Aga Khan Foundation
Pakistan · 27 March 2023 · 2 min
In the north of Pakistan, the breathtaking Himalayan, Karakorum, and Hindu Kush mountain ranges meet. However, behind the region’s picturesque scenery lies a harsh reality. For its 1.9 million inhabitants, water is an extremely scarce resource. To many this region is known as the "vertical desert".
The communities in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral (GBC) face an array of challenges stemming from the shortage of water. Limited access to clean drinking water has led to health issues, while the inability to irrigate crops has caused food insecurity. The lack of economic opportunities resulting from the inability to grow cash crops or trees for construction purposes has kept some communities – especially the most remote – locked in a cycle of poverty. Climate change is only adding to their woes.
To help address this critical issue, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) has been working with thousands of communities across GBC. Over the last 40 years, communities have constructed more than 1,500 irrigation channels irrigating 209,932 acres of land – the equivalent of 112,866 football (soccer) pitches. These efforts have benefitted over 120,000 households, enabling them to secure access to clean water and arable land.
It is remarkable to think that the vast majority of these channels have been dug and constructed by hand using shovels and pickaxes. Today, bulldozers and excavator machines are used where possible, but in the harder to reach places, channels are still dug by hand. The communities themselves dig the channels with technical and materials inputs from AKRSP engineers.
As a result of these efforts, food security has improved, erosion has decreased due to the planting of trees, and new economic opportunities have emerged. These sustainable development initiatives have also encouraged community participation, empowering them to take charge of their own future.
But the spectre of climate change looms large and these gains are under threat. Rising temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns are further limiting access to water. In response, AKRSP is exploring innovative approaches to water management, such as solar/electric lift irrigation schemes for block plantations, which can maximise the use of available water resources while minimising waste.
So far, AKRSP has planted 132,000 trees through solar lift irrigation in the region. The plan is to develop 78 solar/electric lift irrigation schemes for additional block plantations. With continued innovation and community engagement, AKRSP will continue to evolve its approach to water access and management, ensuring that communities can secure this critical resource well into the future.
See the original article and more photos on the AKF UK website.