CHITRAL: Installation of solar-powered pumping machines to lift water from rivers is said to be the only viable option available with the government to cope with the drought-like situation in Chitral and support the agro-based economy as the mode is quite cheaper than building the irrigation channels and maintaining them.
Although each major valley, including Mulkhow, Torkhow, Yarkhun, Laspur, Oveer, Shehsi Koh, Beori, Golen and Terich, has own rivers they flow quite below the valleys making the gravity flow of water impossible.
A number of farmers complained that shortage of irrigation was the common problem of most of the villages divided into 36 valleys across the district whose length exceeded 500 kilometres starting from Arandu in the south to Broghil in the north.
They said that the irrigation department had so far provided irrigation water to only half-a-dozen villages by building channels whose maintenance consumes huge amounts of money every year as these channels passed through mountainous terrains prone to snow and mud avalanches during winter.
Haji Hussain Shah, a farmer from Warijun village in upper Chitral, said the coverage of irrigation department was less than one per cent of the total area presently under cultivation, while two non-government organisations namely Aga Khan Rural Support Programme and Sarhad Rural Support Programme had also contributed to this sector.
He said a number of irrigation projects of the government department failed after spending hundreds of millions of rupees on them which included Atahk, Droon Oveer, Lavi and Singoor where length of channels ranged from 15 to 25 kilometres that passed through hilly terrains.
Mr Shah said about 80 per cent of the area under cultivation still faced shortage of irrigation where only one crop was grown although climatically these areas situated in double cropping zone and the yield per acre was badly affected by the scarcity of water.
Zafar Hayat Advocate said litigation over irrigation water was common in the area and there were hundreds of cases being heard in different courts while murders had also been committed over water disputes which signified the severity of the issue.
District nazim Maghfirat Shah said there were vast tracts of barren land in every part of the district which could be brought under cultivation by the low-cost system of solar-powered pumps as huge amount of money was required to construct irrigation channels.
He said that in many low-lying villages, the villagers had installed solar-powered pumps to lift water from river during the last couple of years and the district government had taken the initiative of including small-scale solar-powered irrigation schemes in its annual development plan.
Mr Shah said under the EU-funded Community Driven Local Development initiative, solar-powered irrigation schemes were being approved.
“But on large scale, only the irrigation department of the province can carry out projects for which he has already approached the provincial government,” he said.
The district nazim said if the hydro-electric potential of Chitral was exploited to the full, then the electricity generated thus could also be used for lift irrigation on a large scale.
He said in the document of Chitral Growth Strategy which the district government had recently prepared for comprehensive development of the district, the idea of using cheaper electricity and solar power for the lift irrigation system had also been incorporated. –Zahiruddin
Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2018