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September 9, 1997

Gilgit-Baltistan's Geography need be grappled-I

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NAs geography need be grappled-I, published in The Muslim dated September 9, 1997

BySyed Shamsuddin 

The unpredictable climatic conditions obtaining in the Northern Areas during the current year have abruptly caused unimaginable devastative effect on the otherwise scant agricultural economy of the region. The preceding unparalleled hot-spell, also shown on the television after ‘Khabarnama’ each passing day, topping that of the rest of the country with all horrific effects, perhaps caused tremendous alarm amongst the enthusiasts world over keen to visit the Northern Areas during summer. The traditional influx of foreign tourists except those who want to scale the gigantic peaks, trickled down this time.

Nowhere in the past history from times immemorial, was such a terrible hot spell ever witnessed setting the whole ablaze as as being recalled by the elders here. Besides causing a dent to the standing crop that withered under its abnormal impact, the climatic conditions this time have resulted in an irreparable loss to the vast glacial network by decimating them ruthlessly unlike the past where the heat of the summers used to dole out melted water out of such layers which would keep during the winters. Contrary to this, the impact this time assumed gargantuan proportions axing the glaciers to the very source of origin.

It is to be recalled that the water resources of Northern Areas in fact, serve as a life-vein to the plains on the south. Yet another unhappy augury has been abrupt downpour during the recent days which appear to have cleared, with one go, all the backlog of periodic scant rain-fall expected during a summer. The horrifying torrent mercilessly swept across the entire North literally stamping out the remnant of the standing crop that survived the preceding hotspell. It is quite clear that the abnormal change this time, is all ascribable to the unscrupulous anti-environmental activities that remained long underway.

The felling of trees and denudation of the sparse forests over the years vis-à-vis absolutely ineffective efforts cosmetically underway to afforest some parts attaches no significance other than making a news item. It is undoubtedly a cause of alarm to the environmentalists.

The fragility of the delicate geographical situation here necessitates a long term policy to be implemented unequivocally to keep the environment intact in the best interest of the nation as these areas, in the sense, constitute a valuable treasure for the rest of the country in the context of gigantic water resources conducive to keep the plains green. Hence life in the plains of the country becomes inconceivable if the environment in the North undergoes terrible changes.

In the past, a research-work on the subject matter might have remained confined to mere papers as no serious effort appears on the ground despite the existence of a plethora of departments with legions of staffers. There can be no denying the fact that there have, all along, been some barriers that hampered the process of bringing more land under acreage here.

These are all ominously set geographical factors where rivers and streams at places flow far beneath the abyss as consequence of which the water cannot be easily tapped for irrigation of the uphill land. However, the technological progress of the day makes such impediments quite surmountable.

For instance, a network of self-propelling ‘ram pumps’ which need no fuel at all, can be inducted along such difficult terrain where the soil is feared to be subject to terrible erosion resulting in devastative land-mud-slides intermittently even at slightest rain fall. The water to be lifted through the proposed ‘ramp pumps’ can again befittingly be channelized into sprinkling projects at such places to properly utilize it for plantation and vegetation as well.

A switch-over from the conventional to the innovative techniques is direly needed at this stage for, the trickle or sprinkler irrigation is the best besides siphons to be introduced at a few places. The sprinkler system is a water saving device as it may consume 40% less water as compared to the conventional one besides being very effective to irrigate uneven and difficult areas.

Such mini-schemes have at certain places, been already implemented by the Agha Khan Rural Supports Programme (AKRSP) in the Northern Areas but these have not so far been replicated by the governmental ones elsewhere in the area. What the least that can be done is that such projects and then same placed at the disposal of the above non-governmental organization for utilization.

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