Karez System

ByDua Shah

Digital Media Consultant & Social Activist


August 13, 2022

Pakistan is blessed with Indus riverine system that has made its plains as very productive for agricultural cultivation. Balochistan is mostly hilly and largely devoid of the abundant water flows of the Indus River. But Balochistan has outstandingly devised its own water-production system known as Karez System. Balochistan produces wonderful portfolio of dry fruits and for cultivating these fruits Karez System has played a pivotal role.
The Karez system is a traditional water management/ irrigation system which comprises of a series of wells, linking underground channels that use gravity to bring ground water to the surface. Land is infinite in Balochistan instead, it is water that matters. In Balochistan, social station is not determined by landholdings but by the size of one’s share of water in a Karez. These manmade underground channels passively tap groundwater and provide the lifeblood of villages at the valley floor.

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 may only be used once it emerges from the daylight point. The key advantage of the Karez system is that it taps the water passively and therefore does not contribute to groundwater depletion, though the downside is the ensuing dependence on seasonal water flow fluctuations.

Many of the Karezes in Balochistan are hundreds of years old and they are generally not architecturally ornate but are very effective. Karezes are not just irrigation structures, but are also the bond that holds together the social, economic, and cultural life of the communities in which they are located. Karez water is perpetually flowing and is divided into 24-hour cycles called ‘shabanas’. 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. But even if one has the right to only a few minutes of water from a Karez, 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.

Universally recognised water rights have given rise to well-articulated water markets, in which water is frequently exchanged either on a reciprocal basis or for cash to direct it toward its most productive or socially desirable use. Karez communities also often hold 24 hours of water in reserve to be auctioned at the beginning of every planting season to finance Karez maintenance. These water rights can return up to Rs.3000 (roughly $28.44) per hour.

Karez is a stable irrigation system of Pakistan and it is a community enterprise managed by tribal tradition and run by social control. Spacing of the Karez, their types, life, length, discharge, land development and allocation, water distribution and management are important aspects of Karez irrigation. Differences in Karez maintenance and management produced by differences in tradition and customs of various tribes inhabiting Balochistan are a very interesting process. Currently, Karez is experiencing the changes caused by socio-economic factors. TW


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