Karez System Cultural Landscape
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
The karez cultural landscape of Balochistan represents the "combined works of nature and man", a living heritage tradition of great longevity in a harsh land where groundwater is vital to agro-pastoralist and sedentary agriculture. For more than a millennium karez have been the linchpin of groundwater tapping technology and part of a widespread technological adaptation characterizing the arid portions of the Muslim world.
The system illustrates the development of a communal technology, labour intensive but resilient and sustainable, in response to “the physical constraints and/or opportunities presented by their natural environment and of successive social, economic and cultural forces, both external and internal.” This cultural landscape has evolved organically and in the process has refined a perfectly balanced social and economic system that continues today to benefits both people and the landscape.
In rural Balochistan karez are based on community management; a community enterprise managed by tribal tradition and run by social control. While routine karez management and maintenance procedures kept the rural communities together through strong communal involvement, the drying of karezes strains those bonds. As karezes require considerable social organization for their maintenance, strong social capital undergirds the system.
In Balochistan, social station is not determined by landholdings but by the size of one’s share of water in a karez. The system is a bond that holds together the social, economic, and cultural life of the communities in which they are located.
The karez system is equitable between upstream and downstream users. A water user who has the first parcel of land along a karez water course also has rights to the last parcel of land on the same channel. The user with the second parcel of land also has rights to the second to last parcel of land, and so forth. Such an arrangement ensures that everyone in the community has an equal stake in maintaining the entire water course, unlike in other irrigation systems in which the upstream water users invariably benefit and need not contribute to the maintenance of the entire water channel.
This ancient, community-based water system is an environmentally sustainable technology of extreme relevance as the world faces a future in which water scarcity will be a critical issue. The traditional technology of karez water conservation based on indigenous knowledge and embedded in community structure can serve as an alternative and sustainable model for dryland water sourcing and distribution.
Criterion (ii): The Karez Cultural Landscape of Balochistan is an outstanding example of a shared hydraulic adaptation that extends over a vast area from Spain to Western China and has flourished for more than a millennium. Their outstanding universal value lies in the simple but sophisticated technology employed by agro-pastoralists to draw life from the desert.
Criterion (iv): The spread of karez technology to Balochistan vividly illustrates two important stages in human history across half the globe. The first stage was linked to the expansion of the Achaemenid Empire (550 – 330 BC) when Persian rule extended from the Indus to the Nile. Karez were constructed from Mesopotamia to the shores of the Mediterranean, as well as southward into parts of Egypt. To the east of Persia, the technology spread to Afghanistan, the Silk Route oases settlements of central Asia, and ChineseTurkistan. The expansion of Islam from the 7th century onwards initiated another major diffusion of karez technology. The early Arab invasions spread them westward across North Africa and into Cyprus, Sicily, Spain, and the Canary Islands. The result of these expansions was a significant technological advance that enabled settlement and agriculture in areas that were previously unexploitable.
Criterion (v): The Karez Cultural Landscape of Balochistan is an outstanding example of human interaction with a hostile environment which both enabled human occupation and made the desert bloom. As long as the karez are maintained by strict and complex tribal community structures, the environment will accommodate human occupation and the relationship between karez and settlement location will continue. The close relationship, spatial and social, between karez and settlement locations is still maintained in this area of Balochistan and the tribal structure to administer the karez is still in place, with all its indigenous expertise. As the world faces increasing water vulnerability, the relevance of this karez as a time tested system of sustainable water harvesting and management will only increase.