Karez Irrigation in Balochistan

Posted on September 20, 2006
Filed Under >S.A.J. Shirazi, Culture & Heritage, Economy & Development, Science and Technology
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Guest Post by S A J Shirazi

The Karez system on irrigation is one of the traditional engineering wonders of Pakistan.

West of Indus Plains and out of monsoon zone is Balochistan – the largest landmass in Pakistan with an area of 343,000 square kilometres. Balochistan is scarcely populated, mainly due to its daunting arid geography. It includes the mountainous country separated by intervening valleys. Balochistan receives very low rainfall annually.

But innumerable natural springs known as “Karez” and streams are found in most of the areas.

The ancient Karez system is comprised of a series of wells and linking underground channels that uses gravity to bring ground water to the surface, usually far from the source. Originally ancient towns used to depend on the streams and rivers nearby into which glaciers in far-off mountains used to feed. As the time passed the glaciers gradually shrank over the centuries, the streams they fed likewise diminished, resulting in less water flowing downwards.

Then people ingeniously created the Karez to draw the underground water to irrigate the farmland. Wells begin at the base of the mountains along the contours of the hillside. To keep the underground channels unclogged, two men and a draught animal work as a team – one man is lowered down to clear the tunnel and buckets of mud are hoisted to the surface by the animal. The tunnels slope less than the contours of the geographical depression, so that the water reaches close to ground level. The water in Karez will not evaporate in large quantities.

This technology that originated in the Chinese deserts west of the Himalayas is also commonly used in the highlands of Balochistan, although with some minor modifications. Though it is not known how it reached here. Small water channel that are built along the hill gradient for maintaining the proper gravity flow of water are found in Balochistan in many places.

The Karez irrigation systems rely on gravitational pull and are comprised of simply a water source, underground tunnels, and vertical shafts that feed the water scarce areas. These irrigation systems are owned and operated wholly by the community. Some work is being planned on to re establish the Karez irrigation system at the sub-tehsil level.

The ancient and social water supply system can be reactivated for obvious reason: To improve the socio-economic status of the people of Balochistan, by helping them realize the importance of the Karez system and facilitate self-help activities for rehabilitation of the same; to identify and understand ground water irrigation system deficiencies and the causes for its abandonment by the community; to re-instil a sense of confidence in the Karez system among local communities; to protect, excavate and extend the Karez system in the other areas; to incorporate a delay action mechanism in the Karez system and to check the dam for efficient groundwater recharge; to train community leaders in the efficient operation and management of Karez.

Cleaning of Karez is considered collective social responsibility and people work for it on self-help basis (like bhall Safai in Punjab). Once there existed a large network of these Karez’s in the province. The system has very low operational cast, it not only fulfils daily need of usage of water but also irrigates orchards and supply water for cultivation. We should try to keep the system alive. These are social streams as well.

Related: Karez System

S A J Shirazi is a Lahore (Pakistan) based writer. He has authored two books (Izhar, Ret Pe Tehreer) and translated Din Mein Charagh by Abbas Khan into English. His blog is here.

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14 responses to “Karez Irrigation in Balochistan”

  1. ayesha says:

    aaah! you just reminded me of class 4-5 social studies! the irrigation system of pakistan!!

  2. Farrukh says:

    Have been away for a while. Wonderful to see ATP continues to thrive.

    Excellent post as always. I had always wondered about the science of Karez and this helps…. do we find Karez also in Iran… I woudl assume so?

  3. daktar says:

    Nice essay like always. Can you give us a sense of the status of teh karez now. Are they mostly in working order or are people moving to other types of irrigation.

  4. Owais Mughal says:

    Shirazi Sahib. thanks for the photos accompanying this article. I must admit, it is first time that I’ve ever seen a Karez. We read it in our social studies about it and I always used to imagine how such water system would look like. Your article is as informative as always

  5. Sherazi Sb!

    A wonderful post and it reminded me social studies chapter about karez in school days but you have definately comeup with more insides about karez system.I thankyou for this post.

  6. Since Balochistan is being discussed,I was reading this today in dawn.Can anyone tell me what is the issue all about? Like Kalabagh I have been hearing this Saindak term since childhood.

  7. Ahsanullah says:

    hi i must admit here tht i belong to pishin n i really like karez system,this karez system enable de pishin people to produce such a tastful fruit…..

  8. Ping says:

    I noted your photo was copied from a Turpan travel website. Please be aware of the copyright.

    Regarding the revitalization of the Karez system, China (Xinjiang automonous) had such experience and exchange between the governments may help to keep the anicent irrigation systems in function.

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