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water in shimshal valley
People of Shimshal valley - the highest settlement in Hunza - digged a water channel on self help basis to irrigate their fields. PHOTO COURTESY: ABDUL JOSHI

Community mobilization indispensable to increase water resilience in Hunza

By Ahsan Jamil

Multipronged approaches are fundamental to cope with the existing water challenge for the communities of Hunza valley. The valley brims with water resources including rivers, glaciers, springs yet climate change enters as spoiler and causes freezing of tap water and lakes that account for domestic and agricultural use. The resilience of local communities can be boosted to manifold keeping in view of high literacy rate of over 90 percent in Hunza, indicating improved probability of convincing behavior and attitude promise.

The farmers and household are most affected thus seizing the life in the valley and disturbing the social mobility. The livelihoods of various farmers are halted due to insignificant utilizable water for farming to yield under-potential production that needs attention from the government and the scientific organizations immediately in order to minimize its adversities and uplift agricultural potential of the valley.

The contaminated water rich in ferrous and other pollutants consumption due to non-availability of tap water in the season often breaks out vector borne diseases and cases of diarrhea are in particular on rise, hurting the health security index of the valley. The observation suggests that the children from 5-12 years represent class of most affected population. Hunza region lacks adequate water treatment facilities plunging communities to higher risk of stomach and skin diseases with water as carrier of the ’cause’ often referred to as pollutants.

Scaling up communities endeavors through mobilization by NGOs is the heart of solutions to this challenge. The potential of Hunza community for self-reliance and raising resilience is relentless. It has already been witnessed in near past when the people of Shimshal valley – the highest settlement in Hunza –  digged a water channel on self help basis to irrigate their fields earlier defying the laxity of GB government for doing no notable effort on the subject.

A worrisome dimension however exists in this whole episode, and that obviously is environmental concern and the safety of the community workers and volunteers during these activities. The public-private sector at least can pay heed and fix their panel of attaches’ to those volunteers to examine and supervise these on-site activities with first aid backup to avoid any mishap.

As per a locally conducted survey, people of Hunza are well cognizant with their challenges and are willing to support whole heartedly to any organization hinting to solve their water and other climate change driven challenges.

The communities require trainings to conduct volunteer activities but at the same time government of GB also needs to keep close check on these activities by devising a proper mechanism of regulation so that any community-centric activity might not lead to any other associated geohazard event including landslides. Therefore reorientation and alignment to safety protocols and environmental sustainability must not be compromised.

Tariq Essa, a resident of Shimshal valley demonstrated, “The government of GB and the private organizations have not reached out to the community and the efforts put by AKDN cannot meet the water challenge alone unless compounded by government departments. This is the reason why we are proactive in figuring out our own solutions to rectify our water needs for our domestic use as well as livelihood resources such as agriculture, livestock and so on”.

International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), an intergovernmental panel of 8 South-Asian countries, has a wide array of focus areas including research on glacier and snowpack dependent river basins for sustainable development of mountainous communities. Under its HIAWARE project, building resilience of the communities to climate change impacts including this water challenge is categorically focused, with Indus basin as one of priority study areas.

Furthermore, generating knowledge and capacity building by supporting Masters and PhD students through Fellowships to reinforce research in this very subject is also one of core focus of the project that will help to achieve the goals in a sustainable by adaptation and mitigation of climate change impacts especially on water resources.

The organizations, particularly Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) have deep penetration in communities of Hunza that can play significant role in resolving the long-held water fiasco. According to the details, a joint endeavor on theme “Water and Sanitation” by AKDN, German government, Government of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and local communities provided 12,000 household tap stands, including 500 communal stands, installation of 10,000 latrines, up gradation of three large integrated area in Aliabad-Hunza.

In addition, under the project, as many as 500 members of Water and Sanitation Committees were trained on Operations and Maintenance of water and sanitation projects.

Akhtar Iqbal, CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation in Pakistan, told, “The project WASEP not only provides support to address basic water and sanitation needs of the people of GB but also facilitates the communities to put in place structures for long term development in their respective areas. AKDN’s approach community-centric and engaging approach has proven a major breakthrough in building capacities of the local community and enhance their resilience as far as water availability is concerned.”

“Solar water pumping can be an effective way to address the water challenge for the farmers of Hunza as due to sloppy and steep area the rain water harvesting techniques might prove counterproductive,” Dr Arshad Ashraf, Principal Scientific Officer, Climate Change, Alternate Energy and Water Resources Institute (CAEWRI) proposed while commenting on the dismal water situation in Hunza.

“Another effective but costly solution also exists and that is to supplant existing water supply pipes with thermal insulation pipes or to use the technology on existing pipes to minimize the effect of ambient temperature and reduce the heat loss in the water from source to tap,” Dr Arshad added.

The feasibility studies of the above proposed solutions must be carried out by Water Management Committee of GB, in order to step forward with firm determination to fix the water challenges in the region.

Naveed Mustafa, Senior Geospatial Analyst at CAEWRI, NARC proposed a quiet handy suggestion, “A geospatial analysis to establish relationship between use of water resources, local communities, and ecological conditions of Hunza must be conducted to ensure smooth and effective watershed management.”

“The identification of employment patterns in Hunza as well as their distribution in the watershed is also equally important for watershed management,” he added.

As far as water quality is concerned, the communities can be sensitized to use boiled water, use of aquatabs that have tendency to kill against water contaminants like giardia cysts, bacteria and viruses must be distributed by local government health department as well as NGOs as an immediate solution. The long term solution however requires establishment of full-fledged water treatment units in various stations across the valley and introducing nano-filtration techniques.

The tangible outcomes can only be anticipated provided the water challenge is attempted to phase out from all dimensions. Both adaptation and mitigation approaches have to be sorted out unequivocally to seriously take this issue on board and do some practical measures before it’s too late.

The author is ICIMOD Fellow. He can be reached at ahsanjamil87@gmail.com

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