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Nowshera Struggles with Water Shortage Amid Climate Change

Gul Badshah, a 71-year-old resident of Nowshera, vividly remembers a time when he used to cultivate wheat, vegetables, and various fruits on his land.
by TNN Editor - 06 Jun, 2023 1593
nowshera-struggles-with-water-shortage-amid-climate-change

Musa Kamal Yousafzai

Nowshera, one of the major districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), is currently grappling with an acute water shortage in various areas, primarily attributed to the adverse impacts of climate change. Local communities, including farmers and residents, have been significantly affected by the changing weather patterns and reduced water availability.

Gul Badshah, a 71-year-old resident of Nowshera, vividly remembers a time when he used to cultivate wheat, vegetables, and various fruits on his land. However, over the past decade, he has witnessed a substantial decline in water resources, leading to a drastic transformation in his agricultural practices. Gul Badshah, like many others, has resorted to planting eucalyptus trees on his land, acknowledging their ability to survive in water-stressed environments.

In the past, the region used to receive timely and predictable rainfall, which helped farmers plan their crop cycles accordingly. However, the rainfall patterns have drastically changed, and the occurrence of heavy rains has become irregular. As a consequence, the agricultural calendar has been disrupted, and untimely rains often lead to destructive floods that wash away crops. Farmers, including Gul Badshah, have been forced to abandon traditional farming practices and seek alternative solutions to sustain their livelihoods.

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Recognizing the need to adapt to the changing circumstances, Gul Badshah decided to participate in the Billion Tree Tsunami project initiated by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. Under this project, he received 5,000 saplings and was paid 44 rupees for each tree he planted. Although eucalyptus trees are known to be water-intensive, Gul Badshah opted for them due to the prevailing water scarcity in the region. The project aimed to restore forest cover and address environmental challenges, providing some economic relief to affected communities.

The efforts to combat the water crisis in Nowshera extended beyond individual initiatives. The District Forest Office reported that a staggering 1,511,850 trees were planted in the Nowshera district between 2013 and 2018 as part of the Billion Tree Tsunami Project. Forest Guard Sajjad Ali explained that the project involved a three-year commitment, during which the Forest Office ensured the proper care and growth of the planted trees. After the initial three years, the trees were handed over to the landowners, accompanied by guidance on their maintenance and the importance of sustainable harvesting.

While the Billion Tree Tsunami project made significant progress in reforesting the district, the challenges faced by Nowshera extend beyond the scarcity of water and its impact on agriculture. Anees Khan, a young social worker from the Saidukhel area, emphasized that the problem of water scarcity is not limited to a single village but affects numerous hilly areas throughout Nowshera. Inadequate access to clean drinking water has become a pervasive issue, with communities relying on limited water sources and struggling to meet their basic needs.

Efforts to address the water crisis have been hindered by various factors, including inadequate infrastructure and the lack of a comprehensive and sustainable water management strategy. Anees Khan highlighted that temporary measures have been taken by the government and district administration, but long-term solutions are urgently required to ensure a reliable and safe water supply for the residents of Nowshera.

Additionally, environmental concerns exacerbate the challenges faced by the district. Unregulated industrial activities, including the establishment of illegal crushing plants, have contributed to pollution, further deteriorating the quality of the environment.

Dr. Asif Khan, an environmentalist, and professor at Peshawar University's Department of Environment, emphasized that climate change has intensified the water scarcity issue in the region. The increasing population, coupled with inadequate planning and implementation of policies for factories and townships, has further worsened the situation.

To mitigate the water scarcity problem, Dr. Asif Khan suggested that avoiding planting eucalyptus trees, which are known for their water-absorbing capabilities, could be part of the solution. By adopting sustainable practices and considering the water needs of different plant species, the region can work towards combating the water shortage that continues to worsen over time.

However, the consequences of the water crisis extend beyond agricultural challenges. Dr. Niaz Ali from Qazi Hussain Ahmed Medical Complex highlighted the health risks associated with drinking polluted water. Gastrointestinal diseases, stomach disorders, and various blood-related illnesses are common among individuals who consume contaminated water. The lack of access to clean drinking water puts the population at risk of both short-term and long-term health complications.

Although efforts have been made to address the water crisis in Nowshera, there is a pressing need for comprehensive and sustainable measures. The government, along with relevant agencies and institutions, must prioritize the development of water infrastructure, implementation of effective water management strategies, and enforcement of environmental regulations to ensure clean and accessible water for all residents.

As the region continues to grapple with the impact of climate change and water scarcity, collaborative efforts, informed policies, and long-term planning are crucial to protect the livelihoods and well-being of the communities in Nowshera.