"The Cultural Landscape of Balochistan"
Karez System Cultural Landscape
The Karez system of the Balochistan desert is a vibrant example of an ancient and still functional approach to community-based water management in an arid landscape. Karez irrigation technology was developed in arid and semi-arid areas from India and western China through the Middle East into North Africa.
The technology is believed to have originated in the 1st millennium BC in Persia from where the knowledge travelled east and westward along the Silk Route, throughout the Muslim world, arriving in Xinjiang in China during the Han dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD) and in Balochistan somewhat earlier.
Traditionally, areas of population correspond closely to the areas where karez are possible. In this way the karez, its communities and their lands and pastures combine to form an organically evolved cultural landscape, rich in meaning and perfectly adapted to its harsh environment.
Karez are constructed as a series of well-like vertical shafts, connected by sloping tunnels, which tap into subterranean water in a manner that efficiently delivers large quantities of water to the surface by gravity, without need for pumping. The first well where the water is tapped for a karez is called the mother well, and there is a zone of roughly 1,200 feet in diameter where it is forbidden to dig new wells or otherwise threaten the quality and quantity of the groundwater. The vertical shafts along the underground channel are purely for maintenance purposes, and water is used only once it emerges from the daylight point.
Karez allow water to be transported over long distances in hot dry climates without loss of much of the water to evaporation. The system has the advantage of being resistant to natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods, and to deliberate destruction in war. Furthermore, it is almost insensitive to the levels of precipitation, delivering a flow with only gradual variations from wet to dry years. A karez is environmentally sustainable as it has no additional energy requirement and, thus, has low life cycle operation and maintenance costs.
Karez are owned and maintained by the community who buy shares in it or “shabanas”, 24-hour cycles. A karez, depending upon its size, may have anywhere from 18 to 32 shabanas distributed between its shareholders, with individual claims ranging from the right to a few minutes to a week of water. A shareholder, or shareeq, is entitled to the standing of a country gentleman in the community and may sit in a jirga and weigh in on collective decisions. In this way the system of water access, distribution and use is closely linked to social structures and community identity.
Although a karez system is expensive to construct, its long-term value to the community, and thereby to the group that invested in building and maintaining it, is substantial.
Today, though the system is under threat, there are approximately 1053 functioning karezes in Balochistan having more than 22,000 lps discharge, irrigating 27,000 ha in 2012. Another 270 karez are not functioning but could be restored to use. They are located in the northwest corner of Balochistan bordering with Afghanistan and Iran. A group of four representative karez is being proposed for inclusion on the Tentative List:
Spin Tangi Kareze, District Quetta
Chashma Achozai Kareze, District Quetta
Ulasi Kareze, District Pishin
Kandeel Kareze, Muslim Bagh, District Killa Saifullah
Irrigation system in Sindh Pakistan is being upgraded on modern lines keeping in view global environmental degradation and rapidly growing water needs. The irrigation in Sindh was intensified through the construction of barrages and development of canal irrigation system.