By Prof. Rahmat Karim Baig
Chitral saw, this summer, a prolonged drought which began in April and continues to date. As a result the water resources in all parts of Chitral receded and became dry, leaving crops dry before ripening. The fodder in the hill sides failed to reach proper growth level and pastures became barren much earlier than usual. It seems the global climate change has brought disaster with it and Chitral has become one of the first victims of climate change – prolonged spell of dry summer.
Though this district did not receive monsoon rains even in the past but sporadic rainfall used to bring relief to human and wild life but now the change is going to be a complete one that has very bad impact on resources and life is becoming more and more difficult. It is said to be a man- made disaster but man has never reflected over the damages done by him wittingly or unwittingly. The man of today is not that much cooperative as they used to be in the past. Some fifty years ago our fathers, let alone our forefathers, used to have one man from each group of villages as head to look after pastures and no one was allowed to cut any kind of tree unless all the members of the commune fixed a number of days to reach the pasture @ one man per family and cut trees or bushes in equal amount and after the fixed days the head of the system announced to close the open days for all and then the next year another hillside was opened for a similar activity. This rotation and rationing system kept the pastures green and the low bushes and wild grass could withstand flush floods to a certain degree but now the pastures have been left open, the Gujoor tribe has spread all over Chitral and uses all the sources of fire wood and paves the way for flush floods by burning all the bushes day and night. No growth is possible in the presence of large flocks and absence of rain fall throughout the summer. We must stop this type of grazing and also must engage the Gujoor tribe in other trades for their livelihood.
The speedy desertification has to be addressed by constructing water channels from the numerous valley rivers to the arid lands that wait for reclamation but have so far been left virgin. The Irrigation deptt. has to be revamped and extended to provide water to the arid lands from various sources- these include rivers and glacial streams that rise in summers but go straight down to flood the low lands of Punjab and Sindh that means more funds must be allocated to this department with fixed targets to be achieved within prescribed period. The work of irrigation deptt. in the district has so far been limited.
About a dozen water channels have been dug by this deptt. whereas the scope before it is vast enough. There are wide tracts of barren lands lying waste in all parts of Chitral. Some years ago it was given out that the duty of the Irrigation deptt. is to construct water channels only in lower areas where double crop is possible and the higher regions with one crop a year is not the mandate of this deptt. but this policy has to be revised at this stage and the deptt. must be assigned to work in the higher areas i.e. above 7000 ft. where waste lands are waiting for the attention of the deptt. to boost the land produce of the villagers, where many varieties of fruit and vegetables grow well and give good yield per acre for example potato which is a staple if given proper modern agricultural technology as well as nut that also bring good income beside pulses that are crops of high altitude regions.
In order to address the growing impacts of global warming we have to change certain methods of the traditional and non traditional farming techniques. We have to build more channels to waste lands and start plantation. Certain areas are landslide prone where gravity flow (pipe system) will work but other areas are free from landslide threat and can easily be brought under irrigation . ‘Where there is a will there is a way’. We have water sources that are more than enough for many kind of desertification threats. If our water resources are used wisely then desertification could easily be averted. Higher altitude regions also need attention as in those higher regions we can grow poplars that is used as timber, fruit trees, vegetables, fodder such as alfalfa that is cut 4-5 times a summer and a very good source of fodder for livestock. These will slow down the threat of desertification and provide local sources for the farmers who have now very small tracts of lands for farming due to division and subdivision under the heredity law.