In Pakistan’s southern province, Sindh, lies the world’s only fertile desert in the world. The Tharparkar Desert stretches till the southeastern parts of Punjab, joining the Cholistan Desert. Tharparkar District is the largest of 29 districts in Sindh. According to Integrated Water Resource Management Practices to Alleviate Poverty – A Model of Desert Development in Tharparkar, Pakistan, the Thar is, people of Thar, have their livelihoods dependent on 'rainfall and livestock rearing, which is critical to household food security.'
The social well-being of the people relies at nature’s blessing – rainfall. Rain drives the livelihood of the residents of the people. In ideal conditions, 'rainfall occurs from mid-June to mid-August annually and average rainfall rarely ever exceeds 250-300mm.'Despite being the most fertile desert of the world, Tharparkar also faces massive dry spells. 'Drought is a continuous process in Thar Desert, Pakistan' according to the study Spatial Drought Monitoring in Thar Desert Using Satellite-Based Drought Indices and Geo-Informatics Techniques(Bilal M. et al, 2017).
Due to repeated drought cycles, food-production and socio-economic development are majorly affected. Nayyer Alam Zaigham (2002) mentions, 'In spite of extensive groundwater – exploration projects, accomplished by a number of organizations, the water-crisis of the region could not be controlled, most probably due to (a) lack of systematic exploration and development of deep groundwater potential.'
In the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, ‘desertification along with climate change and loss of biodiversity, were identified as the greatest challenges to sustainable development.’ In order to conquer the challenges, and to develop a sustainable lifestyle for the citizens of the world, space technology comes to the rescue.
According to Agriculture Development and Food Security Use of Space Technology within the United Nations System, 'Space technologies could prove an important asset in informing decision makers through assessing the state of conservation of biodiversity for food and agriculture, estimating the health status of ecosystems and predicting threats from climate change.' Especially systems for Earth Observation and the characterization of agroecological zones and ecosystems are well suited.
Furthermore, space-based images help to provide information in ‘direct approaches (species composition, land cover) and indirect approaches (primary productivity: chlorophyll, ocean colour; climate: rainfall, soil moisture; habitat: digital elevation, biomass structure.'
Keeping on mind the population of Thar, whose lifestyle depends on limited agriculture and livestock, it is important to find out alternate resources to ensure that the wheel of life for the people of the desert does not affect the lifestyle of the locals. Therefore, the Project Management Office, Sindh Barrages Rehabilitation Project approached Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) to develop Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
In a study by (SUPARCO), which was presented at the 4th United Nations/Pakistan International Conference on the Use of Space Technology for Water Management, the necessity to 'explore possibilities of sustainable water resources, in the absence of surface perennial water and fluctuating rainfall', was highlighted.
The aim of space-based technology, in the case of this study was the use of GIS to ‘narrow down potential areas for groundwater for further field investigations.’ The exploration of alternate resources of water in Thar by means of GIS was successful. Through 'preparation of satellite image land cover classification maps, and analysis of DEM to determine drainage and natural gradients, development and analysis of resistivity data in GIS,' the research helped identify the zones where sweet groundwater can be found.
The area that was studied comprised of land where 'agriculture was solely dependent on rainwater with an average rainfall significant but inconsistent with recurrent drought cycles. 'Data collated through spatial technology, helped researchers to quarry 20 bore holes out of which 19 contained sweet groundwater.
The use of space-based technology to find alternate means of water in a water starved Thar, is a success story that will lead to even more initiatives for the betterment of the people by the government of Pakistan. Indeed, spatial technology can bring in vast improvements in the lifestyles of the public.