MORE than 50 per cent of irrigation water in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is lost due to unlined canals and seeping muddy watercourses, adding to the problems of waterlogging and salinity.
According to officials, large areas in the Peshawar valley, Bannu, and Dera Ismail Khan districts are waterlogged. According to a Water and Power Development Authority study, KP has around 40,000 waterlogged hectares with the underground water level from 0 to 5 feet.
An unaccountable quantity of water seeps through the soil causing worry for people living in low lying areas where rivers flow, e.g., Peshawar, Nowshera, Mardan, Charsadda, Swabi, and Swat.
As the underground water rises to the surface some of it evaporates, leaving behind salt, which, if not taken care of, poisons the land and negatively impacts crops.
In an effort to overcome the problem, the province has, over the years, invested billions of rupees. Several projects have been carried out to install tubewells and line up watercourses. A multibillion rupee salinity control and reclamation project has also been carried out in Mardan and Swabi districts. Though tubewells have been helpful in several countries to control underground water levels, they need refurbishing after operation for more than 15 years.
Some experts believe subsidy on canal water irrigation has been the root cause of problems responsible for water-logging. Subsidies make irrigation water a cheap commodity and farmers exercise little care in using this precious resource. They fail to renovate their watercourses.
There is also a perception that while the province made a conscious effort to develop irrigation network, equal attention has not been paid to lining up kacha watercourses and flattening canal beds.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has allocated Rs3.1 billion in the current financial year’s annual development programme for water management projects. However, the allocation to improve irrigation services appears inadequate and the province could not make a big leap forward because of a limited financial base. The provincial government’s kitty is not big enough to sponsor activities at a scale required to overcome waterlogging and salinity.
The money specified for the current financial year would be distributed among 90 development schemes of which 52 are ongoing projects and 38 new schemes would be launched. The existing water management projects focus entirely on expanding irrigation network in the province.
KP is looking forward to the completion of Bazai irrigation scheme this year. It would bring some 25,200 acres under cultivation in Mardan and Malakand. Similarly, Hero Shah minor canal is also expected to be completed in upper Swat which will irrigate 2,143 acres. In addition to that, a barrage on River Swat would also be completed. According to official figures, the total irrigated area in KP comes to 0.82 million hectare of which over 381,000 hectares are irrigated through government canals and some 304,000 hectares get irrigation water from private canals.
“Government canals have been built with proper designs and drawings and the loss of water is less than the losses caused by tertiary watercourses,” said an official, “These watercourses have been built by water users/growers without taking care of technical details.”
Such watercourses are causing water losses, salinity, and waterlogging. On the other hand, they also result in reduced water supply at the tail end of the canal-based irrigation system.
“The irrigation department has been helping growers to expand the network of the privately created watercourses. Now that they have a large command area, the government should construct canal banks and bed,” said a grower from Mardan district Bakhtiar Khan.
“The government does not have ample resources to properly clean canals and remove silt, how can it afford to finance the construction of canal beds?” an official countered.
The province has 10 canals with a combined length of 2,972 kilometres and a total command area of 1.2 million acres. Five of the canals — Jue Sheikh canal, Paharpur canal, lower Swat canal, upper Swat canal, and Kabul River canal — were constructed before Independence. One of them is as old as 400 years, according to an official.
On-farm water management experts believe the problem of waterlogging and salinity can be partly addressed by imparting best water management practices to growers by conducting infield training workshops. Apart from renovating water courses, farmers can also be facilitated by establishing farm demonstration centres in the areas affected by water-logging.