Credit: Image of out of order tube wells from ‘Pakistan Today’
In 1980, the Pakistani region of Kuchlagh had a thriving apple and fruit industry based on groundwater. By 2000 the primary aquifer had been pumped dry, and by 2010 there was no groundwater and no agriculture.
How can this happen?
In 1982 an influx of refugees from Afghanistan crossed the border into Pakistan and began setting up farms of their own. There was very little resistance to that as the local community assumed their groundwater supplies were endless. The new arrivals were welcomed and helped to hand dig bores to the easily accessible ground water.
Over time these wells started to dry up, but were replaced by tube wells dug with electric motors and submersible pumps. By 1990 the water table was 80m below ground.
In the mid-1990s the apple market had peaked and a glut of apples lowered prices to a point where orchards stopped expanding, but drilling for water continued unabated.
In 1998 new tube wells for the first time started to hit the bottom of the alluvial aquifer 120 metres below ground. As tube wells dried up a network of pipes was established to pump water from the still functioning wells to the dry ones. Some persistent farmers continued to drill through the limestone foundation of the aquifer but the yield for these wells was only about 15% of what had previously been possible.
In the first few years of the twenty-first century some farmers shifted to less water intensive crops like apricots, grapes and vegetables. Most remarkable though is that while the decline was happening there was no attempt by anyone to stop the unsustainable extraction of groundwater. No farmer or consumer groups, local councils or government at any level became involved in the process.
How similar is Stanley? In terms of an ever-decreasing aquifer probably no different, and until recently the notion that groundwater is inexhaustible was still widely held.
Unlike in Kuchlagh though our water extraction is highly regulated and controlled. Licences to extract take into account assumptions about the long-term viability of the supply so at least we have an attempt at sustainability. We also have a community that is much more active than that of Kuchlagh.
Let’s hope it’s enough.