Sizzling heat and water-logging of Jacobabad

Published February 22, 2021Updated February 22, 2021 09:42am
Jacobabad is fed by the Guddu barrage through one of its three off-taking channels, a non-perennial Begari Sindh (BS) Feeder canal system.
Jacobabad is fed by the Guddu barrage through one of its three off-taking channels, a non-perennial Begari Sindh (BS) Feeder canal system.

It is often said if you need to experience or report on heat, Jacobabad is the right place to be. The oppressive heat has been its identity as one of the hottest places in Asia that makes people go for impromptu showers multiple times a day. Heat is not a joke here — people die.

Another strong identity of the area is the never-ending waterlogging, salinity, nonexistent drainage system and brackish subsoil water, which haunts paddy growers. Paddy cultivation takes place at a massive scale here, after Larkana. No immediate solution to this chronic problem is in sight for which farmers also share the blame, perhaps by overcropping.

Jacobabad is fed by the Guddu barrage through one of its three off-taking channels, a non-perennial Begari Sindh (BS) Feeder canal system. The 124km stretch of Jacobabad touches with Balochistan’s Jaffarabad district in the north and borders with the south-western part of Punjab, Rajanpur. The old name of Jacobabad is Upper Sindh Frontier District. It was a small village Khangarh which then went on to become Jacobabad during British rule. About 70pc of its population lives in rural areas.

The town was founded on the site of a village namely Khangarh in 1847 by General John Jacob. And the district is named after him. He served as commandant for many years in this part of the subcontinent and died in 1858. Victoria Tower was built in his memory and stands tall today in the heart of the city. Gen John is said to have taken measures for the development of the city. He lies buried here. His bungalow is the current deputy commissioner’s house.

Farmers bring the entire land under paddy sowing that raises the water table since it is a high delta crop — land degradation also reduces per-acre productivity of wheat

During the Musharraf regime, Kashmore was created out of Jacobabad as an independent district. The right bank district of upper Sindh, Jacobabad is located in the north of Guddu Barrage and is home to Jakhranis, Sarkis, Soomros, Buledis, Jamalis, Odhos and Khosos.

Khosos are considered the largest tribe in the area. All these families rule the roost in the district to settle personal, domestic and tribal feuds at a tribal level. Jacobabad also has the highest Hindu population in upper Sindh.

The infamous tribal and sardari system is prevalent even after the continuous electoral process under successive military and civilian regimes. Bloody feuds among tribes continue over regular intervals. Notorious jirgas run parallel to the judicial system amidst bans imposed by superior courts.

Sadly, the area also serves as a route for the smuggling of Iranian oil and Kabuli vehicles as law enforcers tend to look the other way. To quote an officer from the area, the police avoids getting involved in tribal feuds or crime because they fear premature transfer and suspension.

Given its strategic importance, Jacobabad has one of the oldest airports which is also known as Shahbaz airbase. It was used as a military airbase during the war on terror in Gen Musharraf’s regime and does not cater to passenger and commercial flights. Reports indicate most parts of Jacobabad city are to become part of the cantonment in the near future due to security considerations.

The district was badly hit during the 2010 super floods when a massive breach in the Indus river dyke, Tori downstream Guddu barrage occurred on Aug 7, 2010, in Kashmore, inundating large swathes of agricultural land and leading to massive displacement in Jacobabad besides half a dozen other districts. Thousands of internally displaced persons ended-up in relief camps, roadsides and abandoned government spaces only to be left to fend for themselves. Monsoon rains in 2011 and 2012 also affected standing crops.

It’s Ghari Khairu taluka was completely submerged while Qubo Saeed Khan remained safe but its surroundings were inundated by gushing floodwaters. While floodwaters hit its periphery, the city of Jacobabad was mostly unharmed. Super floods had destroyed the paddy crop in the area which was close to its harvest period.

Growers bore colossal economic losses as the government found it hard to compensate them given the magnitude of the natural disaster while the irrigation network was destroyed. During dyke rehabilitation works by Sindh and the federal government — then headed by PPP — Jacobabad’s Tori dyke was repaired. Stone pitching work is still underway in the BS Feeder at RD-133.

The 78.6 miles long non-perennial BS Feeder has a cumulative command area of around 950,000 acres in Jacobabad, Kashmore, partly Sukkur and Shikarpur districts. The designed discharge of BS Feeder is 14,764 cusecs and it had been revised at 21,000 after remodelling, according to Guddu barrage officials.

The Begari canal that emanates from BS Feeder irrigates Jacobabad mainly with a designed discharge of 7,115 cusecs. Sukkur barrage’s North-Western Canal — commonly known as Kirthar canal — irrigates parts of Jacobabad as it passes through the area in order to provide Balochistan with its provincial share of water.

The canal system provides water to around 4,753ha or 1.4 per cent of the irrigated area as per Sindh Bureau of Statistics compiled by Hina Shahid, Research Associate for the EU and Sindh Union Council and Community Economic Strengthening Support programme. Tubewell water is another mode of irrigation in 3,997ha area or 1.1pc of irrigated area. -

Farmers like Mir Nazir Khoso and Panah Odho alias Imran Odho, former Jacobabad district council chairman, said drainage issues affect soil and productivity. “The non-existent drainage system is the fundamental problem of Jacobabad. Once it rains, it rains heavily and every monsoon our lands are submerged under rainwater. The stagnant rainwater recedes over time but we can’t ensure its drainage,” said Mr Khoso. “We don’t have drainage to dispose of agriculture runoff whereas other districts do,” he said.

Panah Odho explained that 100pc cropping intensity is another cause of waterlogging. Farmers bring the entire land under paddy sowing and paddy is a high delta crop that raises the water table. “Due to the land degradation factor we are not getting the desired per acre productivity in the wheat crop as well,” Mr Odho said. “If you want Jacobabad’s prosperity then give us a sound drainage system to address waterlogging and salinity. This will increase average per-acre yields of farmers and subsequently their incomes,” insists Odho.

Abdul Salam of the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources attributes waterlogging to the cropping pattern and over-irrigation besides poor drainage. “The average water table in Jacobabad remains high,” he said. He added that his land had been waterlogged for a long time due to the lack of a drainage system.

The past three average acreage figures of paddy sowing show that an area of 11.85pc or 90,761ha has been brought under paddy cultivation in Jacobabad only out of 766,211ha between the 2015-2017 seasons. Jacobabad’s average share in national paddy production is 4.60pc during this period. While cotton is surviving in other districts, it has zero acreage in Jacobabad in these three years. Wheat’s acreage on average in Jacobabad was recorded as 2.76pc of Sindh’s total wheat acreage in three years.

It has been famous for horse and cattle shows on the pattern of Punjab. It has served as a source of encouragement for livestock holders who were always keen to go for animal rearing. The district still has the second-highest 2018 projected populations of livestock and cattle in Sindh, after Hyderabad district. According to these calculations, Jacobabad has 1,178,200 cattle and 1,079,388 buffaloes which is 9.6pc of Sindh’s cattle and buffaloes.

Likewise, in terms of sheep and goat, Jacobabad has 765,960 sheep and 1,187,855 goats — 8pc Sindh’s population. It has 12,607 horses out of Sindh’s total 44,284 horses and 14,397 camels, projected population 2018.

The landscape on both sides of the Indus Highway passing through Jacobabad looks scenic when lush green paddy fields mature for harvest. Barefooted village women enter fields for work to back men for the manual thrashing of paddy while pouring their blood, sweat and tears amidst sizzling heat. In a 2012 report “Clustered Deprivation: District Profile of Poverty in Pakistan” published by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Jacobabad is counted among those Sindh’s districts where 35-40pc of the households fall below the poverty line. Jacobabad is also considered an impoverished district of Sindh.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, February 22nd, 2021

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