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QUETTA: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Balochistan government on Saturday signed an agreement for a $107 million project aimed at improving irrigation infrastructure and water resource management in the province.

Additional Chief Secretary of Planning and Development Sajjad Ahmed Bhutta and ADB Country Director Xiaohong Yang signed the agreement during a ceremony which was also attended by Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani and provincial ministers Nawabzada Tariq Hussain Magsi and Zahoor Ahmed Buledi.

“Agriculture remains the backbone of Balochistan’s economy,” said Ms Yang on the occasion. “This project will introduce efficient water usage systems and practices to help farmers improve productivity and farm incomes,” she added.

Agriculture accounts for almost two-thirds of Balochistan’s economic output and employs 60 per cent of the province’s 13 million population, but the drought-like situation in many parts of the province for years and poor water management has put the agriculture sector and those who rely on it at risk. The poverty rate in the province is almost double the national average.

The Balochistan Water Resources Development Sector Project will focus on improving irrigation infrastructure and water resource management in Zhob and Mula river basins. The two rivers irrigate vast areas of farmland in Balochistan.

Among the infrastructure that will be upgraded or built for the project are a watershed protection dam and command area able to hold 36 million cubic metres of water; 276 kilometres of irrigation channels and drainage canals; and facilities that will make it easier for people, especially women, to access water for domestic use. In total, about 16,592 hectares of land will be added or improved for irrigation.

The project will protect watersheds through extensive land and water conservation efforts, including planting trees on 4,145 hectares of barren land to combat soil erosion. Its output includes pilot testing of technologies, like solar-powered drip irrigation systems on 130 hectares of agricultural land, improving crop yields and water usage on 160 fruit and vegetable farms, and demonstrating high-value agriculture development.

“The project will also establish a water resources information system that will use high-level technology such as satellite and remote sensing to conduct river basin modelling and identify degraded land for rehabilitation,” said Ms Yang.

The ADB will also administer two grants for the project, including $3 million from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction and $2 million from the High-Level Technology Fund. In addition, a $2 million technical assistance will help Balochistan’s provincial government improve its institutional capacity to address the risks and potential impact of climate change in the agriculture sector, as well as build a climate-resilient and sustainable water resources management mechanism in the province.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2019