By Shah Khalid Shah Jee
The centuries-old historic fountain in the village of Bhai Chinah, a village of the historic Sadat tribe, located in the foothills of the Khar Tehsil of Bajaur District, Pakistan, has dried up. The fountain was the last of several that have dried up one by one in the latest years.
The well that was filling the fountain along with other fountains and provided the village with water could eventually not withstand the effects of climate change and dried up. The exact age of the spring is unknown to anyone who remembers when they were still flowing, but Noor Muhammad Benori, a scholar who belongs to the Sadat family of the village of Bhai Chena, says that his elders told him that the well is centuries old, as is the village. He also shared that the name of the village, “Bhai Chena” means ‘spring’ in Pashto. Also Buddhist civilizations in this area show that the springs are centuries old.
But now, all the springs have dried up – the last two remaining springs ran dry two months ago, with the water level going down during the last ten years. According to Noor Muhammad, the spring not only meets the needs of the 40 households in the village, but its water is passed as a stream through the historic “Gatto Jumat”, known as the stone mosque. Worshippers used to perform ablutions there – the used water was stored in a tank-shaped pond under the mosque, which the village people later used for irrigation. Noor Muhammad adds that Bhai Chinah also is a tourism destination for people from neighbouring areas during the summer season and that visitors quench their thirst with the cold water from these springs and take some of it home in water coolers. But now, because of the lack of water, this historic village has become dim.
There is a huge historical stone on which the elders of the village used to sit and talk about historical events, which the young people always enjoyed. The was also a popular landmark for tourists. Most local people have now relocated from this area and have settled down in the plains, and the few families remaining are suffering because of water scarcity.
The village had two wells, recalls Khalil-ur-Rehman, an elderly resident of Bhai Chena, one on a lower and one on a higher location (called Koz Gudar and Bar Goudar). The lower well has now dried up and the water flow in the upper one has dropped drastically. Because of this, the households in the village are allowed access to the spring water only on certain days. The village was divided by using a number system and households can only use the springs on their allocated days. The villagers fear that that if the springs become too dry, they will be forced to migrate.
Although Khalil-ur-Rehman is not aware of the impacts of climate change, he says that since the Lachi (Eucalyptus Camaldulensis) was planted in the region in 1998, the flow of water in the springs has slowed down. It decreased over time and now these large springs have dried up. Although this forest has benefited the surrounding villages, people say that Lachi absorbs large quantities of water which has caused the springs to dry up. Most people in Bajaur wonder whether this Lachi plant reduces water flow in the area around Bajaur Divisional Forest. Officer Hayat Ali strongly rejects the idea that the water level has gone down due to the Lachi plant. He said that he has not only visited many parts of this country but also many other countries and has participated in various workshops and seminars but has never heard that Lachi plants cause water levels to drop. He has not seen any evidence of this at all so far. The Lachi is considered one of the only plants that grow in both drought- ridden and watery areas. This is why many people question whether the plant plays a role in the decrease in water levels. People who blame the plant do not understand that climate change has affected the rains, and for the last several years there has not been the same amount of rainfall as before. Even though the rains have been heavier this year, last year’s water supply did not last long. Clearly, climate change is affecting Pakistan, just like its impact is being experienced all over the world. The water shortage is a clear sign of this. In addition, population has increased very rapidly which leads to greater use of water, also contributing to the water shortage.
Hayat Ali says that, although the public’s beliefs about Lachi are absolutely wrong, due to this false belief, the planting of Lachi has been significantly reduced and people believe we now have to give priority to local plants. This does not mean that the demand for eucalyptus has decreased – people are still demanding it in the same way they were before because it brings economic benefits.
These are Hayat Ali’s words about his local village but of course also experts are raising questions about climate change. Therefore, forest departments and experts should take effective steps to eliminate this false belief about the Lachi.