Baanhn Beli, IUCN Pakistan help Tharis fight desertification, revive guggal plantation


Nagarparkar: Baanhn Beli, a non-governmental organization, in collaboration with International Union of Conservation Network (IUCN) Pakistan and Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) has launched an array of interventions in different parts of Tharparkar district to fight desertification, drought, improve socio-economic conditions of Tharis by providing improved educational, health, water supply services.

Mr. Javed Jabbar, founding president of Baanhn Beli and global IUCN Vice President and Asia Regional Councilor, said this during his media briefing to journalists of Karachi here on June 22.

During the briefing, he also talked about Baanhn Beli’s role in empowerment of local communities through different initiatives, such as:
> provision of community physical infrastructure (CPI) which includes
> installation of hand pumps, construction of reservoir ponds,
> dug wells,
> water supply schemes,
> establishment of health facilities,
> primary schools and
> arranging trainings for traditional birth attendants (TBAs).

Hanif Khoso of Baanhn Beli said that these crucial basic interventions have helped improve people’s socio-economic conditions of the people, where these have been carried out. “In many areas of Nagarparkar, benefiting households of Baanhn Beli’s program areas have shown improvement in and health, education and livelihoods,” he pointed out.

He said: “Situation of water-borne diseases have also improved significantly in the program areas, where water supply schemes have been initiated and hand pumps installed. Reservoir ponds, wherein rainwater is harvested, constructed in different parts of Nagarparkar have also cast positive effects on health of the livestock, which would walk miles for water.”

According to Baanhn Beli’s statistics, during last six years some 294 hand pumps have been installed and 39 reservoir ponds and 145 dug wells have been constructed in different parts of Tharparkar district. Some 21,526 households have benefited from such uplift interventions.

Spread over more than 22,000square kilometers (2.76% of the total geographical area of Pakistan and inhabitant by 1.5 million population, Tharparkar is one of the 200 eco-regions in the world, known for unique biodiversity.

The livelihood and food base of people of Tharparkar relies predominantly on grazing animals and partially on subsistence agriculture. Agriculture in the desert area is chiefly dependent on monsoonal rains, which are erratic and variable in quantity and to a very little extent, sweet groundwater is available at very few places.

Javed Jabbar, of Baanhn Beli, said: “Local people in Tharparkar, reeling under virulent strains of rapidly expanding desertification and frequent occurrences of droughts, were also being helped adapt to aftereffects of the problems through agro-forestry, tree planting and restoration of vegetation cover.

“Fast expanding desertification and frequent occurrence of droughts, caused by unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, loss of vegetation cover and reduced rains, has compounded their problem of poverty and make them entirely vulnerable to the situation,” said George Sadiq of the IUCN Pakistan.

Jeeja, a 45-years-old widow, is now happy as she feels economically empowered. She is owner of 1.5 acre of farmland on which she cultivates onions, chilli, tomato and other vegetables in financial support provided by Baanhn Beli.

Jeeja has also planted indigenous forest trees at her farmland including Guggal trees, which are on the verge of extinction due to its unsustainable exploitation. The gum resin of the guggal tree – a mixture of gum and the plant secretion, resin, is being extracted by greedy people, who use it to make certain pharmaceuticals.

Those involved in this activity, which is ecologically threatening to the existence of the guggal tree, sell for having an immense medicinal value. Environmentalists of the IUCN Pakistan have said that the slow-growing nature of endangered plant species does add to the extinction threat, but the poor seed-setting, lack of cultivation, a poor seed germination rate, drought, overgrazing, destruction of habitat and excessive scientific tapping for its gum have caused the most harm.

However, Jeeja’s efforts for plantation of the endangered guggal trees are a welcome move and Baanhn Beli and IUCN Pakistan deserve appreciation for providing support to Jeeja.

Photos by Saleem Shaikh

“We are trying hard to save the guggal from getting extinct and have mobilized local communities members in areas of Tharparkar, which this tree is found, to join IUCN and Baanhn Beli’s efforts to protect this tree from its exploitative use,” Javed Jabbar told Pakistan Times.

Dr. Lekhraj Kella, who is provincial project coordinator for the Sustainable Land Management Project, believes that commercial exploitation for economic purposes is real cause of unsustainable exploitation of the tree.

“Guggal has emerged as a significant plant species in Pakistan’s dry-land ecosystem, because the leaves of the plant are edible and grazed by livestock, its seeds and fruits are used as food by the people. More importantly, it helps maintain the ecological balance in the rocky hills,” he remarked.

Dr. Lekhraj Kella said that efforts are being taken on fast track basis in support with IUCN Pakistan and local communities to check its unsustainable exploitative and new plants of guggal are being plants to preserve the ecological balance in its habitats across the province.

About the author

Saleem Shaikh

The writer is a development journalist. He writes on water, sanitation, environment, climate change, agriculture, women development, human rights, education, health, development budgets and economy.

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