by a continuous flow of water. In the past few years, these qanats have dried due to the drop in groundwater level in the area. Farmers complain that they have not been re-dug by the government to restore the flow of water. As a result, date farms comprising over hundreds of palm trees have withered and turned into barren lands. For these farmers only source of livelihood has been these date farms. Now they have been forced to switch to other sources of income as they have been hit hard.
Panjgoor is famous countrywide for its high-quality dates.
One of many affected farmers, Muhammad Saleh spoke with PakVoice, recalling how the system worked perfectly, “There was a time when these qanats used to flow day and night providing sufficient amount of water to all farms in the area. We had enough water to cultivate other crops too in the farms.”
“They have dried because of the sheer neglect of government as fewer funds have been allocated for their maintenance.”
As the underground water level has dropped, people have dug bores to suck water deep from the earth.
Saleh appealed to the government to stop the boring practice in order to rescue his small farm.
“We demand that the government should allocate more funds on collective sources of water than allotting bores to individuals. All we have is our drying farms and they must be paid attention to save our livelihood.”
He wished: “Our woes would be felt and we will see our farms blossom again”
Saleh is not alone as there are many other farmers who have been struggling to survive due to the water crisis.
Haji Moula Bakhsh, the district president of Zameendar Action Committee and a farm holder told PakVoices, “We have taken this issue to local government authorities and irrigation department as well. We have been assured that funds would be increased but so far, we have not seen any progress.”
Shedding light on the plight of qanats he said, “there used to be around 200 qanats in the whole district of which only around 100 are functional. People have switched to diesel engines for watering their farms, which are costly for the farmers forcing them to abandon their farms due to losses incurred by them.’’
In recent months, the government distributed solar energy panels to some farmers. When asked about these efforts by the government, Bakhsh opened up saying, “The solar panels were given to near and dear ones. Even those people received solar systems, who do not have any agricultural land.”
He continued, “The panels worth 2 to 3 million rupees were resold for 0.4 million rupees to those farmers genuinely in need.”
Tariq Baloch, another affected farmer of the area, told PakVoices “it would have been better if they (solar panels) had been installed at qanat headwork to restore the flow of water in them.
Juma Baloch, a peasant at the farms, noted a substantial reduction in date crops over a period of time in the wake of drought in the area.
“Over a decade, we have been hit by a severe drought. We are running out of drinking water let alone growing crops. We have no other option but to migrate to other areas,” he said.
Baloch is one among the several affected peasants working at the farms.
PakVoices talked to the local government official Majid Baloch, responsible for distribution of funds for qanats’ maintenance, who claimed, “there are total 135 qanats at present and we had been given 96 million rupees for the renovation of 85 qanats. We utilized the resources and restored all these qanats.”
The official blamed the long droughts for the present condition of qanats, saying, “Due to long droughts some qanats have ceased to flow in recent years. It is a priority for us to restore them as soon as possible.”
Looking up at the sky, Saleh ended our conversation with these words: “Even if it rains now and the qanats are restored we have little to gain out of our farms. A generation of productive trees has been ruined due to lack of water.”
Salal Baloch is working with Pak Voices as a citizen journalist from Punjgur. He holds a degree in M.A Political Science from GC University Lahore.
Edited by Hasan Khan