Flowing more than 1,000 km between Pakistan’s Indus River and the Suleiman Mountains, the Chashma Canal has helped transform a vast expanse of barren land into green farmland where profitable crops like rice and sugarcane can be cultivated.
The canal, built with financial support from the Asian Development Bank, was a life changer for communities living along its banks from the Chashma Barrage to Taunsa.
Punjab, Pakistan -- The Chashma Right Bank Canal flows more than 1,000 km between the Indus River and the Suleiman Mountains, irrigating more than 240,000 hectares of land.
Before it was built, much of the area was nothing but barren desert.
“We did not have clean drinking water then. After the rain, we used to bring water all the way from Jummah Sharif,” says Baitullah Bali, farmer from Shejri.
“When water formed small puddles on the ground we filled our pitchers. That was our drinking water.”
Muhammad Eesa, a farmer from Siddiquabad, recounts the times before the canal was built: “My father had to work as a day laborer to bring us up.”
“Now with his land divided equally among us three brothers,” he adds.
“We have become prosperous farmers.”
Before the canal was built, in fact, irrigation in the area depended entirely on unreliable seasonal rain.
“In the past, I was just eking out a living,” says Mujahid, a farmer from Vahowa.
“We were farming the land but we had to use turbines and tube wells for irrigation. This left us with very little profit and we could hardly make ends meet.”
At the time, many resorted to take on paid work outside their farms.
“Life was hard: to earn a bit extra we had to take on extra work,” says Mujahid.
“The canal brought us immense prosperity.”
The canal has transformed barren land into a farmland where water-intensive crops can now be cultivated.
Place names like Dhup Sarhi, which literally means “sun burnt” in the local language, have become misnomers.
In Dhup Sarhi, farmers are now able to cultivate profitable crops like rice and sugarcane.
The burgeoning economy has also attracted business from nearby areas.
“In the past, only the canal contractors owned tractors and other machinery,” Zulfiqar Ali, a diesel mechanic from Paharpur says.
“Since the canal was built, privately owned tractors have become widespread. And my business has flourished.”
Water-logged sections of the canal have been turned into rich breeding grounds for fish farmers.
Mohammad Naeem, a fish wholesaler from Derailleur, explains that fish farming is a profitable activity.
“This area is more than 12.5 acres and I set up a fish farm here,” he says.
“Last year, I did excellent business. So far, this year has also been good.”
The canal also brought about social changes. Communities have been able to abandon their nomadic lifestyle that followed rain patterns. This has resulted in better education for children.
The canal was a life changer for communities living along its banks from the Chashma Barrage to Taunsa.
Muhammad Ali Khetran, a land owner from Vahowa, confirms that business has never been better.
“We made a net profit of $9,400 in our first year. I never made that much profit in the past, not even in ten years.”
The Asian Development Bank helped finance the construction of the canal, improving the lives of millions.