The federal and Balochistan governments have agreed to switch the approximately 30,000 tube wells in Balochistan from conventional electricity to solar power to reduce operational costs. On the face of it, this is a sound decision for multiple reasons. First, the conversion to solar-powered tube wells will not only ensure power supply to agriculturists at affordable rates but also reduce the burden on the national exchequer as the federal and provincial governments will no longer need to releaseRs23 billions inannual subsidy. Second, the conversion will also result in saving of 900 MW of electricity, a major gain given that the total shortfall of Balochistan is approximately 850 MW. Third, this step will help address the issue of unpaid bills and bring an off-grid solution to far flung areas of Balochistan.There is, however, one major drawback in this decision i.e. it will have negative impact on the depleting groundwater resource. Before I elaborate on this point, it is important to first take stock of the current state of agriculture and water availabilityin Balochistan. Balochistan is an arid region characterized by scanty, erratic and uncertain rainfall. The province has a basic economy that relies mainly on the primary sector i.e. agriculture, livestock, mining and fishing. Within the primary sector, agriculture is the dominant sector as it contributes 52% of the provincial GDP and employs approximately two third of the province’s labour force. Agriculture in Balochistan is both rain-fed and irrigated. Farmers rely mainly on the meagre winter rain. Monsoon rains—which account for 80% of Pakistan’s water supply—occur in limited areas as only 7 to 8 of Balochistan’s 32 districts fall in the monsoon zone. These districts include parts of Zhob, Sherani, Musakhel, Barkhan, Lasbela, JhalMagsi, Naseerabad, and Jaffarabad.With rain-fed agriculture having become a less viable option due to low and erratic rainfall, farmers mainly depend on surface and groundwater resources for irrigation. Again, surface water hasn’t been a great source of irrigation as nearly 85% rain water gets wasted every year due to lack of storage capacity and poor conservation practices. The other chief source of surface irrigation is canals from the tail of the Indus river system i.e. Kirthar, Patfeeder and Kachhi canals. These canals are all concentrated in Kachhi plains and cover less than 5% of Balochistan’s total land. Instead of giving a blank cheque to agriculturists in the form of solar tube-wells, the government should devise a plan for sustainable management of groundwater resources including expanding efforts to harvest and conserve surface waterThis means that agriculturists rely primarily on ground water which is available through karezes, springs and deep-dug tube wells. Karez is an ancient human-made underground irrigation structure that taps groundwater and coveys it to communities to be shared by farmers through a fairly equitable distribution system. Over the past two decades, Karezes have come under tremendous stress as water tables have been dropping at alarming rates, thanks to droughts and the exponential rise in the number of deep dug tube wells over the past fifteen years. Rather than putting a hold on groundwater mining, the energy crisis ironically worsened the situation as each farmer on average dug three to five additional tube wells to extract in 4 hours the same amount of water that they extracted with one tube well when electricity used to be available for 10 to 15 hours a day. No wonder, the number of electricity-operated tube wells doubled between 2007 (15,000 tube wells) and 2017 (30,000 tube wells). Water table has been declining on average by two to five meters annually. Small farmers and landless labourers have been affected the most by the steep decline in water table as they lacked the resources to dig deeper tube wells to meet their water requirements. Besides, the production of fruits and cereals such as apple, peach and plum and cereals such as wheat, barley, maize, and sorghum has gone down significantly.It is against this background that the decision to solarize tube wells in Balochistan raises red flags. The cheap and uninterrupted supply of power for tube wells will further accelerate the abstraction of ground water. The existing drought situation in Balochistan is already one of the worst disasters in Pakistan. Solarisation of tube wells is likely to expedite the exhaustion of fresh groundwater basins and redistribute salts and other nutrients with deadly consequences for livelihoods and food and human security. Instead of giving a blank cheque to agriculturists in the form of solar tube wells, the government should devise a proper plan for sustainable management of groundwater resources including expanding efforts to harvest and conserve surface water and rehabilitate Karezes. In regards to tube wells, the government should first phase out tube well subsidies and use the money instead to incentivize and support farmers to adopt efficient and sustainable farming and irrigation practices. These practices include but are not limited to a) switching from water-intensive high delta crops (i.e. apple) to water-saving and drought-resistant low delta crops (olive, grapes) b) adopting modern water-saving irrigation technologies and practices such as drip irrigation. In order for farmers to accept and adopt the afore-mentioned practices, the government needs to provide credible commitments and monetary and technological incentives such as provision of alternative livelihood opportunities, subsidies on modern irrigation technology, compensatory grants for small farmers agreeing to abandon the cultivation of water-intensive crops etc. If the government is bent on solarizing tube wells, then it should make it conditional with the adoption of the above practices.Drought and low water table have already created serious issues of social equity i.e. forcing small farmers out of business. Solarisation of tube wells will have further negative consequences not only for social equity but also inter-generational equity. The present generation may gain short term benefits from solar tube wells but they will do so at the expense of future generation.The writer is a public policy graduate from University of OxfordPublished in Daily Times, December 29th 2017.