Help for Pakistan’s poorest

31 August 2009 | News story

Balochistan is the largest of Pakistan’s four provinces. With its harsh climate and landscape, it is the poorest and least populated. Watershed degradation has created an extremely fragile environment. Here, people’s livelihoods depend mainly on agriculture and livestock, both extremely susceptible to the frequent droughts and flash floods that plague the area.

In the District of Kharan in north-western Balochistan, most of the houses are built from mud and electricity was only supplied to the district in 1991. Subsistence agriculture is the main source of livelihood and, as in most of the adjoining districts, wheat is the principle crop with livestock and camel breeding also important.

The people of Kharan face many challenges. Loss of vegetation in the watersheds and rangelands is caused by unsustainable agricultural practices and the collection of wood for fuel by local and nomadic people. Soil is being eroded and is becoming less fertile. Water supplies for domestic, agricultural and other uses are extremely limited; water for domestic use is carried long distances by animals, and, where communities can afford it, in bowsers pulled by tractors.

Alternating droughts and floods have taken a heavy toll on livestock, crops and property and climate change is exacerbating the problem, accelerating the degradation of soils and grazing lands, and causing further water shortages. Communities in this area do not understand modern business and agricultural practices as there is a low level of education and limited access to resources.

Realizing that civil society organizations, research organizations and government agencies must work together to generate the changes needed, a six year programme is being implemented by IUCN and partners. The programme aims to improve environmental governance, focusing on integrated water resource and coastal zone management. A priority is to build capacity among the various stakeholders in the region, particularly local communities, to manage their land and resources sustainably. Ecosystem-based approaches to dryland management will play a significant role based on techniques that allow people to adapt to their changing conditions. They will also strengthen people’s resilience to natural hazards such as drought and floods.