Pakistan’s scenic Parachinar valley is running out of water because the surrounding hills have not received enough snowfall due to the changing climate. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Water Act 2020, a law meant to regulate and manage water resources in the province has made no difference to the lives of the people.
By Muhammad Daud Khan
Taps have run dry and for over 10 years in the Parachinar valley, the headquarters of Pakistan’s Kurram District bordering Afghanistan. Dozens of villages surrounding Parachinar too facing severe water shortage.
People struggle to get water for everyday life. The dozens of natural streams no longer make a difference to the lives of the valley town’s 250,000 people. The town is known for its scenic snow-covered mountains next door and Kurram river winding its way into Parachinar from Afghanistan.
And yet, residents spend hours queuing up to fill jerrycans with water from a tube-well installed by municipal authorities. The people’s misery and the changing climate go hand-in-hand.
High water bills
The pipelines are old, installed when by the British before Pakistan became an independent country. The Parachinar Tehsil Municipal Administration (TMA) says that it has installed 1,500 water connections. These water connections bring water to the town from three natural streams, Gulbo, Foladi and Jabo. Over the years gone by, TMA installed three tube-wells. But this is not adequate. People are forced to buy water at exorbitant prices.
65-years-old Syed Hussain is unable to pay for water any longer and there isn’t any respite in sight. “Parachinar did not receive much snowfall in the winter,” he says. “Snowfall during the last winter was sporadic and we have lived through the worst year since I remember. A heavy winter snowfall on surrounding mountains provides water to the valley town through the remainder of the year. People have no choice but to buy water containers,” Hussain says. “The price of the single container has reached Rs. 2,000.”
TMA’s three tube-wells are not sufficient to meet the needs of its huge population. But the crisis has also thrown up opportunities for an enterprising few who have installed private tube-wells. But these tube-wells too might run dry if the snowfall is as scant as in the past few years.
The privately installed tube-wells are also illegal. But authorities say that there is little they can do to implement the law because people need water to survive. TMA officials insist these tube-wells are depleting the underground water table and the consequent water shortage. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Water Act 2020, a law meant to regulate and manage water resources in the province has made no difference to the lives of the people.
The decreasing groundwater levels are also due to low rainfall, besides unplanned tube-wells installed for irrigation in the surrounding villages.
Syed Hussain says that the snowfall last winter was the lowest he had seen in the 65 winters he has lived through. “We haven’t seen such a scorching summer in Parachinar. Many people bought fans to keep themselves cool. We don’t know the reason, but nature is very unkind to us.”
Sayed Hussain’s only hope is a biting winter with snow from the heavens above.
There was a scanty snowfall on January 5. A weather bulletin put out by the government on Saturday said that the weather system producing rain and snowfall is now weakening.
Muhammad Daud Khan is a journalist. He writes on the lives of people and communities in North West Pakistan.
Edited by Aditi Angilena Patro