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Monday, September 1, 2014

Water Rights - in Central Hunza

Customary rights of villages/Tribes/Families/Former Rulers are well understood and practiced effectively even after the discontinuity of hereditary rule in 1974. It is also a fact that misinterpretations have also given rise to unnecessary conflicts within communities resulting in court cases, specially after the discontinuity of hereditary rule. It is a relief to know that these customary practices have been researched through CAK project and now we have a reliable written record of the age old system followed in Hunza. It will help the younger generation to arrive at logical collective decisions when the futuristic civil society entities embark on implementing desirable changes in the distribution of water rights that will be necessitated when either new channels are built or the existing channels are improved or utilization options - for example, HYDRO-POWER schemes are implemented and a review becomes essential. This consideration alone has prompted me to reproduce the same on my blog so that it is available to a wider circle in Hunza.


Water Management in Mountain
Oases of the Karakoram

Hermann Kreutzmann


In recent years development planners have been focussing on the expansion of irrigated lands in order to safeguard the nutritional basis for a growing population. In the rural areas of the subtropical belts extending the potential growing period, expanding the area covered by agricultural fields and improving their productivity on a sustainable basis are components of quite common and widely applied development strategies. There have been many successes in this approach, especially from marginal regions where dependence on monsoon rains have been superseded by a steady supply of irrigation water from perennial sources. Mountain regions have been quite marginal to such planning as projects depend on large-scale structures, with major dams creating storage reservoirs to feed canal networks the size of medium rivers in the plains and piedmont areas. The water supply for such projects was tapped from the huge glaciated regions up in the mountains, which have been labelled the water towers of Asia, conducted through major rivers to the densely populated lowland regions. In Pakistan irrigation projects initiated by public institutions and development agencies were concentrated in the compact irrigation oases in Punjab and Sindh, which evolved into their present status from systems begun in colonial times.
The last two decades, however, have signalled a basic change in thinking in irrigation design away from the larger projects, towards the development of more small-scale projects. Since then, mountain regions, which provide the meltwater utilized for irrigation in cultivated oases, have become focal points in water management projects of their own.
Development practitioners have been surprised by the highly sophisticated state of local water management systems in mountain societies of the Hindukush-Karakoram-Himalaya belt.2 Nevertheless, enquiries about their institutional framework and social organization and their impact on existing user communities (Coward 1991) have been neglected and underestimated. This paper presents some of the basic principles of water management and
explores some of the local variations and diversity of these principles in a
case study from Hunza.
Like the pre-colonial irrigation systems of the Indus Basin (cf. Scholz
1985) the mountain irrigation systems are dominated by gravity flow
techniques to transport irrigation water from a source (glacier, snowfield, river, fountain) to the cultivated lands through "gravity-fed" channels. These age-old systems are remnants of indigenous cultural knowledge and
traditional techniques. As developers are now searching for models and
appropriate technologies that are both sustainable and equitable to apply
toward improving these smaller systems, there is a growing need for
understanding the institutions of these irrigation systems and how they work.
Hunza presents us with a model for a water users' community in a region where there is water scarcity and which has developed a sophisticated system of water management (Fig. 7.1). The following analysis focuses on this valley society in the Karakoram. It is felt that a comprehensive knowledge of the functioning of the irrigation network of this area will provide us with
the key toward understanding its mixed mountain agriculture and social
A side effect of the increasing integration of the high mountain regions into a system of exchange relations with the lowlands and piedmont has been the increased provision of agricultural extension services to the mountain oases and that public (national) and private (international) development agencies have begun to become increasingly involved in local
irrigation projects. Three aspects will be emphasized on in the presentation
a multi-dimensional perspective:

1.     regional differentiation of ecological frame conditions and their relation toward utilization patterns of natural water resources,
2.     effects of historical and societal processes in the legal and organizational structure of water user communities,
3.     recent developments in the irrigation economy linked to external interventions and changing economic relations.
From a macro-economic perspective the marginal lands in arid high mountain oases pose a model for the highly sophisticated utilization of a minimum of available natural resources. Water poses a key factor in the whole set-up.

The Karakoram mountains (71°-79° E, 35°-36° N) petrographically and orographically form one component of the young folded mountain belt of Central Asia (Hewitt 1989; Schneider 1956: 8; Searle 1991). The toponym Karakoram derives from the Turkic expression for black gravel or black rock. During the colonial discussion of nomenclature (Mason 1930, 1938) the local term Muztagh has been suggested with the meaning of snowy mountains. These two ascriptions present the ecological range of the Karakoram mountains which on the one hand offer gravel and deserts on slopes and in the valley bottoms and on the other hand are characterized in the upper zones by the most extensive ice cover outside the polar regions.
With an average of 28 per cent areawise glaciation and regional up to 48 per cent (Siachen glacier region) these snowy mountains distinguish themselves in ice coverage significantly from the neighbouring Himalayas (8-12 per cent). The whole range of 500 kilometres length is only transected by river gorges at two points: the Shyok river in the East and the Hunza river in the West cut through the main ridge and the Pleistocene deposits thus creating the canyon-like valleys with bordering flat river terraces and outwash fans/scree slopes. The deeply incised main rivers are difficult to tap for irrigation purposes as the elevation between water level and settlement terraces sometimes spans a vertical distance of over 100 m. Traditionally other solutions for the provision of irrigation water were found, such as the predominant utilization of water from tributary rivers. The Hunza valley has some of the steepest slopes on earth that leaves only limited space for cultivation. Between the Hunza river at Altit (2100 m) and the Ultar I peak (7390 m) the average inclination of the slope ranges around 60 per cent.
The valleys represent a typical subtropical steppic high mountain area with altitudinal zonation of vegetation cover. The classification of vegetational belts begins at the valley bottom with desert conditions. Next comes artemisia steppe where most permanent settlements are located. If one follows the slope gradient upwards, humid-temperated stretches where coniferous woods occur locally at northern exposures. Above this is found the zone of high pastures; an important economic resource is composed of valuable meadows reaching upwards to the zone of perennial snow and ice (Paffen, Pillewizer and Schneider 1956).
Climatically the Karakoram mountains form a barrier between the monsoon-dominated lowlands of the Indian subcontinent and the arid belt of Central Asia with its huge desert basins of the Tarim and Fergana. The Karakoram valleys are thus affected by a monsoonal climatic regime as well as by westerly depressions forming a transition zone (Fig. 7.2). In the 
vertical dimension, extreme differences of precipitation conditions have been recorded between arid, desert-like valley bottoms and the humid nival zone (Hewitt 1989) thus separating potential settlement regions from those where sufficient humidity is available (Fig. 7.3). Climatic data are available for longer periods only from weather stations in the valleys thus showing the limitations for agriculture in the permanent settlements.
The total annual precipitation in these valleys is only about 130 mm on average and is well below minimal requirements for rain-fed (barani cultivation. On the other hand, measurements of ablation and calculations suggest maximum precipitation at 5000 metres altitude of approximately 2000 mm. This significant gradient explains the desert conditions in the villages and the enormous glaciation in the upper elevations.3
Mean average temperatures seasonally vary with maxima in July/August and minima in January with an amplitude of 25° C (cf. Fig. 7.2). In glaciated region like the Karakoram these variations in temperature determine and actuate the volume of available meltwater for irrigation the valley bottoms. The seasonal differences are reflected in the discharg patterns of the rivers (Fig. 7.4). The period of seasonal meltwater relea relates to the climatic conditions and determines in connection with th altitudinal location of settlements the length of the cultivation period f crops in these irrigation oases. The average duration of annual growing.
cycles ranges from 307 days for Gilgit (1450 m asl), 260 days for Karimabad (2300 m) to 195 days only for Misgar (3102 m).
Relief, availability of meltwater and vegetation period in different locations (altitude, aspect) form the parameters for the possibility of establishing sustainable irrigation oases in the Karakoram. The storage capacity of the mighty ice towers is tapped and meltwater are deviated towards irrigated fields in locations which compose ecological and agro-technological niches with favourable conditions for crop farming. Thus the irrigated oases of the Karakoram are located on river terraces and outwash fans in the arid low-lying valley bottoms. They allow a maximum utilization of the limited vegetation period where the provision of sufficient meltwater from side-valleys is safeguarded through a highly sophisticated network of irrigation channels. Overall these cultivated areas cover less than one percent of the Karakoram mountains.

The rural societies of the Karakoram differentiate themselves in many ways despite a principally similar ecological environment and a relatively homogeneous materialized culture. One of the main characteristics of individual valleys poses the traditional social organization. Staley (1969) has distinguished two basic types:

1. Semi-autonomous and independent principalities represent the dominant feature of hereditary rule in the northern Karakoram valleys. Local mir, raja or tham dominated peasant farmers of different social standing places like Gupis, Yasin, Ishkoman, Punial, Gilgit, Hunza, Nager, Astore, Skardu and Khaplu. These rulers over a peasant community executed certain control, levied taxes and requested forced labour services from the rural households.

2. Following the Yusufzai Pashtun conquest of Swat and Indus Kohistan since the fourteenth century so-called acephalous societies or republics have emerged in the mountainous interface of the southern valleys like Chilas, Tangir, Darel, Gor, Kandia etc. They have established egalitarian community to which all landowners belong. They are entitled to participate in the decision-making process of all village activities like distribution of land, construction and maintenance of irrigation chanels etc. No hereditary ruler is present; every member possesses equal rights. The forum for counselling is the jirga, a local assembly basing its decisions on overall consent. Besides the landed members of society there exists a subordinated landless class which works on the fields and as shepherds. They are excluded from all decision-making processes.

Staley (1966) observed distinguishing features between these two societal settings. The cultural landscape of the republics was devoid of any orchards, a trait that has been related to the land rotation system of wesh ' Agricultural tasks are predominantly executed by indebted wage-labourers from outside, who are tolerated as employees. Intensity of crop farming has been low and cultivable land abounds. In comparison with the principalities, the agricultural resources of the republics are abundant and underutilized. There landowners work their small holdings (on average less than one hectare per household) themselves and are engaged in intensive exploitation of available resources. The upper limits of certain crops are significantly higher in the principalities than in the republics. Natural forests have been depleted to a high degree. Scarce water resources are optimized in a highly sophisticated system of water management by ascribing qualified priorities to different crops, orchards and meadows.
In this respect an extraordinary position is held by Hunza which has gained a reputation for the development of marginal resources. Hunza professionals managed to cultivate difficult tracts, their expertise in designing and construction of irrigation networks won them assignments in other Karakoram valleys. In its complexity, the Hunza water management system incorporates a number of rules and, regulations that are applied in different configurations in other Karakoram valleys as well. Where water scarcity is the dominating feature like in the irrigation system of Central Hunza the complexity of water management increases.


The vast majority of all irrigation systems in Hindukush, Karakoram and Himalaya use gravity-fed networks to conduct running meltwater through channels which are directed less steeply than the slope gradient and in some cases nearly parallel to contour lines. The same applies for Hunza where the village lands receive their "glacier milk" from channels that supply enormous amounts of suspended matter at the same time.
This characteristic surface irrigation system consists of main channels (dalk, khul or gocil) which start at the head-works with a diversion of water into filter basins. These are necessary to settle huge amounts of. suspended silt and sand from the meltwater before sending it down the network. Despite these efforts, much sediment still has to be cleared annually from the main channels before the irrigation season starts. The irrigation water is distributed to the fields through a system of secondary channels (sun) which follow the slope gradient. Farmers operate two or more main channels at different elevations (Fig. 7.5). Besides supporting the distribution of water to the field channels, these suit are necessary for the diversion of water from one network to another in case of breaching and to allow for drainage. All main channels below the highest level one are multi-functional.

Individual fields receive their allocated share of water through field channels (dir, irkis) which reach all parcels through the opening and closing of individual field sluices (cak, il). Two different types of cultivation beds (phurun) are used in Hunza: flat parcels for the raising of grain crops and leguminous plants in which some small patches for vegetables (sanie khutkus) are inserted, and furrow beds for root crops predominantly potatoes. The flat parcels account for 97 per cent of the cropland (harkis; Fig. 7.6) and receive irrigation water through flooding. The furrow beds are allocated water by opening and connecting these furrows during a single cycle. The cultivation beds meant for the raising of the staple food crops (harkis) of the village lands (icit) commands first priority of water rights and is given preference against orchards (basikis) and irrigated meadows (toq). The latter are only irrigated during periods of surplus water. These irrigation techniques and priority measures are structuring the village lands.
In regions with a limited supply and intensive cultivation further measures are taken to optimize the use of the available water by levelling the terraces and applying a complex distribution key. Where water is less a factor in the farming system, its management requires less effort and less emphasis is placed on setting up rules and controlling consensually fixed regulations.
Evolution of Channel Network and Adaptation of Irrigation Rules in Central Hunza
The historical dimension in an expanding irrigation system in Central Hunza can be linked to initiatives of different rulers. The core of this system was formed by an old structure of the three oldest settlements, which were supplied with water from individual channels leading to their respective village lands. The Hamaci channel forms the lifeline of Ganesh, and Altit gocil brings meltwater to the village of the same name. Both channels tap the Ultar glacier as their main resource. The Balti-il links the fortified village of Baltic (renamed Karimabad since 1983) with the waters of the Bululo snowfields and springs. This poor resource basin is drained by the Haiderabad Har which provides the Balti-il its offtake. The age of these three oldest channels of Central Hunza has not been established, but they could be well over 600 years old.5
No important extensions to the system were contemplated until Tham Silum Khan III (app. 1790-1825) founded several new villages (thuaan khananc). His reign can be characterized as a period of population growth, immigration of settlers, territorial gains and strengthening of centralized authority in Hunza. In order to establish settlement nuclei in the newly cultivated irrigation oases, he directed the construction of the thuaan khananc as fortified villages. The name of Silum Khan III is associated with the main channel of Central Hunza. The dala (big channel) or Khul Samarkand, as it is locally called, still irrigates the lower portion of the central irrigation oasis between Karimabad and Aliabad (Tab. 7.1). 

Source: AKRSP 1989: 52; AKRSP 1992: 24-28; IOL/P&S/7/165/1094; IOL/P&S/7/171/2013A, 2142A: IOL/P&S/7/172/2263A; IOL/P&S/7/173/283, 351; IOL/P&S/7/174/428; IOL/P&S/7/178/1038; IOL/P&Sl 10/826: 16, 18, 60, 66, 240; IOL/P&S/10/973: 161, 226, 243; IOL/P&S/12/3285; IOR/ 2/1075/217: 50­ 54; IOR/2/1083/ 286: 11; Lorimer 1935-8,11: 353; MUller-Stellrecht 1978: 114; Nazim Khan 1936: 120; PRO/ F065/1507: 29; Singh 1917: 27 and own data collected by observations and interviews 1984-9

All settlers of Baltit participated in the construction of the new channel and through this the people of the thuaan khananc, originating mainly from Baltit (the filial settlements of Haiderabad and Aliabad are composed of the same kinship groups as Baltit), were connected to the dala. This new channel afforded a revised distribution key for the Ultar meltwater, dividing half of the available water into the dala network (two shares), while one share each was allocated for Altit gocil and Hamaci. This distributive formula is still being followed and gives priority to these oldest channels in periods of water scarcity (autumn to spring).
During summer, when surplus irrigation water above the carrying capacity of the old channels is available, newer channels are eligible for water share This newer group is composed of channels constructed under the guidance of Silum Khan's successors. His son and grandson found in wazir Asadullah Beg (1847-85) an able local engineer for further-irrigation projects. Members of his own clan respect his name especially as he enabled the Diramiting tap the Diracil spring and command its waters. In addition to this achievement, he supervised the construction of the second major channel Central Hunza bringing water to the upper fields. The Barber following the course of the dala on a higher contour line supplied the water for newly meliorised fields above the traditional village lands.
On the one hand new channels provided arable land for a growing population, on the other channel projects executed under forced labour conditions (rajaaki) increased the land resources and income of the hereditary ruler and the wazir households. These main channels of Central Hunza were established around 1850 and compose the skeleton of present-day network. A number of smaller and secondary channels complete this system. Water to be distributed in these later built channels can only be supplied during periods of surplus and they therefore serve only a marginal role compared to the main channels in Central Hunza.
During the twentieth century the enterprising ruler Mir M. Nazim Kh (1892-1938) initiated another phase of channel construction (Tab. 7.1). thus irrigation policy was characterized by the establishment of new village oases outside Central Hunza in the single-cropping zone of Ghujal and down Hunza River in the double-cropping zone of Shinaki (cf. Fig. 7.1) thus tapping unexploited or underutilized sources of meltwater. These young villages command, on average, a good supply of water and require fewer rules and regulations than the core oases. In this area, even with its simple regulations, the expansion of the irrigation network and the construction of new channels have contributed to the overall complex codex of water rights for Hunza. In these new areas different rights of water allocation have been laid down for certain channels both for periods of water shortage and surplus. On the other hand the irrigated lands are classified in three groups:

·      First priority of irrigation belongs to cropland (harkis) which requires regular watering during the different growth stages and on which the staple cereals are produced,
·      Second priority goes to the orchards (basikis) providing an additional nutritional base to the villagers from fruit trees which require less intensive and less frequent water supply,
·      Third priority goes to irrigated meadows (toq) on steep slopes within the village lands which are entitled to excessive water supply only during non-growth stages in the other parcels.

This allocation pattern for village lands reflects an irrigation order with preferential treatment of differentiated production zones more than the agro­ecological setting. In channels with "old" water rights, like Balti-il and Barber, one would predominantly find orchards as only surplus water is available for irrigation, not sufficient for cereal production in quantity and variability. During the short period after harvest and before sowing the winter crops no irrigation water is needed for agricultural lands and orchards. Thus the irrigated meadows (toq) are qualified for the full load of available irrigation water (Fig. 7.7).

Seasonality plays a major role in the flexible approach to organizing water management in Hunza. The quantity of meltwater released from Ultar glacier depends on temperature variations which is reflected in the discharge patterns of the tributaries of the Hunza river (cf. Fig. 7.4). The irrigation calendar for Central Hunza takes into account that periods of surplus alter with periods of grave deficiency. The basic water supply is precisely distributed during all seasons according to a legal set which is binding to all participants. This codex is common knowledge and not written down or fixed like in other mountain regions. The contemporary set of rules and regulations is the result of historically acquired water rights of user groups and modifications directed by the hereditary rulers.
The participation of clans and village communities in the construction of new irrigation channels secured their rights to water and lands. Individual channels belong to certain groups of this denomination exclusively. A second

criterion for water distribution is the traditional right of access to irrigation water belonging to certain clans or kinship groups. In cases of kinship and spatial congruency, i.e., when the parcelling of village lands follows a group structure, water distribution is highly efficient as certain areas are irrigated at the same time. Seepage and water losses in a dendritic irrigation network are thus minimized.
Baltit or Karimabad poses an ideally structured example for this kind of setup. Sectors of the village lands are distinguished as belonging to certain kinship groups. The quarters of the four clans of the Diramitin, Buroon, Baratalin and Qhurukuc define the agricultural oasis only modified by the possessions of the hereditary ruler. The miri lands were traditionally located in every favourable cultivation area, like in Bul Mal, Karimabad (Suryas Das), and Bishker. In recent years the majority of the miri lands have been sold to individual villagers of Karimabad thus we find there a mixed kinship-related ownership.
A synoptic table of water rights, irrigation cycles and rules of distribution for the main channels of Central Hunza presents the historic evolution and complexity of water management (Tab. 7.2). First priority of access rests with the oldest channels and rights acquired through kinship participation in the construction of channels. Measurements of water flow in different seasons (Fig. 7.7) proved the applicability of distribution keys. The share structure-Dala: Altit gocil: Hamaci = 2:1:1-is controlled at certain gates where the water flow is diverted into the different systems. In periods of deficiency extra guards control the exact adherence to these distribution keys while during surplus phases control is relaxed.
A second method of rationing is the hourly or daily right of water utilization. For example, the Bululo water is split in a rhythm which allows the inhabitants of Karimabad (Baltit) to use it for ten days, while the Haiderabad people's share is only six days. The water in the Barber channel belongs to the community of Karimabad during the day, while at nighttime the users at the lower end of the Barber (Haiderabad-Dorkhan-Aliabad) safeguard all water for the irrigation of their respective fields. Priority rights of the tham included a sufficient share of water and the irrigation of his fields only in favourable daylight conditions. Even after the abolition of hereditary rule in 1974 the traditional miri water rights remained valid through the connection of water and land rights.
The user communities distribute the allocated water among themselves according to allocation keys which are laid down by their members. A complex system is applied in Haiderabad. Six days of Bululo water have to be divided among four kinship groups (the same like in Baltit). The Haiderabad people have formed six user groups of equal size. Four groups consisting of Diramiting, Buroon, Baratalin and Qhurukuc, respectively, and two groups of Baskaotin (from bask, literally meaning surplus, in addition). The members of the Baskaotin are the extra households of the four clans that are numerically in excess of the group size.
On the other hand, in Karimabad the ten-day-cycle is distributed among the four room in a manner that schedules irrigation for two days and three nights or three days and two nights are allocated to the relevant kinship groups. Every year a different clan begins the irrigation cycle thus avoiding any preferential arrangement for individual kinship groups. Within these user communities the irrigation sequence varies annually from top to bottom and from East to West (cf. Tab. 7.2). These examples illustrate the wide range of possible communal agreements that have been established in order to safeguard equity for all users.
These cycles of six or ten days respectively present no real indicator for the actual time required to irrigate all the fields of a user group. In periods of water deficiency, e.g. during the sowing of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum) in November/December or of summer barley (Hordeum vulgare) in February/March, the total time necessary to irrigate all fields once could amount to forty-eight days. In order to maximize the use of available water the whole community has adapted a cultivation pattern in which the first crops of winter wheat and summer barley are represented in equal quantities (cf. Fig. 7.6). Both are sown in deficiency periods. On the contrary the second crops like maize (Zea mays), millets (Panicum miliaceum; Setaria italica), potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) and buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum and tataricum) are exempted from such regulations. In summer, surplus conditions of no water shortage prevail and the entire village land of Central Hunza can be irrigated within a sixteen-day cycle.
Valuable water resources have to be distributed according to systematic management and plant requirements. Top priority is given to cereal crops on irrigated terraces (harkis). After the first watering (buruui) of all wheat fields, barley is irrigated. Then follow potato furrows, vegetable plots ('san khutkus) and at last lucerne (Medicago sativa). This regulated sequence repeated at the second watering (yktcil) and is only relaxed when sufficie water is available in the old channels. With the end of restrictive water us the first irrigation of orchards (basikis) is permitted. The timing of this da in relation to the summer solstice (21 June) gives the measurement for the classification of a good or bad "water year".
This complex system of rationing is applied in Central Hunza in those settlements that command limited water sources or have grown beyond their resource capacity. Communities with abundant irrigation water do not need such a highly sophisticated distribution key to safeguard a high probability of sufficient crop production. Villages like Altit, for example, allot the annual sequence of irrigation every year through the drawing of lots, while in Ganesh the rotational structure is fixed.
Different kinship groups are in command of day or night cycles. Some water rights incorporate structural inadequacy of the systems, such as in the case of the Barber channel, where parties whose parcels are located nearer to the source are given preference. Karimabad as a whole is allowed Barber water during daylight hours, while Haiderabad, Dorkhan and Aliabad utilize the precious resource at night. The farmers of the Diramitin kinship group in Karimabad profit from the location of their agricultural lands in the same manner as the people of Haiderabad and can divert any needed quantity of water to their fields. The difficult location of Aliabad at the lower end of Barber, Dala and Pir gocil results in greater water deficiency in this village than in others. Topographical features in combination with settlement history pinpoint the structural injustice. An additional factor contributes to the water supply situation, for along the course of the 10 kilometre-long open channels a substantial quantity of water is lost by evaporation and seepage.
Water channels function as multipurpose lines. Besides irrigation, the system provides all washing and drinking water as well. Unfortunately, such channels furnish poor quality drinking water badly affected by contamination. Thus without control of its own water sources, the second biggest village of Hunza, Aliabad, is the most dependent on other areas for drinking and irrigation water supply. The village community is eager to reduce further losses and irrigates all fields consecutively: one year the irrigation starts in the east, the following year in the west.
Ecological limitations are responsible for these rules and regulations to a lesser degree than socio-political and historical events. They laid the foundations for water rights of certain user groups which have to be defended against competitors. Water surplus and deficiency regions are defined by traditional rights of individual groups. Complex irrigation systems afford community efforts during construction and regular maintenance in which all social groups (household, kinship group, and village) are involved on different levels of participation.


The tham of Hunza has traditionally taken the initiative for the planning and execution of construction work on irrigation channels. He normally involved his wazir in this enterprise of state importance in his dual function as prime minister and executive engineer for planning and supervision. The respective kinship groups or village communities served as construction workers. Early major channel projects accomplished general construction with simple technical devices and tools like wooden shovels and ibex horns (cf. the contribution of Hussain Wali Khan and Izhar Ali Hunzai in this volume). Sheer cliffs were mastered with support structures made of wood and stone. The reputation of wazir and workers increased through ingenious channel alignments and they secured usufructory rights to the meliorated lands through their participation in rajaaki.
Communal work of comparative size is only called for in certain cases nowadays, for example when a new storage tank (phari) has to be excavated or when a channel has been breached. In the latter case, all user households have to co-operate until the breached channel has been repaired or until new course has been excavated. Except for these exceptional or episodic events, fewer individuals are required in the management of channel systems through the regular activities of operation and maintenance.
The annual cleaning and repair work starts prior to the first irrigation of crops in spring. Farmers who own land within the channel command area are obligated to remove the deposited sediment of the previous year from the channel-bed. These activities were traditionally controlled by the wazir, who supervised the works and possessed the right to sanction those who do not participate according to the rules (cf. Lorimer 1979: 126-133). His influence in allocating the various jobs in water management contributed to his esteem as the chief hydraulic supervisor.
When Hunza lost its autonomy in 1974, the wazir's post was abolished along with the post of the tham. The traditional functions of the wazir are nowadays executed either by the lambardar or by village committees. Every year the group of village elders assembles in a jirga that distributes the remunerated water management posts among community members for the coming irrigation period. The jirga nominates a supervisor and the water workers (chilgalas) who safeguard the correct distribution schedule and the allocation of water to individual land parcels. They are responsible for checking water theft and have to announce the timing of irrigation to individual households. Minor maintenance work is done by the chilgalas as well. Non-participating households pay a fixed amount in kind or money that basically pays the salary of the water workers.
The number of chilgalas and the water rates are negotiated anew each year and depend on the size of the available village work force. Traditionally these salaried duties formed a highly esteemed way of providing an income to those households with insufficient lands to profitably employ their surplus male work force. Given changes in socio-economic conditions with increased labour emigration and more farmers involved in non-agrarian occupations, such traditional jobs in water management have lost their attraction. This has resulted in increased salaries for these irrigation workers in order to secure local personnel and to safeguard the system of water distribution. Though the cash investment in hiring such people remains within the community, the difficulty in obtaining reliable and expert people for these tasks causes a growing problem for some villages.
Nowadays, often even elderly and retired men are appointed as water guards (yatkuin) to supervise the proportional and equitable distribution of irrigation water at the channel heads. These functionaries are elected for one year and safeguard the fair allocation of water to different communities. The yatkuin are responsible for all duties at the channel heads including the cleaning of sedimentation tanks in which suspended sand particles are precipitated. During periods of surplus water, the yatkuin limit the flow capacity of individual channel systems to avoid breaching of channels.. The yatkuin reside in simple huts or caves in the Ultar nala and in the vicinity of important channel bifurcations during the entire irrigation period. After the end of harvest in autumn they are remunerated in kind, collecting 1-2 kilograms of wheat per channel from every household.
In times of water shortage additional supervisors are brought in to support the appointed guards. Settlements like Haiderabad cannot afford water loss during the early stages of plant growth when overall water shortage in central Hunza increases the chances for water theft by individual farmers. Thus during nighttime, villagers control all ten outlets along the way from Karimabad to Haiderabad in order to protect all tul and tori from being opened unlawfully. In spite of these measures, water theft along with inheritance quarrels still account for the majority of disputes in Hunza each year.
Traditionally the tham fined those found to be stealing water in kind, taking a good share of the penalty for himself. Nowadays the local Ismaili Arbitration and Reconciliation Boards are involved in the legal proceedings. They operate cost-free and compensate the winning party with the entire fine. Some cases are even presented before the public courts (see the contribution by Anna Schmid elsewhere in this volume).
The analysis of the irrigation system in central Hunza has revealed the spectrum of different water rights and organizational rules. based on traditional access to resources and an effective utilization of a limited resource. Fair distribution among entitled community members forms the principle in an approach which rejects the separation of water and land rights. Supervision and control of the irrigation networks that nowadays have become community members' own property is executed by themselves on the basis of consent. Scarcity and complicated distribution keys have increased the bureaucratic burden of water management. In periods of deficiency small but highly valued quantities of water have to be guarded on their way to the fields. This practice requires substantial manpower, as sluices are numerous. At the same time the system always favours the users residing close to the water source. Generally, they are the oldest settlers of the oases.
Future projects for the construction of new channels have to respect the traditional water rights. This precondition involves certain limitations: Excess meltwater can only be utilized during summer surplus periods. In all other seasons there is no additional water supply available to be tapped. New channels cannot reduce the ubiquitous seasonal water deficiency. Thus the scope for the extension of irrigated areas lies mainly in the reduction of seepage and evaporation in existing networks.


As explained above, new channel projects increased Hunza's power and economic base during the reign of hereditary rulers and their wazir. The range of such enterprises was not limited to the main settlement oasis of Central Hunza (cf. Tab. 7.1). Territorial claims and gains were manifested through the establishment of new villages in the southern and northern periphery. Such projects could involve groups of 20 to 100 household members, which were supported by their families in the early phase of meliorisation. Resettled farmers from Baltit and Haiderabad and refugees/ migrants from Wakhan supported expansive plans of the tham in the upper Hunza valley (Ghujal) and founded several villages there (Fig. 7.1). This single-cropping zone abounds with water sources when compared to the other regions.
In the lower Hunza valley (Shinaki) a limited quantity of meltwater from the Maiun nala was utilized to establish a number of fortified villages in the double-cropping area. The main period of internal colonization is connected with the name of Mir M. Nazim Khan (1892-1938) who established a number of villages for a growing population. His successors initiated only a few additional channel projects (Tab. 7.1). The end of hereditary rule in the Northern Areas by 1974 left a power vacuum which was supposed to be filled by institutions from the Pakistan administration. Their involvement in infrastructure projects dramatically increased after the completion of the Karakoram Highway (Kreutzmann 1991, 1993, 1995a, b). Within the Northern Areas a few attempts to establish new irrigation projects were undertaken while in Hunza itself, village communities executed their own channel building using traditional techniques. Village elders were entrusted to supervise the planning and construction of a number of minor projects.
Different development agencies discovered this structural power vacuum and based their target-oriented approaches on self-reliance strategies. Village Production Groups (VPG) and Village Organisations (VO) took over the role of decision-making once held by more traditional institutions such as the tham and wazir. These institutions now identified necessary physical infrastructure projects and managed the workload seeking financial and technological support from external development aid. These agencies have supplied cost-free technical advice to the villages through local engineers in their employ. Other major differences from the past have been that:

·        The construction cost is now covered from outside sources; man-days are paid for and not supplied through forced labour (rajakki);
·        The channels belong to the community working on them; all participants are entitled to an equal share of water in the irrigated lands. No extra plots are reserved for the tham and wazir or any other high status individuals anymore;
·     Water management and maintenance of channels is delegated to
·        professionals (chowkidar) who earn more than any traditional supervisor;
·        Development agencies supply modern technical equipment for drilling
·        and blasting at nominal costs.

Under these favourable conditions a number of irrigation projects have been executed in Hunza identified by the villagers as having top priority. Within the last decade forty-eight physical infrastructure projects have been initiated which aim at the expansion and widening of existing gdcil as well as the construction of new channels (Fig. 7.8). In addition, a few experiments have been executed with siphon (Nasirabad), pipe (Kamaris) and sprinkler (Galapan) irrigation. Several storage reservoirs and sedimentation tanks have been constructed as well in the productive physical infrastructure section of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP). Among these projects has been the prestigious effort to free the water supply of central Hunza from total reliance on the Hassanabad glacier. The first phase of the so-called Aliabad gocil was accomplished by 1988 and it is expected that eventually 700 hectares of land will be watered from this new source (Khan 1994) and the irrigation schedule of central Hunza (Tab. 7.2) might be altered to reflect this change of supply.
This difficult project cost the loss of local farmers' lives during construction in which all concerned villages between Karimabad to Aliabad participated. If this channel will ever become sustainable-an assertion which has not yet been proven-the water deficient villages of Aliabad and Haiderabad will be in a position to irrigate all available land with sufficient quantities of water. The agricultural landscape of those villages would be effected in such a manner that present-day priority rules for crops could be totally relaxed and even marginal plots could be productively utilized. A similar judgment would apply for the remaining villages of central Hunza which would be left with a greater quantity of irrigation water from traditional sources.

So far, however, the new channel can only be deemed a partial success since water flow could not be sustained. Another danger lies in the channel head near the mouth of the Hassanabad glacier. Should the 16 kilometre-­long glacier advance only a few hundred metres, it would destroy the channel intake which presently lies only 40 m below in vertical distance. The Aliabad gocil is a great example of a project that could not have been feasible for a village community depending on its own resources. International development aid provides a means of experimenting with new techniques and formerly unprofitable projects. If sustainable development can be envisaged, these projects will increase the agricultural resource base of this mountain valley. In case of failure, only the remuneration of the work force and the communal organizations, which have been developed, will survive. Those ruins of irrigation channels would not be the first and shall not be the last remnants of attempts to maximize the utilization of meagre natural resources in the Karakoram.


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1. Material and quotations from the India Office Library and Records (IOL/IOR) and from the Public Record Office (PRO), London are gratefully acknowledged. Transcripts/ translations of Crown-copyright records in the India Office Records appear by permission of the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office. Fieldwork for this study covers a period from 1984 to 1995 and was kindly funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Council) which is gratefully acknowledged.
2. Early appreciations of the irrigated agriculture of Northern Pakistan are found with Saunders 1983; Whiteman 1985. For the neighbouring mountain regions like the Hindukush cf. Grotzbach 1973, Patzelt and de Grancy 1978; for the Himalaya cf. Nitz 1966, Uhlig 1962. Early records of irrigation structures in the Karakoram have been collected by Lorimer 1979. Recent evaluations and analyses have been published by Charles 1985, Kreutzmann 1988, 1989, 1990, 1994.
3. The variability of precipitation in High Asia has been the topic of discussion for a long period; cf. Ferguson 1984; Flohn 1969; Haserodt 1984; Hewitt 1989. New results and calculations have been presented by Reimers 1992 and Weiers 1995. Miehe 1996, Miehe et al. 1996, and Braun 1996 investigated vegetation dynamics and potentials in relation to climatic change's in High Asia with emphasis on the Karakoram.
4. In the wesh system regular lotteries take place which lead to a rotation of lands among jirga members who safeguard maximum equitability of resource allocation; cf. for societal developments in this region Barth 1956; Janjua 1996; Jettmar 1961, 1977, 1982; Manzar Zarin and Schmidt 1984.
5. Dendrochronological evidence and 14C measurements of organic matter in building materials support this hypothesis; cf. Hughes 1985; Hughes and Lefort 1986.
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