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Addressing water scarcity in Upper Poonch Region: Urgent need for sustainable solutions

The majority of the population in Jammu and Kashmir lives in rural areas and is associated with agriculture and livestock rearing. The tribal communities in the Upper Poonch Region depend on animal husbandry for their livelihood. In the absence of readily accessible water sources, most people here find themselves searching for water in order to sustain their livestock. Muhammad Altaf Saqib talks to residents and reports on the various challenges the people here face

In the tranquil landscapes of Jammu and Kashmir, the rural population relies heavily on animal husbandry as their primary source of livelihood. According to the 2011 population census, 73 per cent of the population in Jammu and Kashmir live in rural areas and are associated with agriculture and livestock rearing. This integral practice sustains families, either by selling the milk and products of these animals or trading the animals themselves to meet daily expenses. During the winter months, these communities reside in the plains, but as the summer season dawns, they migrate to the higher, hilly terrains they call dhoks. The transition, however, is marred by the challenging issue of water scarcity in these mountainous regions.

In the absence of readily accessible water sources, these resilient individuals find themselves on extensive quests for water, creating a complex situation for sustaining their livestock. In the remote upper areas of Poonch District, residents face an array of challenges in this regard. Ghulam Mohiuddin, hailing from Arai Village in the Mandi Tehsil, describes the hurdles they confront when relocating with their livestock in the summer time due to a lack of water availability in their grazing areas. Abdul Baqi, a seasoned livestock herder who has dedicated 50 years to this livelihood, echoes the concern of severe water shortage in their region, compelling them to travel great distances.

Arai is not the only village facing the challenge of water scarcity. The Madaan area in Sanai Village, situated in the Surankot Tehsil, is also a source of distress for its inhabitants, primarily due to the unavailability of water facilities. The village comprises three panchayats, the one located at the hill top is Shahistar, a famous tourist destination in the mesmerising Pir Panjal Range that is naturally blessed with an abundant supply of fresh water, a precious resource that, regrettably, eludes Madan.

Located merely five kilometres away from Shahistar, Madaan’s residents have a very challenging life. Residents of the area frequently grapple with the critical issues of water scarcity and inadequate road infrastructure. During the winter, residents of Sanai Village migrate to Madan, where they tend to their livestock for six months. Some choose it as their permanent residence.

Ponds constructed by locals to meet livestock water needs on pastureland.

The tribal communities migrating from Sanai primarily depend on animal husbandry for their livelihood. They come to the area in search of pasture for their livestock, finding ample grazing land but grappling with the dire issue of water scarcity. Though the Public Health Engineering Department has laid water supply pipes in the area, sourcing water from Ladan and Barmi Regions, residents report that while the water supply for human consumption is adequate, it remains insufficient for livestock. The primary reason behind the issue is the lack of water storage facilities. The wells supplying the water are scarce compared to the population’s demands, rendering them inadequate for sustaining livestock throughout the day.

In the light of these challenges, Muhammad Akram, a young resident of Sanai Village, highlights their summer journeys to tend to their livestock. Covering an approximate five-kilometre span from Dani to Chhir, there’s only a single 5,000-litre tank midway, with no provisions for water collection along the rest of the route. When water is supplied through these lines, the lack of ponds to store water impedes people from making the most of it. Some individuals have resorted to constructing temporary mud ponds, known locally as jabar’, but over half of the water seeps into the ground, rendering this an ineffective method. Women in the region must fetch water from two to three kilometres away throughout the day, often resulting in various health issues due to the physical strain.

In this context, Imtiaz Adil, a local youth from Sanai Village, underlines the pressing need for proper water sources in their grazing areas, along with the construction of small pucca (solid/ permanent) ponds in populated regions, complementing the existing water supply pipelines. These ponds would not only facilitate water supply but also offer the advantage of collecting rainwater. Another youth from the same village, Abrar Ahmad, emphasises the necessity of establishing a permanent water system for livestock in their grazing areas. If implemented, it would alleviate water-related challenges, providing a substantial facility to the local populace.

In response to these pressing needs, the local community appeals to the Central Government and the district administration for the construction of ponds at various locations in the area. Several natural springs, including Tarkana, Kander Kadla, Daab and Mao, flow through the region. By harnessing the water from these springs and building ponds, the residents of these areas would find relief from their enduring challenges.

(Courtesy: Charkha Features. The writer who has reported from Mandi, Poonch, is Charkha’s rural writer from Surankote Tehsil, currently pursuing his master’s degree from IGNOU, New Delhi.)