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Water shortage: is there any action plan?

Present water shortage as being worst in the history IRSA has not come out with any other solution or plan

Dec 04 - 10, 2000

The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) has warned the provinces and the farmers that for the rabi crop, only twenty five million of acre feet of water would be available as against actual requirements of thirty five million acre feet. According to the details released by the authority, Punjab will get 13.8 against its share of 19.75 while Sindh will receive 10.4 HAF as against its share of 14.9 HAF during the season. The other two provinces, will however, get water as per requirement as they were already drawing water less than their quota.

Describing the present water shortage as being worst in the history IRSA has not come out with any other solution or plan of action except rationing of available water. This is no way is going to solve the crisis which is going to have far reaching consequences. After a lot of struggle the country achieved self sufficiency in wheat this year but now it is feared that these gains would be lost next year due to paucity of water. The situation becomes more alarming in view of the on going long dry spell which is going to badly affect particularly the rain fed areas.

This extremely sensitive issue was unfolded with all its complexities before the Chief Executive Gen. Pervez Musharraf during a public meeting at Bhawalpur last week. The farmers' representative expressed deep anxiety over the decreasing irrigation water supply and demanded an emergency plan of action on short term and long term basis. As a short term measure they demanded reduction in electricity charges for the tubewells and supply of more tubewells on credit payable in easy installment. Without lowering electricity tariff it will of no use to increase supply of tubewells because it is uneconomical to run the existing tubewells at the present prevailing tariff. As a long term solution the government should, without any further loss of time, undertake construction of big and small dams as announced earlier.

The Chief Executive, however, indicated that reduction in power rates would only be possible after the cash-strapped WAPDA lowers its power generation cost by converting the thermal units from furnace oil to gas. Simultaneously, he said, the government was actively working on Boonji and Bhasha Dams to augment the depleted water storage capacity. Thus, no immediate relief seems in sight for the farmers who are being crushed between water shortages and spiralling electricity tariff. This double jeopardy on the one hand, makes it difficult for them sometimes to recover even their cost of production and, on the other, fuels inflation through reduced agricultural production or rising prices. This, in turn, undercuts the export potential of the agriculture sector and becomes sensitive in terms of rising food prices.

For the last few years we have been experiencing severe climatic changes with unexpectedly longer dry spells even during wet seasons of the fall and winter resulting in reduced storage in water reservoirs, the capacity of which has also come down significantly due to non-stop silt accumulation. Unfortunately, a considerable amount of water goes straight into the Arabian sea as we have politicised the promising sites for construction of additional dams. To avert catastrophic consequences of the crisis, we need to urgently undertake measures to conserve the available water and check its wastage. For this purpose, work should be initiated on priority basis for lining of canals and watercourse. So far, we have only concentrated only on desilting while this aspect remained neglected. Farmers should also be adequately educated about exact requirements of crop watering as, according to the existing practice, farmers resort to 15 to 20 inch watering for wheat as against actual requirement of only two inch leading not only to wastage of considerable water but also water-logging. The government should seriously consider introducing irrigation water metering especially for big landlords to ensure judicious use of scarcely available water. The emerging situation also poses a challenge to our agricultural scientists to evolve varieties of different crops that mature in shortest possible period and need less water.

As an immediate measure the government should allow about 50 per cent subsidy on electricity charges to the farmer for at least for the next six months in order to help them to augment their water supply through tubewells for rabi crop at an affordable cost. As a long-term measure new dams should be built on war footing.

In so far as the development and management of the country's scarce water resources are concerned, these have remained stalled for nearly two decades. The gigantic dams built earlier at Warsak, Mangla and Tarbela, have continued emitting signals of wearing down, which have remained largely ignored. Not built to be of service endlessly, they had to be supplemented with new efforts to meet the needs of the times. One belated move in that direction was the Kalabagh Dam which, riddled with profound controversies, has virtually turned into a jinxed project. In the meantime, the growing need of water for irrigation and other purposes has acquired alarming proportions. In view of the mounting gravity of the developing situation, the Chief Executive did well to focus attention on the urgency of initiating a timely move to expedite development of adequate water resources to meet the increasing needs of the economy adequately, without any more loss of time.

The Chief Executive Gen. Murharraf, who appeared very keen to immediately start work on Kalabagh Dam had to change his mind in view of the mounting anti dam campaign by some politicians. The Chief Executive however, directed WAPDA to prepare an alternate plan of action to meet the growing demand of water by all the four provinces in the country. The WAPDA has due the job and the plan which aims to increase the storage capacity by at least 50 per cent during the next 10-year at a 421 billion. It envisaged construction of Munda Dam and left canals in NWFP, Sehwan Barrage, Chotiyario Dam, Ttar Ranee and other canals in Sindh, Mathan Kot Barrage and a canal for Balochistan and an irrigation canal for Cholistan area in Punjab. The Chief Executive should ensure that work on this plan should start without any further loss of time.