a popular activity
By Zafar Samdani
The project for the lining of 86,000 watercourses in the
country over a period of four years at a cost of 66 billion
rupees is a major initiative that should strengthen the
agriculture sector in a significant way. It is however not a
new move because it is already a part of the farming sector.
According to Dr. M. Shafique, a leading water sector expert of
Pakistan who has worked on a number of international projects
too, "watercourses' lining is not a new activity; it is around
us since the mid seventies.
By any standards, it is still the most popular programme in
the rural areas because its benefits are direct and accessible
to small and large farmers without any discrimination".
Pakistan has a total of about 140,000 watercourses. Roughly
one third of them have been lined over the years. The main
work has been done in Punjab under the On Farm Water
Management wing of the provincial Department of Agriculture.
But the lining was carried out mostly under foreign aided
projects. The indigenous nature of the present initiative is a
positive and heartening development. Using local resources and
involving beneficiaries is essential for long-term impact of
any project, particularly in the farming sector.
Under the present programme, the watercourses that were not
brick-lined in the past are to be taken up. While the previous
work has helped sustain agriculture activity in a period of
water shortage, it is generally seen as geared towards
privileged and influential members of the sector while the
focus this time is to be on the farming sector in general
irrespective of the size of land holding or status of the
owner of land.
A major aspect of the project is attention to tail end farmers
who are left high and dry by feudal element and politically
resourceful landowners. As the programme is aimed at covering
the entire field, it may be said that it contains no room for
This should be welcomed by small farmers, poor and tail-enders
who form about two thirds of the farming community and are in
fact the very backbone of Pakistan's agriculture.
Farmers have a direct stake and responsibility because they
would be managing and funding part of the brick lining project
themselves. They would make about 14 billion rupees
contribution in term of labour while they would hold the purse
for payments through Water Users Associations or Khal
Panchayats. They would be acting as contractors on behalf of
the government that would underwrite the remaining expenses.
There has been criticism of the project from departments
managing public works, officials who specialize in pilferage,
contractors and feudal elements too. The vested financial
interest has been hit by the outlined manner of implementation
of the project while big landowners oppose it because it has
removal of inequity as an ingredient.
Equity is not a popular concept with landed aristocracy of
Pakistan, not that wealthy urbanites practice or even accept
the idea. District governments would be implementing the
project that would be financed by the federal government to
the tune of 52 billion rupees.
Monitoring would be by a third party that should ensure that
work is carried out as planned. From the look of things, a
conscious effort has been made to plug most of the possible
Considering everything, a few gaping holes may still confront
the effort. Filling them would require political will and
smooth and unbiased functioning of the system of local
Involvement of district governments would accord farmers
direct say in the process and give them a role in its
implementation. It would also generate economic activity in
rural areas as brick making would receive impetus, unskilled
labor would find work near their homes and skilled masons
would be in demand.
The cement industry should also be a beneficiary. That makes
the project not only vital to the agriculture sector but also
an important job generating activity for the rural sector.
In view of the fact that brick lining has continued in Punjab
for the past few years, the province has an edge over the rest
of the country. Consequently, the number of watercourses on
the list of lining, remodeling and other changes is 31,000
while Sindh has 29, 000 watercourses identified for the
The 13,000 channels of Balochistan and 10,000 of NWFP would be
taken up by the project while watercourses in Azad Kashmir
would also be brick-lined. According to Dr. Shafique, the
lining project is not a favour to farmers but it should be
taken as a belated attempt at remedying a situation that
should have been addressed a long time back.
It makes sense to have watercourses lined to make sure that
the costly water stored upstream, in the old and new
reservoirs, is not wasted on the downstream side. Another
aspect of the situation is that brick lining carried out once
is not for ever.
It lasts for a period of 25 years at the maximum, suggesting
that it should be a continuous activity. Many of the
watercourses improved in the past may already have reached the
stage where they require attention again.
As such, it is important that the concept is given an
institutionalized basis and farmer's role is accorded due
importance so that cleaning and maintenance of the channels is
regularly carried out.
While the project looks the right prescription for the water
shortage ills of the country, it should not detract from the
fact that no measure for harnessing existing water resources
can be a replacement for new reservoirs and augmenting
availability of water.
They are not a requirement to be ignored, whatever steps may
be taken to improve the situation. One apprehension of some
sections may not be misplaced. While water losses in channels
must be minimized, it should be ensured that seepage is not
altogether blocked because that play a part in recharging the
With the increased use of tube wells, particularly in the
Punjab province, it is essential that underground resources
are not totally exhausted and there is provision for