Sunday, April 22, 2012

Drought Striking Livestock Production in Pakistan

by: M. Younas, M. Yaqoob, A. Raziq

 Department of Livestock Management University of Agriculture, Faisalabad-38040, Pakistan


Pakistan has been under attack of severe drought conditions in the country until the last year. Especially, North-east Balochistan (Loralai, Musakhail, Zhob, Kohlu, Barkhan, Qillasaifullah and Hernai) is under the severe attack of drought. This article deals with the process of desertification and the reasons for occurrence of droughts in the region. The importance of water has been delineated. Current situation of water shortage affecting the production of agriculture as well as livestock production has been dealt with. Desertification process has been defined to understand the phenomenon and its main players. This desertification process has affected the existence of the biodiversity especially in rangeland areas of the country. It’s affects on the desert environment particularly affecting the livestock production in the country has been enumerated. Drought situation over the years has been reviewed at length indicating the extent of damage occurred on livestock production. Recommendations to combat the process of desertification have been summarized and the measures taken by the policy makers show the interest of the present Government to combat the effects the process of desertification.

Keywords: Water; Desert; Livestock; Baluchistan, Pakistan

1. Preamble

Droughts are the result of water scarcity. Pakistan has been hit hard due to continuous droughts and has been in the grip of dry spell during the previous years. Sporadic and scanty rainfalls, lack of planning and action on our part are the main reasons for it. Reservoirs, dams and rivers have been dried up. Extensive pumping and exploration has pushed the groundwater table deep down. Summer span has become long and monsoon rains come at a small scale and after long intervals. Winters are getting very short, winter rains have become the story of the past. Above all we are not keeping pace with the recent ecological and climatic changes. Resultantly, in some part of the country we are facing the situation like of Ethiopia and Somalia, where people are dying of thirst and hunger because of the long and dry weather.

2. Why droughts are common?

Many developing countries are facing drought situation. Pakistan is not exception to this. Why the droughts are common? These sufferings are due to recent ecological and climatic changes occurring around us on the globe. Main causes of these changes are immense pollution, greenhouse gasses emissions and depletion of ozone layers, etc. Industrialized countries are also putting their share in bulk. USA alone is responsible of 31.6 % of the entire world’s emission and environmental pollution. According to some reports (Ramzan, 2002), the USA is playing hell with the world by blatantly refusing to sign any pact or protocol to rectify the situation and to reduce pollution. Paying no heed to the environmental ethics by any country is a great crime against nature. Despite the opposition of a few developed countries, Kyoto Pact is expected to become enacted as law shortly by the European Union, which is a treaty aimed at reducing the level of greenhouse emissions.

Climatologists claim that recurrent droughts will bring heat and other unusual weather conditions and one dangerous effect of these climatic changes is that a handful of extreme hurricanes could kill million of people in the world, besides causing desertification of vast areas of land. There will also be salty water, intrusion of sea, damaging and destroying the already prevailing ecosystem and fertility of the land especially in the coastal areas.

2.1 Water  - too much or too little

The foremost cause of natural disasters is the water. When it is in excess, it brings floods and when it is in short supply, it invites droughts. Almost 1/3 rd of the world’s population was affected by the natural disasters in the last decade of the 20th century. Floods and droughts accounted for 86 % of them (WHO, 2002).

Disasters are of two types: (i) quick-onset like earthquacks, volcanic eruptions and landslides are more dramatic and take a very high toll in human life but the second (ii) floods and droughts often have long lasting and far-reaching effects on the health of their victims. The most vulnerable are the poor and the marginalized, most of whom live low quality housing in flood-prone or drought-prone regions. In the periods of droughts, desperation leads them to drink contaminated water and people fail to exercise personal hygiene. And those fleeing floods often drink unclean water too.

2.2 What happens during floods?

Statistical studies indicate that floods are becoming more frequent – from 66 major floods in 1990 the number rose to 110 in 1999. The number of people who died in floods in 1999 was more than double the number killed by floods in any other year in the decade of the 1990s. All this is happening on an increasingly crowded planet. And while the world’s leaders continue to debate long term solutions, what most needed are better preparedness and better prevention measures especially in the least developed countries and more generally from the vulnerable poor. According to WHO (2002) recent floods have been recorded in India (Orissa), Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Siberia, Angola, Brazil, Peru and China. While the other kind of disaster, the droughts, have occurred in Afghanistan, Cuba (the Horn of Africa), Central Asia (India) and in some parts of Pakistan.

Droughts are the biggest cause of deaths because they often lead to famine. Simple, practical measures such as teaching people how to conserve water and keep it safe from contamination and how to store emergency supplies of safe drinking water will go a long way to helping communities at risk. Chlorination reduces diarrhea, cholera and other diseases.

2.3 Drought readiness

Flooding is visible to everyone, but drought is a great deal more difficult to recognize. When does a dry spell in fact become a drought? Unlike a typhoon or an earthquack, a drought may occur in a large geographical area and take months or even years to develop. Decision-makers may put off acting until the effects are dramatic and that could be too late to do anything effective. Drought triggers or exacerbates malnutrition and famine. Accurate statistics for droughts are hard to come because deaths are mainly due to lack of food and the worsening of pre-existing malnutrition. Understanding the situation is further complicated by migration, homelessness, damage to public health infrastructure, water distribution problems and limitations in health care.

3. Water situation in Pakistan

Water is necessary for the livelihood of people in Pakistan. Water is most precious, important constituent of natural resources and essential ingredient of life. Rainfalls are the free gift of nature for all living beings but the judicious use of this resource is seldom made in the country. No storage of water for our present and future requirements has been envisaged. Once upon a time, Pakistan was water affluent country and now it is water deficient. Water Cycle has been disturbed due to urbanization, deforestation, misuse and miss management.

3.1 Water availability for Agriculture

The total geographical area of the country is 80 million hectares (MH), out of which cultivable area is 35.4 MH. Cultivable wasteland accounts for 8.6 MH while cultivated area is 23.3 MH (Anonymous, 2004). Water logged and salinity affected areas in Indus Basin amounts to 6.8 MH while salinity affected area out of the Indus Basin is 5.6 MH as depicted in Figure 1.
Droughts are affecting the agriculture as well as to the livestock. Agriculture is the backbone of our economy and is a barometer of financial and economic stability. A population of 150 million in the country with a growth rate of 2.5 % per annum, agriculture employees more than 50 % the labor force. Agriculture supports 68 % of the population for their subsistence directly or indirectly. Export contribution is almost 60 % in the form of raw, processed and value added products.

Water availability for Agriculture per unit of cultivated land in Pakistan is much less than provided in the other countries. Problems other than droughts are water logging, salinity, erosion, low yield/acre, etc. Demand of water continues to rise because of increasing population, increase in the area under cultivation coupled with mismanagement. Demand is expected to rise by 50 % more than that of today by the year 2025 (Ramzan, 2002).

At present natural resources of water are precipitation, rivers, tubewells and karez, which provide 223 million-acre feet (MAF) of water. About 14 MH out of cultivated area (23.3 MH) is canal irrigated. Maximum surface water available from the Indus Basin is 144 MAF, of which 105 MAF is diverted to canal irrigation system. The tubewells provide 44 MAF of water (Table 1).

Table 1. Table showing the water availability from different sources.

Amount of water provided
Natural resources of water
Precipitation, rivers, karez, etc
223 MAF
Indus Basin
Indus river
144 MAF
Irrigation System
Canals (23.3 MH)
105 MAF

44 MAF

3.2 Water losses

Some workers (Ramzan, 2002) reported that the losses during the conveyance approximately totals to 60-68 percent. The detail of the losses is mentioned in Figure (2), which indicates that the loss of water through main canal and branches, at sanctioned water courses, at farmers water courses and at irrigation fields is 25, 20, 15 and 8 %, respectively. Seepage, leakage, lack of maintenance of canals, water channels and mismanagement are the main reasons for these losses.

In Pakistan tubewells provide 44 MAF, out of this 30 % of the water varies from marginally saline to high brackish. As a result of the use of this saline water 2-3 MH of land has already become saline (impregnated with or containing salt or salts) and sodic (soil containing more sodium salts).

4. Desertification

Desertification term was first introduced in 1949 by Aubreville which literally mean, ‘land degradation’, ‘decrease in biological production’, ‘deterioration of ecosystem’, ‘reduction in soil fertility’, and/or ‘the process of making or becoming a desert.” It can be defined as deterioration of natural resources, which brings about reduction in soil fertility and productivity. In the last 40 years desertification has been globally recognized problem in 150 countries. The phenomenon in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid regions is higher and droughts exacerbate it. According to the authors it is a Skin Cancer of the land and as reported by some sources it is costing the world as US $ 42 billion per year (Siddiqui, 1997).

Desertification or land degradation means land degradation in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid region caused by the destructive activities of man which not only adversely affect land but also soil, water resources, natural vegetation and crops. The desertification is a biologically degrading process, which removes the natural resources and productivity of our desert rangelands. It may be natural phenomena, but human intervention intensifies it. Process includes plant degradation, extinction, wind/water erosion and salinization of soils. Neither climate nor the other vagaries of the nature by themselves can fully explain the formation of desertified land, because desertification is a condition that people create by degrading the land. However, it should not be confused with the desertization that means creating desert like conditions.

4.1 Main causes

Removal of the forest cover makes the agents of erosion like wind and water become more active. When cover is removed and cleared and land is not used scientifically, the desert like conditions appear. Clearing is done (to increase the area for cropping and grazing) in response to human needs for food and fuel wood. Forest area has reduced to half as compared to that during the hunting and dawn of Agriculture. Economic growth had devastating effect on the forests. Quick clearing, quick degradation had resulted to become deserts  as much as 33-40 % in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid regions. Shifting cultivation and fast increase in human and livestock population has been responsible for reduction of area under forest. Overgrazing of livestock contributes to trampling of seed/vegetation converting grasslands into wastelands. Poverty also leads to overuse of land for agriculture, grazing and fuel.

4.2 Other factors

Climatic changes, droughts, faulty mining activities, unplanned irrigation, overgrazing and soil erosion, effect of toxic pollutants and acid rains, etc. accelerate the process of desertification. Reversing the process of desertification is possible, but opportunities are limited in arid environment. It indicates that all main type of land use has their share of degraded land. Desert rangelands in Cholistan are among the worst affected. Sahelian African drought (1968-73) was a great human tragedy that drew attention to this phenomenon. Africa and Middle East suffered greatest forest losses during 1850-1980 when almost 60 % of the forest was uprooted. In Mali and Burkino Faso, 1/10 of the population was uprooted, due to crop failure and disappearance of grazing lands. One million hectare (1 MH) in Africa and 1.4 MH of Asia is threatened with desertification (Siddiqui, 1997).

Lot of loss of flora and fauna and biodiversity has occurred. Conserving and sequestering Carbon thereby reducing the accumulation of green house gasses in the atmosphere and prevention of global warming has been reduced. Political instability and breakdown of soil structure also accelerate the process. According to some reports, between US $ 10-20 billion/yr would be needed for next 20 years to make land fertile and useable again for agriculture and grazing (UN, 1977).

5. Biodiversity at it’s extinction

Pakistan is well endowed with diversified ecosystems including immense biological resources. Though many of the country's ecosystems are degraded and its animal and plant resources are threatened with extinction. Ecosystem contains a vast range of interdependent plant, animal, and microorganism forms that support all life on earth. This genetic and species variety is known as biodiversity which is at stake. According to PNCS (1993) the biodiversity of ecosystems in both developing and industrial countries is under threat through a combination of habitat destruction and the selective removal and killing of individual species of plants and animals. Ecosystem is being hampered and getting fragile day by day by so many activities, which are contributing to the extinction of animal and plant species. Few factors like low rainfall, high evaporation, drought climate, soil erosion, degrading vegetation and increasing livestock pressure, etc. are hampering the desert ecosystem (Khan, 1992). Human activities have also increased manifold to play its part. A careful and holistic approach is needed to maintain the biodiversity of desert ecosystem in the country to exploit these resources for the welfare of its dwellers.

6. Desert lands or rangelands

A dry barren often sand-covered area of land, characteristically desolate, waterless, and without vegetation area is called as desert. The common features of the desert are: low precipitation, high temperature leading to high evaporation, strong seasonal winds, low humidity, edaphic aridity, poor rainwater efficiency, water percolation, low productivity as low as 400 kg of DM/ha/yr. The authors don’t consider the deserted lands as wastelands rather these rangelands provide a single best use for livestock feeding, if rehabilitated properly.

Range productivity in desert ecosystem is being affected by desertification or drying out. Most commonly, it results from overstocking, or over-use of a portion of available forage by homogenous herds of animals. The herds of cattle, buffalo, sheep and goat far exceed the carrying capacity of the rangelands in the country. Overgrazing thus selectively removes the most palatable perennial native grasses called "decreasers" which results in the formation of patches of bare soil. Overgrazing also results in the increase of less productive and less nutritious annual grasses termed "increasers" or in the invasion of the land by foreign species called "exotics" (ESCAP, 1992). The process also results in less litter and more compaction of the soil. When the infrequent but heavy rains characteristics of arid zones arrive, they are unable to percolate into the soil. The water merely runs over the land, delogging and carrying away large amounts of topsoils. 

Although soil erosion affects all kinds of land, its affect is particularly harmful in dry lands. According to the topographical soil classification, 51.5 % falls in arid, 36.8 % as semi-arid, 5.6 % as sub humid and 6.1 % comes in humid areas (Figure 3). Other than these, 11 MH of sandy deserts in the country are also under threat of desertification. The soil in desert areas is especially vulnerable to wind erosion because it has a low organic matter content, a high percentage of sand and no structure to protect it. Moreover, livestock in desert rangelands loosen the soil particles, which are blown away by the wind, creating a diffuse sandy accumulation or mobile sand dunes. Wind erosion and moving sands have remained a significant threat to settlements and agricultural lands. Water erosion often helps in dune formation by carrying sand and depositing it down stream in the watershed, to be carried away by the wind. The extent to which desertification has occurred or the way it’s progressing is beyond the scope of this paper.

7. Livestock production in deserts


Rangelands, more than half of the territory of the country (62 %), are so degraded by overgrazing that they are producing 1/3 of the climatic potential. Restoring rangelands calls for reviving local communities and achieving a balance between the livestock population on the ranges and their forage production capacities in wet and dry periods. Number of animals be increased to the maximum that can be reared with the fodder available. The additional numbers are in effect regarded as insurance replacements for those that do not survive. What is desired: best adopted animals, or merely pale shadows. Thus the livestock sector is caught in a self-perpetuating and reinforcing downward cycle: the numbers of livestock are high because many are sickly; they are sickly because they are poorly fed; they are poorly fed because they are too numerous. Now it is upto us to decide between the quality or quantity, however, fewer the better.

NCA (1988) suggested that if "all animals in milk receive a full diet which meets their daily appetites, without changing the feed mix i.e: maintaining the present low nutrition, mix this alone could increase milk yield by 100 %" this implies that if half the milking animals are given 30 % more feed, they could provide the same volume of dairy products.

Range animals need not be pampered with stall-fed specimens. Animals if provided with adequate rangelands i.e. high in digestible nutrients and proteins, can exhibit satisfactory fertility and body weights. Thus the message is that with half as many animals and 20 % less feed in total, Pakistan could have the same volume of milk and about the same amount of meat - and the meat would be of better quality.

7.1 Review of drought situation

According to some press releases (Nawa-i-Waqt, 2000) the Sulemain Range piedmonts saw a worst drought in the history affecting about 600 000 acres of land. The mountain range didn’t receive a single drop of water during the last three years resultantly claiming a death toll of 600 000 animals and lot of migration from the area of about 150 km around DG Khan mostly inhabited by Khosa, Buzdar Qiasrani and Lughari tribes.

According to the official reports of the Balochistan government (FAO, 2000) 30 million animals were affected due to sever shortage of water. Fodder provision to the animals became problem and rangelands were totally degraded. The economic conditions of the poor but land less livestock owners shattering to 80 % of the people. The hunger became prominent and unemployment rose to a very high level. The province received 1/3 of the average expected rain in 1998, 18 % of the usual in 1999 and no rain at all in 2000. Karez were dried up and water table dropped to a dangerously low level.

After conducting a thorough survey, an NGO Oxfam (Hussain, 2000) reported no rain in the last three years in the province. Scenes like Ethiopia were seen in the province of Balochistan, Sind and even in Cholistan during the summer drought. The heavy toll of death to livestock (80-90 %) was recorded, whatever were left they were merely pale shadows. No blade of grass and no leaves on the trees were left in the affected areas. According to another personal communication of authors with Oxfam, a survey in Tharparker District of Sind and Balochistan revealed an acute shortage of water resulting no milk availability for the infants in some of these drought stricken areas. They further suggested the Government to supply water on war footings through Army MES personals to provide relief to the people.

Press releases appearing in Nawa-i-Waqt (2001) highlighted the gravity of the situation prevailing due to drought in the country especially in the Cholistan, Thar, and Balochistan deserts. It was reported that water supply from Jinnah and Chashma Barrages were ceased to flow further because of the dangerous levels of low water table in dams and Chashma lakes. The lowest water table level in the history was observed at both places and hydro-power generation was badly affected. Despite the newly inaugurated Chashma Hydro Power Project by the then President Muhammad Rafique Tarar on Feb 27, 2001, the Government was about to announce the load shedding in the country during summer months. The BBC (2001) further added that in this area the record of  90 years was broken and about 216 creeks, feeding to Sind Sagar spreading from Attock upto Dadu, were dried up.

The Federal Livestock Department also announced (Nawa-i-Waqt, 2001) a reduction of 23 % in livestock and their products due to sever shortage of water supply for fodder production and deterioration of rangelands due to prevalence of a 5 years dry spell in the country from 1996 to 2001. The 7 % of the total labor force was also affected. Livestock prices fell down to a dangerously low level and it became hard to feed the animals by the owners.

8. Combating the situation

Water is a finite resource; therefore, there is a dire need for its conservation, careful and efficient use. Pakistan is not so far a water conscious country. We don’t have enough reservoir capacity in irrigation system to store seasonal water. There are 14 hill torrent areas in the country with a potential of 18.6 MAF at 1204 conservation sites (Ramzan, 2002). This water will be sufficient to irrigate (if harvested) 6.5 MH cultivable wasteland in Balochistan with 7.86 MAF of water, NWFP with 4.5 MAF, FATA with 2.8 MAF, Punjab with 2.7 and Sind 0.78 MAF. This torrential water should not be allowed to go waste. Lessons can be learnt from the neighboring country, China that is building three (3) goregeous dams to harvest rainwaters. Gen Pervez Musharraf, the President of Pakistan visited these dams during his visit to China in 2002 and said that the construction of these dams would be the 8th wonder of the world.

Schemes should be prepared and implemented on war footing to utilize this natural gift to the optimum benefits of the farmers, people and livestock. An average of 39 MAF water annually (ranging from 8-92 MAF for 70-100 days) escaping below Kotri falls into the sea unutilized during the summer. This large quantity of water can wisely be stored to serve as an additional reservoir.

Oceans all over the world contain 97 % of the total water. Although technologies to desalinate ocean water is a capital-intensive process. Some experiments in Caspian Sea have been done to use for irrigation by using magnetic technology. Sea water has also been used in some sandy areas.

Reducing line losses of irrigation water totals to approximately 60-68 %, effective use of water (On Farm Water Management), radical changes in irrigation system (instead of wara bandi –demand oriented), lining canals, water courses, nullahs, water drains, and leveling of fields, are some of the options to reduce water losses and combat the process of desertification.

Farm productivity need to be increased through technological changes, crop logging, improved tillage operations, furrow and ridge cultivations, and development of high yielding crops, crop protection and growing of drought resistant and saline resistant crops.

Conservation of flora and fauna in the country will go a long way in maintaining the equilibrium in our desert and rangelands. Increasing carrying capacity will ensure healthy stocking rates.

Forests help a lot in balancing the environment, equilibrium in eco-system, lowering temperature, weather conditioning, attracting more rainfalls, protecting land erosion, desertification and other ills effects of pollution (other than economic benefits). Desired level of afforestation suggested by UN is 20-25 % while it is less than 5 % at present. Illegal cutting of trees need to be banned, tree plantation of farms, factories, rivers/canal banks, etc. needs to be encouraged.

The Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), Pakistan has prepared a vision 2025 to augment the water supply for irrigation, electric generation (Economic Survey, 2002). Thirty five (35) projects for storage of water and irrigation schemes were planned including Bhasha Dams with a capacity of 7.3 MAF with a live capacity of 5.7 MAF, KalaBagh Rockfill Dam with a capacity of 6.1 MAF, Thal reservoir of 2.3 MAF with a live storage of 2.1 MAF and raising level of Mangla Dam (40 ft) to 8.9 MAF. The construction of Mirani Dam with a storage capacity of 0.30 MAF, Goma Zam Dam at Khajuri Kach in Waziristan on Gomal River (132 000 acres of land) has also been suggested.

Some other measures to combat the desertification are presented below. Siddiqui (1977) has outlined the following means to minimize this menace.

  • Controlling at marginal interface of steppe grazing land and sedentary agriculture.
  • Maintaining an ecological balance between stocking rates and carrying capacity.
  • Effective control of man population growth and density in affected areas.
  • Developing and popularizing new/innovative energy sources (solar energy, bio-fuels, electricity, coal, fuel wood plantation, etc.).
  • Re-converting marginal lands into farming areas.
  • Integration land use of grazing land, woodland, cropland, river basins and watershed.
  • Specialized UN bodies (like FAO, UNEP, UNDP, UNICEF, UNESCO, etc) and other regional organizations are there to extend assistance in tackling this problem.
  • International banks do provide loans/substantial assistance.

The development program/plans should consist of the following actions.
  • Controlling wind erosion through growing shelterbelts/wind breaks.
  • Sand dune stabilization.
  • Collecting, harvesting, conservation and spreading of run-off water.
  • Mobilization of ground water resources.
  • Conserving soil moisture for plant growth and soil treatment.
  • Restoring soil fertility through tree planting.
  • Improving cropping technique (ridging, soil working, weeding, fertilization, etc.).
  • Establishing live fencing around cultivated fields.
  • Introducing hedgerow and anti-erosion strip cropping.
  • Improving rangelands by controlled grazing, fodder tree planting, re-seeding, etc. and establishing watering points for human as well as for livestock.

Few more recommendations to combat the situation as listed by NAP (1994).

  • Providing a guideline/frame work for sustainable development of the natural resources and preservation of biological diversity in different agro-ecological zones.
  • Poverty alleviation and improving living standard of the people of aridlands.
  • Providing an effective institutional mechanism at various levels for formulating policy and plans and conducting R&D in aridlands.
  • Human resource development through capacity building and creating awareness among the masses.
  • Gender-balanced decision making and effective participation of the economic value of the women’s work.
  • Proposed priority programs of action for aridland development and combating desertification and even cost estimates through 1995-2005.

9. Epilogue

Last but not the least, the nation needs to be made aware of consequences and processes of the desertification and to combat the situation in the days to come. The scientific community along with the public need to pay heed to the environmental ethics, reduce the gases emissions and environmental pollution and behave with a greater sense of responsibility. Instead of fighting with the nature, we have to convince the nature to be on our side so that the harvesting of benefits of the nature become possible. Harvesting and conservation of rain and river water, increasing forest area in the country to help and expedite water cycle. Industrialized countries should come forward to fulfill their moral obligations and not to victimize the developing countries, rather to rescue them. At last, by inspiration to get determined, united, sincere and steadfast, we can create wonders provided we are not divided on our national priorities and other projects of great national importance.


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