Ghazanfar Ali, 61, is a farmer in Chak 95 SB in central Punjab’s Sargodha Division.
His meagre 14 acres lie in the citrus belt that once was famously wilderness. It was only a hundred years ago that a network of canals brought water — and the chance of progress — to this area. But of late, the canals are seen to bring more bad news than water.
Ghazanfar Ali talks to Masud Alam about why water is literally his life
Does the term ‘water crisis’ mean anything to you as an individual farmer?
It means life or no life for me and my family . Last Monday was the third consecutive time I didn’t get my weekly share of water for irrigation as the canal feeding the watercourses in the area has been closed without prior announcement. This is unprecedented. There have been times when a farmer is denied one week’s share of water, but he is usually compensated the next week. This extended closure means no fodder for my cattle in the months to come, and a sizeable reduction of wheat yield.
Is it in line with the yields other farmers in the area achieved this harvest?
I am in fact better off than many when it comes to wheat yield. People have lost up to 400 kg per acre because the seed is very small and the stalk is weak due to insufficient irrigation shortly before harvesting. I lose less wheat. But with fodder, all of us are in the same boat. We lost the standing crop and couldn’t sow the next batch. This means there’s no food for our cattle, at least in the vicinity.
What will you do for the kharif season?
I am going with cotton, as are others in the area. We foresee the water shortage getting worse and this is one crop that doesn’t require a lot of water.
Do you see this water shortage as a local phenomenon or do you think it is a bigger issue?
I guess it’s affecting all of Punjab. But the Sargodha-Faisalabad region is particularly hit hard because ground water here is not suitable for irrigation so we can’t use tube wells. Too much rain doesn’t help either as the water table is already high. Canal water is our only hope, and we are losing it.
Who or what is causing this water scarcity?
God? The government? I don’t know.
You must have some opinion on the subject as you termed it a matter of life or no life for you and your family …
I am not too sure but I know this much: All our rivers flow out of areas controlled by India. And they are building one dam after another. So that may be a reason we are getting less water . Then there’s something happening with the weather pattern too. Till recently, weather faithfully followed the Punjabi calendar. But last year the months of Saun and Bhadon passed without a single significant spell of rain. And rivers were supposed to swell up from time to time, not to be turned into fields as they have been. Fog and smog are also new to us in central Punjab. Last winter, the bulk of our citrus fruit was lost to smog as it penetrated the stalk and made fruit fall prematurely.
So you are saying it’s a conspiracy hatched by India and Mother Nature?
(laughing) … and mismanagement by our water authorities.
What is the solution?
It’s not for me to say. What are politicians and bureaucrats for?
Are you saying there is a solution but governments are not willing or able to find it?
No. I am saying there is no solution to this problem . We are tied to river water. Dams, rainfall, tube wells, nothing works for us. You take away the river water and this place will turn into the wilderness it once was.
-The Times of India