The largest province in Pakistan is facing a severe drought and man-made famine due to scarce rainfall and decreasing groundwater levels caused by deep well pumping over the last few decades, especially in the western area of Balochistan.
“Half of Balochistan is gripped by a drought,” says Dr Ainuddin, chairperson of the Disaster Management Department at the University of Balochistan.
“Noshki, Chaghi, Kharan and Makran, among other areas, are more prone to drought, and it has affected land, water resources, water, wildlife and plants,” he adds.
Even though water shortage has increased to 60 per cent in the province, experts believe that poor management is a greater issue than depleting water reserves.
Despite the dire situation, the issue rarely catches the attention of the federal government or the media, resulting in a dearth of a solutions brought to the fore to tackle the crisis.
The provincial capital, Quetta, is facing an alarming situation as the water level is decreasing by three-and-a-half feet every year, and the average groundwater level in the city is 180 feet.
A major factor behind the decreasing water level are deep-dug tube wells.
Although the government has banned the instalment of tube wells in the city, the number of tube wells in Quetta have crossed 2,200 out of which only 450 are registered.
In the past, Balochistan had an ancient water supply system based on karezaat.
Specialists believe dams appear to be the only solution to the growing threat of water shortage. However, few dams have been built by provincial governments in Balochistan over the years. Consequently, a large amount of water goes to waste.
Bashir Agha, the superintending engineer of the Agriculture Department says: “8.57 billion cubic metres of water out of 10.693bn cubic metres is being wasted every year due to a lack of dams. Lack of infrastructure also renders water coming from Sindh of little use.”
“If this misuse of water continues, the population might have to migrate in near future,” he warns.
Government officials admit the western parts of the province is suffering from drought. However, they blame it solely on climate change instead of mismanagement.
“It’s the global phenomenon of climate change. Disasters around the world are increasing and it is affecting Balochistan as well. The government of Balochistan has taken measures to overcome drought in the province,” Tariq Zehri, the director general of the Environment Protection Authority in Balochistan claims.
“The chief minister has taken the matter very seriously and formed two different bodies for evaluation and implementation,” Zehri adds.
Talking about the measures the provincial government has taken to counter the water shortage in Balochistan, Zehri says the chief minister “takes the matter very seriously” and that two different bodies have been formed to evaluate and implement environmental strategies.
“Balochistan is the first province to pass the Environment Protection Act in 2012 after the 18th Amendment. So far, we have initiated 35 different projects with the collaboration of different departments to overcome the drought,” Ainuddin says.
He adds: “The Environment Department has taken the initiative to provide no-objection certificates to only projects that will include plantation of trees. So far, with ongoing projects, more than 0.8m trees will be planted in different areas of the province.
“After the 2005 earthquake, disaster management authorities have become functional at a district level, which will play a key role in the critical situation,” he says.
Ainuddin also believes that climate change is the major factor behind the drought as it has put monsoon areas in the grips of drought as well.
He warns that a trend showing a changing climate could also increase the number of natural disasters in the province.
“The centre of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Gwadar, could potentially face disasters like a tsunami in future,” he says as he predicts a bleak future hurt by environment factors.