By Saleem Shaikh, Dawn.com
Fifty-year-old herdsman Mohammad Siddiqui resides in bordering village of Somosama near Khokhrapar north of Umerkot town of Tharparkar district. Every morning he used to move around along with his cattle in the area in search of water for them, some times as far as 20 kilometres. It was very rare that he would find sweet and fresh water in the area.
“Because of protracted drought spells with scarce rainfalls in the district, water level in most of the dug wells of his village, like any another villages, has decreased as much as 700-800 feet, which is usually brought out by means of pulley for domestic purposes,” Mohammad Siddiqui narrated.
But discovery of the weird ‘artisan well’ in Somosama villager, which gushes out an average of 3,84,000 gallons of water daily without any external pumping machine, has cheered up many aggrieved locals like Mohammd Siddiqui.
During a recent visit to the area, this scribe witnessed expressions of delight on faces of the locals and cattle breeders, who were seen huddling their cattle herds now in large multitudes towards the artisan well site from nearby and far-off villages for water.
Some herdsmen say that they bring their cattle daily to the artisan well from faraway villages, some of them located at a distance of 20-22 kilometres, as underground water in their villages is saline and brackish and has been causing serious diseases in their livestock.
“I bring my goats and sheep, which number 53, from Khokhrapar area some 22 kilometres east of the Somosama village as some 23 out of 28 dug wells in my village have brackish water, while level of water of the remaining five has drastically decreased and are on the verge of drying up,” said 33-year-old Hasim.
Forty-year-old Qadir Bux is another herdsman, who lives in the Somosama village and owns some 155 cattle heads. He says this is first of its kind that such an artisan well has been discovered in the entire Tharparkar district.
The healthy water for livestock
The locals observed the water of this artisan well has improved health of the livestock, particularly camels as they have shown improvement in their health faster than any other cattle.
“Milk quality of almost all the cattle including goat, sheep and cows has significantly improved as their milk is now thicker. And, fur of the sheep has turned shiner after they have started consuming the water of the artisan well,” observed camel breeder Qadir Bux.
Most of the dug wells in the surrounding villages of the Tharparkar district are dug as deep as 60-70 metres, but their water being brackish is extremely injurious to health. Therefore, rain water is harvested in small earthen pots with narrow holes for drinking purposes but it hardly lasts for three to four months.
The dry spell in Thar normally extends from the month of December and continues up to May. And during the drought season, most of the villagers of the Tharparkar district temporarily migrate along with their livestock to distant barrage areas and return when it rains.
Destinations are different for the people of various ecological zones. But generally the migratory farm labour from Thar prefers to go to Umerkot, Mirpurkhas, Badin, Hyderabad, Sanghar and Nawabshah districts, where they have enough water for their livestock and labour work in farming lands for their livelihood, informed Dr. Khataumal a local development expert of Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP) based in Mithi, district headquarter of the Tharparkar district.
He said that the major source of livelihood for locals in Thar is livestock breeding and rain-fed farming. “Therefore, any outbreak of disease in livestock, which mostly occurs from consumption of contaminated or highly brackish water of the dug wells, leads to their death in huge number. It results in a huge financial loss for the locals,” he remarked.
Sono Khangharani, CEO of TRDP, said that initially, the well was bored as deep as 700 feet but its water was extremely brackish and smelly. It was of no use for livestock or locals. Later, on the insistence of villagers, who believed that underground fresh water is present 1,350 feet deep in the village, we resumed boring further deeper as down as 1,300 deep, using heavy drilling machines at a cost of Rs2.2 million.
“But, when the boring machine struck at 1,300 feet depth, all of a sudden water came gushing out and the villagers, whose hopes were on the verge of waning, burst into jubilation,” he recalled.
Talking about the impact of artisan well’s water quality and its impact on cattle, TRDP’s senior manager for development works, engineer Jhaman, termed the artisan well’s water not fit for human consumption because its’ Parts Per Million (PPM) ratio is around 3,500 while allowable PPM ratio under WHO standards is 500.
“Although locals use this water also for their drinking, it is better to desalinate it to avoid any serious repercussions on human health,” he suggested.
The water of the artisan well is rich in sulphur; that is why, its usage for the livestock has helped reduced their skin diseases,” informed Jhaman Lalchandani.
Recently, an R.O. (water desalination) Plant has been established by the Sindh Coal Authority adjacent to the artisan well, with a capacity of desalinating 50,000 gallon water per day.
Once the R.O. plant starts functioning, the desalination water would usher in a new era of socioeconomic development in the area as it could also be used for agriculture purposes and breeding of healthy livestock, hoped Narumal, a rural development expert in Thar.