Drought: Balochistan’s Barren Tears

By: Waqas Aalam Angaria

It was the summer of 2016, dry and hot like a shower of fire. In a broad daylight an Ibex from the Hingol mountain suddenly appeared on the route of Harra (A village in Hingol). Abdul Ghani, aged 68, who is a herdsman, caught that Ibex and hunted it without any resistance. That was unusual because this animal never crosses the lower land and it is impossible to catch an Ibex that way without any hurdle. “The Ibex was half-dead already because of no food on top of the mountain. The effect of this drought’s ambit stretched wide and even an Ibex cannot survive in this harsh time,” Abdul Ghani told Balochistan Review.

Amidst several other reasons for Balochistan to be in the limelight, drought is a major hurdle. Since 2013 drought-like situation has prevailed in several districts of Balochistan and nearly 1.4 million people have suffered from the current drought spell which caused food insecurity, diseases, and increasing rate of suicidal tendency among the people of affected areas according to Provincial Disaster Management Authorithy (PDMA) and UNDP’s 2015 report.
There are 14 districts that are facing arduous climate situation. The high scale areas of droughts are mostly the central or western districts of the province which include; Chaghi, Washuk, Naushki, Saroona, Lasbela, Loralai, Killa Abdullah, Awaran, Gwader, Pishin, Dera Bhugti, Mastung, Kharan, and Panjgur.

These areas are experiencing drought since past few years which aggravated (moderate to severe) from August to December 2018. In a research conducted by Balochistan University of Information Technology Engineering & Management Science (BUITEMS), UNDP and Government of Balochistan it was stated that there are 4 types of drought, namely meteorological, agricultural, hydrological and socio-economic, which exist in Balochistan with different intensities.

It is important to mention the geographical status of Balochistan is very important to discuss before analyzing the drought circles. Balochistan comprises of a hilly terrain and has an annual rainfall of less than 250 mm on average and thus has a dry/arid region. One of the causes of drought like situation in the affected areas is because these areas are not in the Monsoon range. The IPC food security classifies drought in 5 phase’s parameter to identify the harshness of dry spell. Phase 1 is food security, phase 2 is stress in people, phase 3 is when people are in crises, phase 4 is emergency, and phase 5 is catastrophe. Out of 14 districts, IPC Acute Food Security Analysis has declared two districts (Chaghi and Washuk) in Phase 4 emergency which is very alarming.

“Whenever IPC indicates Phase 4 (emergency) it compels international organizations and Government to reach the district on ground but no one complied, the people of my land are merely breathing without food and water, what they are waiting for? Phase 5? That will lead us to catastrophe (direct death),” Ehsan Meer, an economist who has worked with Muslim Aid Organization on drought affected areas told Balochistan Review. Ehsan, is from Naushki, a district that has been one of the victims of the drought spell.

Despite the fact that Balochistan is not in the range of monsoon, there is another reason of this climate shift that had triggered the water crises more effectively in two droughts spell since one and a half decade. Daanish Mustafa, an environmental researcher and a teacher in Kings College, London, has studied the drought of Balochistan and he concords that the transition from karez to tube well was one of the reasons for it. He told Balochistan Review, ”The system is under threat from modern tube well pumps in Balochistan, it has extensively drawn water level down which was the main source of water for irrigation and domestic usage for thousands of years ”

According to a research paper by a researcher named, Danish Mustafa, In the 1990s, the trend of tube well installation accelerated as it coincided with a drought in the second half of the 1990s, which abated only in 2005. Furthermore, the availability of cheap refugee labor in Balochistan in the 1990s allowed for expansion of fruit orchards, providing further impetus for tube well expansion. In 2005, there were approximately 14,400 (now it is 16,090) tube wells in Balochistan which received an annual subsidy of Rs. 7 billion (US $117 million) on electricity alone.

In 2011 the ground water level of Bela city was intermitted at an average of 50 meters which has glided to 90 meters recently, and this massive gap occurred merely in seven years. The current episode of drought has adversely affected the livelihoods, due to this corrosive situation the socio-economic impact is substantial in terms of loss of livelihoods sources, and many families from drought-struck areas migrated and displaced already.
“Villages are deserted in drought affected areas, and we can see homes but no people there,” Akber Notezai who is a journalist from Dawn group told, Balochistan Review.

Climate experts have talked about the migration of locals in drought ridden areas as a non-recorded human crisis of Balochistan. Dawar Butt who is an organizer of Climate Action Now and an expert on global climate shared with Balochistan Review, “In Pakistan, we know that the relationship between government and the people is weak, especially in remote, drought prone areas. Because the government has not been able to provide suitable support, we repeatedly hear of malnutrition killing children. What we do not hear are the large numbers of people who left their villages because of failing agriculture and have now moved closer to Karachi—in a sense also becoming Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Therefore, we see little help from the government”

The greatest impact of drought is on socio-economically weaker section of society hence, the incomes of rural households falls low and according to UNDP the suicidal tendency was observed due to high debts on farmers. The gender related impact of drought is yet another aspect to be discussed. In drought times women have to suffer more as they are responsible for of collecting water that makes them more susceptible of water-borne disease; cholera, hepatitis etc.

The natural wrath can be curbed if the stake holders embrace the responsibility of their service. The possible solutions can be executed to bracket the losses of drought affected people of Balochistan, who are already in misery. Afia Salam who is an environmental journalist told Balochistan Review, “On a long term basis, drought mitigation measures can be taken by initiating schemes for provision of water, or stopping schemes that have led to human induced drought like situation over abstraction of ground water etc.”

To put it in simple words, Balochistan is confronting an environmental emergency that has beleaguered the jitters of nearly half a million people of this province. “Persistence drought is a slow onset disaster and has becomes an environmental emergency when it affects the lives and livelihoods of humans and leads to habitat loss which affects and harms for the biodiversity. Many parts of Balochistan have been facing it” concluded Afia Salam leaving a pensive concern of our dying land, Balochistan.

Waqas Alam Angaria tweets at @Waqasaalam

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