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Irrigation water crisis

Aversion to the construction of big dam storages since 1975 till date and spending spree of enormous financial resources on less productive megaprojects, have landed the country in perpetual irrigation water crisis. But still the formulation of a comprehensive water policy is hostage to vested interest promoted in the garb of provincial autonomy. There is 60 percent shortage of water at rim stations which has posed a serious challenge to the upcoming Kharif crops. The situation is compounded by less water availability in two major reservoirs-Tarbella and Mangla dams-that hit the dead level.

The water crisis caused by climate change is not only posing threat to Kharif crops, it also led to a drop in hydel generation to an alarming extent causing elongated load shedding across the country. The total hydel generation dropped to 1050 megawatts (MW) due to cut in water releases from dams against the installed capacity of 7000 megawatts. At present Tarbella hydel power stations produce 325 megawatts and Mangla power units generate 200 megawatts.

Keeping in view the shortage of water in the system, Indus River System Authority (IRSA) decided to close downstream water releases from Chisma for Punjab with immediate effect. The province is the food basket of the country as KP and Baluchistan are largely dependent on Punjab for the supply of food grains vegetables and fruits. IRSA Spokes person, Khalid Rana disclosed that from April 4 Tannsa Panjnad link will be closed. The water shortages for Punjab and Sindh have increased to 60 percent. This assessment is almost double of the earlier estimate of 31 percent shortages. In Kharif season that lasts from April to November, Rice, sugarcane, cotton and maize are grown which are the key crops of Pakistan’s agrarian economy. Besides this it will negatively impact the production of different vegetables.

The alarming level of 60 percent water shortfall at a time when Kharif crops season is about to start will badly hit the per hectare yield further depressing the growth rate of agriculture sector which is less than two percent. The sector still contributes a lion share of 20 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP) and the next year target of 6 percent growth rate can not be achieved. The decrease in cotton production will compel the government to lift the temporary ban on the import of cotton from India and farmers will be unable to get better price of their produce.

According to Pakistan Meteorological Department and WAPDA, the country had received 80 percent less snow in catchment areas. The cut in water share to Punjab and Sindh was necessitated because of less water inflow from rivers into the dams’ storages. The water share of Punjab was reduced to 26000 cusecs from 29000 cusecs and that of Sindh to 17000 cusecs from 20000 cusecs. The melting rate of snow is also lower in catchment areas despite relatively higher temperature in the month of April this year and water discharge level is not going up. Last year Skardu temperature was 16 degree Celsius in April and water discharge in the River Indus was 276000 cusecs. This year the temperature is 20.6 degree Celsius but water discharge level is 17000 cusecs. The country had witnessed less water availability for Rabi crops from October 1, 2017 to 29 March 2018. Total water availability was estimated at 36.17 million acre feet but it remained 24.o6 million acre feet during Rabbi Season. As predicted by Met Department if there is no sufficient rain fall in the next three months and the temperature is 2 degree Celsius higher than the previous year then drought like situation may emerge in arid areas.

Over the past 42 years political and personal interests transcended the larger national interests because of which big dams storages were not built. Kalabagh dam was made politically controversial and ultimately shelved. The construction of Diamer basha dam has been put on the back burner for the last twelve years. Although its execution has been cleared by CDWP of the Planning Commission but the project was not tabled for approval in the recent meeting of Council of Common Interest because of unjustified opposition of the government of Sindh. It is because of this myopic political vision that water resources of $ 12 billion are thrown into the sea every year. Criminal neglect of building water reservoirs has decreased the per capita availability of water. Pakistan stores 10 percent of its annual river flows against the world average of 40 percent. WAPDA has the capability and technical expertise to harness the available water resources provided the ruling elite show political will and sincerity.

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