Pakistan: Thar Desert transforming into oasis

Author at flower nursery

Author at flower nursery

By Nasir Aijaz
Asia N Representative

SINDH PROVINCE: Pakistan’s Thar Desert in Sindh province, bordering India, is transforming into oasis, as with start of coalmining since a decade, a new wetland has emerged because of brackish water oozing out of the open pit coalmine at 180 meters depth.

The brackish water has not only created a lake that provides safe destination for Siberian migratory birds who travel thousands of kilometers for a sojourn at warm places during the chilling winter but also has helped to grow cops, fruits and fodder besides flowers and other tree plants.

Gorano Reservoir

Gorano Reservoir

Under the sands of the Thar Desert lies one of the world’s largest coal reserves estimated to be 170 billion tons, which can meet the energy needs of Pakistan for the next few centuries. The reserves, buried deep under the desert sands, are separated by giant fossilized aquifers. Certain hydro geological studies show the presence of three aquifer zones at varying depths: above the coal zone, within the coal zone and below the coal zone.

My friend Bashir Ansari, a Mining Engineer and the pioneer of coalmining in Thar, had once said that the water available in such aquifers could irrigate the entire Thar Desert, said to be seventh largest desert of the world. Listening to his words, I had recalled a quote from Bible: “For waters will burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert plain. The heat-parched ground will become a reedy pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water. In the lairs where jackals rested, there will be green grass and reeds and papyrus.”

Gorano Reservoir

Gorano Reservoir

During a recent visit to this area, I witnessed these changes having taken place in Thar coal field located in central part of Tharparkar district of Sindh province. The saline water of coalmine is pumped out by 17 heavy pumps and discharged through a 27km long pipeline at a place called Gorano and thus the low-lying area spread over 1500 acres has turned into a lake and is known as Gorano Dam or Reservoir.

Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company, a joint venture of provincial government of Sindh and a private company, engaged in coalmining and coal-fired power plant with the help of Chinese engineers, has not only developed a park at a big sand dune near the reservoir but has also succeeded in fish breeding in the reservoir.

Gorano Reservoir

Gorano Reservoir

Annually, around 50,000 fish catch is distributed among the people of nearby villages free of cost.

Further, a vast area has been earmarked for tree plantation near the coalmine, located some 347 kilometers from Karachi. “We have successfully cultivated the Apple size Ber fruit trees. The orchard is spread on an eight-acre piece of land,” told Mr. Naseer Memon, General Manager of Thar Foundation, a social welfare body of the coalmining company.

Plantation at Gorano Reservoir

Plantation at Gorano Reservoir

“And, like the fish catch of Gorano reservoir, the fruits produced here, are too distributed among locals free of cost,” he added.

Another remarkable success was of nursery with thousands of flower plants and saplings that had added to the natural beauty of the area. The nursery had been supplying the saplings to various organizations of the province. Near the nursery, there was a sunflower field spread over several acres that looked like a sky with thousands of suns.

Gorano Reservoir fish catch

Gorano Reservoir fish catch

“In consultation with Pakistan Agriculture Research Center, we have also cultivated several other crops and fruits like pulses, lady finger and melons using the saline water under our bio-saline agriculture project,” Naseer Memon said while leaving for a visit to another huge project of ‘Million Tree Plantation.

“We have grown over the years a large number of trees in an area of 65 acres, which are now as tall as man’s height. Besides, trees have been planted along all the roads leading to the coalmine and various other offices and power plants in entire coal block,” he told adding that they actively take part in tree plantation every year to achieve the target of ‘Million Tree Plantation’.

Plantation

Plantation

The climate of Thar is very hot like any other desert of the world with scanty rains. Owing to low or no rainfall, the Thar Desert often experienced drought but the saline water has helped to transform this particular area into an Oasis. The work in other coal blocks of Thar is still underway and at certain stage more coalmines will develop and their saline water will turn the desert lush and green and combat the climate change effects.

Gorona Reservoir

Gorona Reservoir

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