In Pakistan, a high mountain water pipe brings a bonus: peace

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By Rina Saeed Khan

Better water storage and a more secure supply mean conflicts over water are declining - and harvests are growing

SIKSA, Pakistan, Sept 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When a pipeline was installed last year to bring spring water and snowmelt to this village of 500 households in northern Pakistan, it brought something else as well: peace.

Previously, neighbours argued over the limited water that coursed through channels to the town. The community strictly regulated water use, with each household allowed half an hour of supply a week to irrigate their fields. Cheating brought arguments.

To wash their clothes or to bathe, villagers had to clamber down to the river at the bottom of the valley. Fetching drinking water meant climbing up the steep mountainside to a spring.

But not any more.

"I would say 90 percent of our issues have now been resolved," said Shereen Akhtar, a resident and the locally elected representative to the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly. "Now there is peace in Siksa."

The pipeline, sunk three feet into the ground, uses gravity to carry water six kilometres (3.7 miles) from the heights of the Karakoram Mountains in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan's northern-most region.

It feeds into a 30,000-litre (8,000-gallon) storage tank, which directs the water through irrigation channels that supply 4,000 people, said Aisha Khan, who heads the Mountain and Glacier Protection Organization (MGPO), a non-profit that works in the region.

She estimates the system now channels over 5 billion litres of water a year - and ensures a water supply year-round.

The project was constructed in response to the effects of climate change, she said, which has led to more erratic water supplies in mountain areas, putting lives and incomes at risk.

"Winters are becoming milder and shorter with less snowfall, and summers are getting longer and warmer," she said.

And with changes in rainfall patterns affecting farming, she said, ensuring food security is seen as the first step in building resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change impacts.

"That can only be achieved by providing mountain communities with a reliable source of water in the right quantity and at the right time," Khan said