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Article on Gomal Dam in News 31st March 2013
Damming conflicts
With prices of land rising up in South Waziristan Agency after Gomal Zam Dam’s construction, new tensions among tribesmen are flaring up
By Tahir Ali

As Gomal Zam Dam being built in South Waziristan Agency nears completion and is expected to get operational by the end of the year, new opportunities and challenges have emerged that necessitate a comprehensive governance and execution model for conflict resolution, optimum utilisation of resources and smooth implementation of the project.

The GZD is a multi-purpose project consisting of three components — dam and spillway, power house and irrigation system. It is being completed by Wapda and Frontier Works Organisation with financial assistance from the USAID which had provided $80 million to help complete the work which was expected to hit snags for shortage of funds.

Secretary Planning and Development Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Dr Asad Ali Khan, said that as per the contractors’ report, the dam component is 90 per cent complete. Main canal has been completed while tributaries and irrigation channels are being constructed. The hydro power component is almost complete and will shortly start electricity generation.

He said all stakeholders — the concerned government departments, community representatives and donors — should join hands to make it a success. “The P&D department KP has formed a review committee to supervise and support the advocacy project and to ensure transparency in the project,” he added.

The project has huge financial impacts. Vast tracts of land in the fertile command area in the South Waziristan agency and the districts of Tank and Dera Ismael Khan (DIK) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, mostly rain-fed or irrigated by the traditional Rod Kohi system, would benefit from the scheme.

“It will benefit over 0.3mn farmers in 81 villages in Tank and DIK and would provide irrigation water for 191000 acres of land. It will help reduce flood damage of around $2.6mn and will also generate electricity. It would store 1.14 million acre feet of water for irrigation and drinking purposes, generate around 20 megawatts, sufficient for 25,000 households in the command area,” according to an official.

Earlier land prices were low and agriculture fetched little. Hence many lands had been abandoned by the absentee landlords. Life standard was low in the project area. The areas either witnessed severe drought or floods that inundated vast areas and flattened crops. But now with prices of land rising up after dam’s construction, new tensions are flaring up.

“As land prices and potential for agriculture incomes have increased, there is discomfort in the command area. Conflict of interest is expected to get deeper. Though I can’t say whether there would be tenants-owners wars that happened in the country in 1970s, as reported tenants-owner tensions are likely to rise in number and depth. This could be a potential threat to the area peace. The government should nip the evil in the bud,” said Ahmad Zeb, a community representative from DIK. Zeb said the problems of collective land ownership and absentee landlordism could be pestering problems in future if not checked.

“The absentee landlords, who had left their lands unattended or to tenants for decades, are returning to take possession of their lands, a move being resisted by the tenants. Resultantly, tenants-landowners tensions are on the rise. Before this becomes a menace for this volatile region bordering the militancy-hit tribal belt, the government needs to proactively check this menace. There is a need for new land resettlement and subsequent distribution amongst their virtual owners,” Zeb said.

As the work on the project began in 2001, the trend of buying or snatching lands from the ignorant farmers started. However, in October 2001, the provincial government banned the sale, purchase, registry, Hiba, settlement of property and transfers of land under the Gomal Zam Dam Speculation Ordinance, in the project area till completion of the dam.

Humyun Khan, a Tank community representative, also seconded Zeb’s thoughts and urged involvement of the administration to overcome this menace.

According to another farmer from the area, main canal has been established and irrigation channels are now being prepared but farmers are reluctant to allow irrigation channels on the paltry amount being offered. Worse, payment is being delayed under one pretext or another.

Again, farmers are unhappy over the division of irrigation water in the 393 morgahs on the basis of different cropping intensities in the command area. A farmer said that some areas have been allotted less water on the basis of low cropping intensity. Coupled with this is the expected huge gap between the water availability at the head and tail-end with the result that the farmers in the tail-end will suffer. This discrepancy needs to be removed.

Considering this, the Gomal Zam Command Area Advocacy Project (GZAP), launched recently, is of vital importance as it plans to ensure a hassle-free execution of the project to make it advantageous for the impoverished farming community in the command area of the Gomal Zam.

The Small Grants Ambassadors’ Funds Programme of the USAID has provided Rs20mn for the advocacy project. It is being implemented by the Regional Institute of Policy Research and Training (RIPORT), a local think tank.

“With civil work almost complete in most components of the GZ project, there is a need to build an institutional mechanism to ensure hassle-free execution of the project. We intend to set up a consultative institutional mechanism based on community and government stakeholders’ interaction for addressing agriculture/irrigation related challenges including conflict mitigation. It will also undertake research for identifying the agriculture/irrigation threats and opportunities in the project area. A project review committee composed of representatives of P&D, agriculture, irrigation, Wapda, SWD and the donors needs to be formed,” said Khalid Aziz, the chairman of RIPORT. “All these steps would help develop a governance model for smooth implementation of the irrigated agriculture in GZ command area.”

“Community awareness and participation is to be ensured. They need to be informed of the challenges and opportunities of shifting from Rod Kohi to canal irrigation system. Awareness sessions in 131 villages regarding canal distribution system and its challenges would be arranged. Village committees would be formed and training for each village committee on on-farm water management, sustainable cropping patterns etc would be provided. Learning visits will be arranged for farmers to the Chashma right bank canal,” he explained.

Aziz said, “The project activities include optimisation of agriculture incomes, land levelling, soil conservation, reclamation of lands, on-farm water management, utilisation of canal water for drinking purposes, awareness about water and land rights, optimisation of cropping patterns, preparation of manual of best agriculture and irrigation practices and identification of reforms and legislation.”

Officials from agriculture and livestock departments also want a role for the departments and warned against duplication of farmers’ organisations to be formed in the project areas. They advocated close coordination between the concerned departments.

Plantation of locally sustainable plants on the canal side and orchards and rangeland development should also be considered.