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The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones in Baluchistan
"Traditional method of water supply is no longer working"
 real 28k

Thursday, 2 December, 1999, 15:19 GMT
Pakistan's parched province
Baluchistan in Pakistan's southeast is drying up Baluchistan in Pakistan's southeast is drying up

By Owen Bennett-Jones in Baluchistan

Government officials in the capital of the Pakistani province of Baluchistan say that by the year 2007, the city of Quetta will have run out of water.

Quetta is home to one million people and unless something is done they are all going to have to move.

Baluchistan is one of the hottest places on earth and water has long been an issue there.


The people of Quetta city will have to migrate to some other place
Nadir Shah
Several centuries ago the people in the area dug a vast network of underground channels to ensure that the water got to all the villages.

But that traditional method of water supply is no longer working because the water table is falling so fast that most of the channels no longer have any water in them.

"A hundred and fifty families used to live here and we had plenty of water," says a Baluch villager.

Quetta is home to one million people Quetta is home to one million people
"But then electric tubewells were put in and they sucked all the water out of the ground. Now there're only 8-10 families here and we have to go a long way to get water," he said.

Now, virtually everyone has moved out to nearby cities. Many have gone to the capital of Baluchistan, Quetta.

But according to additional chief secretary Nadir Shah, that means that there are quite simply too many people for too little water.

"In future, I think everything revolves around water," Mr Shah said.

"A time will come, say 2007, there'll be no water at all. And the people of Quetta city will have to migrate to some other place," he said.

Drying up

The reason for the oncoming crisis is clear enough. The water has been running out ever since the advent of the tube well in the 1960's.

Digging deeper than ever for water Digging deeper than ever for water
In those days, water could be found at just 30 meters - now the water table is falling so fast that wells have to go 200 metres deep.

The government has banned new tubewells, but many are still being dug. And because electricity is so heavily subsidised the farmers can leave their pumps on 24 hours a day - the water costs them next to nothing.

Orchard farms

The wells have enabled Baluch farmers to make their desert bloom.

Orchards use up most of the water Orchards use up most of the water
They have led to a drastic increase in the number of highly profitable orchards. But these consume huge amounts of water.

The farmers pump so much water that they spend their time sloshing around in artificial streams trying to direct the flow to each tree and flooding the entire root system.

The trees flourish and are laden with apples apricot and peaches. But most of the water is wasted and evaporates away.

While the farmers are making huge profits, Baluchistan's precious water is fast running out.

The province is facing a major crisis but no one seems willing to tackle the farmers who waste water and it is far from clear how the water shortage will be resolved.

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See also:
17 Jul 99 |  Sci/Tech
Food at risk as water drips away
29 Nov 99 |  Sci/Tech
Half of world's rivers at risk

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