Integrated Water Resources Management Practises in Greater and Lesser Cholistan, Pakistan (#497)

The Cholistan Desert area is one of the largest deserts in Pakistan and is home to a semi-nomadic population and their livestock.  The primary source of income for Cholistan is cattle breeding. The climate of the desert area, with scanty and unpredictable rainfall as well as long periods of drought, makes water a limited resource. To address the issue of water shortages and to secure access of water to livestock, the people of Cholistan have created water ponds, called “tobas”. However, due to their vulnerability to extreme weather conditions and infiltration, the ponds storage capacities are low. There are around 1500 water points (tobas) in the entire desert out of only 500 were in running condition. Most tobas are not constructed in proper places because their present localities have not been identified on scientific basis to receive maximum rainwater.

Action taken

The Pakistan Water Partnership (PWP) as part of Global Water Partnership (GWP), undertook a project in the desert area. PWP demonstrated 22 bio sand water filters in interior Cholistan with the support of the newly created organisation Bahawalpur Area Water Partnership (AWP). They also trained community members to prepare filters at their home using locally available materials.

Additionally, 12 of the 25 target villages were provided with mineral mix and medicines. The reason behind was the high rate of ill cattle, cause by unclean water as the water is often contaminated and cause diseases. To decrease the level of infection, PWP distributed medicines and mineral mix to enhance the animals’ milk protection. PWP also distributed ORS and Aqua Tablets to 12 target villages.

Moreover, soap making was introduced and taught to two villages. The PWP also visited a number of institutions and government organisations to discuss its initiatives. For instance, the Cholistan Development Autority (CDA) was visited and they provided information about the status of the tobas. 14 installed tobas were also studied during field visits.

In connection to the project, members of PWP also took part in the Cholistan Peace Mela, a multi-stakeholder event where, among other things, the involved communities were given the opportunity to interact with local government representatives. At the event the Bahawalpur Area Water Partnership (AWP) was also launched.

Lessons learned

  • Each household owned more than 100 cattle, mainly cows and goats. According to the availability of water and fodder, families seasonally migrate from one area to other. However, unavailability of clean water and dry conditions result in many diseases in camels and cows. PWP distributed medicines and mineral mix in 13 villages to enhance the animals’ milk production.
  • Majority land is state owned, and agriculture is not allowed to avoid illegal land grabbing. Absence of land distribution among landless people or not allowing them territorial rights leads to land degradation and marginalization as large amount of land is left uncultivated. 
  • Large cattle and goat population interspersed with other species like camel and sheep. Livestock carrying capacity of Cholistan is far exceeded by the high population of Cholistan bread of cattle.
  • Cholistani cattle heads as a main source of livelihood. The situation with respect to milk price has marginally improved but communities complain that they are still exploited by the middleman and the government’s investments in dairy development e.g. chillers, refrigerators, storage vans and veterinary cover are lacking. Dairying and ranching are mainstay activities but require modern up-gradation. No emergency feed banks found to cater for emergency relief.