© UNDP / Shuja Hakim

Born in Skardu and raised in Islamabad, Saima Bibi found it difficult to adjust to life after marriage in Village Tholdi, Gilgit-Baltistan. Despite the harsh living conditions, most of the community was content living in the village, however, challenges pertaining to farming and variations in water flow patterns, were gradually increasing.

Dependent on agriculture for subsistence, the lack of availability of adequate water at the right time was soon becoming a food security concern for the community.

 As resource managers, women face the brunt of the scarcity and carry the burden of domestic and farming workload. The remoteness of the area and lack of opportunity to diversity in income, are also common constraints faced by mountain women. 

The mountain region of Gilgit Baltistan is known for its nature landscapes and spectacular views, but the communities that live there lead a very challenging life. Often the communities have collective land holdings, but not the means to make barren land cultivable. Water sources are far and building irrigation channels is beyond their meager means. Poor harvest sometimes forces them to buy grains and vegetables from the market, depleting their already minimal savings.

© UNDP / Shuja Hakim

Mounting difficulties made the community reach out for support. They sent a resolution to the Mountain and Glacier Protection Organization (MGPO) to help them bring 238 hectares under productive use. MGPO worked closely with the community to put in place not only an irrigation channel, but also to build community capacity for local stewardship. The local community is now organized with an institutional platform for decision making with 50 percent representation of women in the community organization. 

“Household income has increased, women workload has decreased, and the community is empowered to plot its future trajectory.”

The 2100 population of Village Tholdi now has a 9900 feet long irrigation channel, with a 7000 gallon storage tank that provides water to meet the needs of the entire village. Household income has increased, women workload has decreased and the community is empowered to plot its future trajectory. 

The project will accrue economic, social and environmental benefits to the community and replenish 2.57 billion liters of water back to nature and community. Living in the age of climate change and pandemics like COVID 19, it is becoming more important than ever, for mountain communities to be self-sufficient in meeting their food requirements. 

© UNDP / Shuja Hakim

Saima, along with some other families, was weighing the option of migration to avoid the looming crisis. The irrigation scheme has been a boon for the community. They have landscaped the barren land and planted trees – both timber and non–timber– and increased farming activities to now have surplus that they can sell in the market, and use agriculture not just as a means of sustenance but income generation. 

“Nobody wants to leave their home and abandon their ancestral lands but circumstances were making some of us consider this drastic option” says Aapi Nisa, a local woman. “This project has transformed our lives and we can now look forward to the future without fear” she adds.

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