QUETTA: The Balochistan government and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Saturday signed a $107 million project to improve irrigation infrastructure and water resource management in the province.
Balochistan Additional Chief Secretary for Planning and Development Sajjad Ahmed Bhutta and ADB Country Director for Pakistan Xiaohong Yang inked the accord.
Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan and provincial ministers Nawabzada Tariq Magsi and Zahoor Ahmed Buledi were present.
“Agriculture remains the backbone of Balochistan’s economy,” said Yang. “This project will introduce efficient water usage system and help farmers improve productivity and farm income.”
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Buledi said the agreement was part of the provincial government’s long-term plan to counter droughts in the province.
Moreover, in his tweet, the minister said, “Five districts, including Khuzdar, Kalat, Sikandarabad, Zhob and Sherani, will get benefits. Sara Thoi Dam will be built under this project. This initiative will irrigate 50,000 acres land.”
The Balochistan Water Resources Development Sector Project would 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.
Salient features of the project are; building 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.
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In total, about 16,592 hectares (ha) 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 ha of barren land to combat soil erosion.
Its output includes pilot testing of technologies like solar-powered drip irrigation systems on 130 ha 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 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.
Agriculture accounts for almost two-third of Balochistan’s economic output and employs 60 per cent of the province’s 13 million population, but frequent drought and poor water management has put the industry, and those who rely on it, at risk. Poverty rate in the province is almost double the national average.