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Punjab and Sindh will be facing a water shortages of 73.3 and 69.9 per cent respectively

By Syed M. Aslam
Feb-11 - 17, 2002

Like elsewhere in the world, wheat is also a staple diet of Pakistanis. It also plays a vital role in the economy of the country accounting for as much as over 45 per cent of the total crop land despite wild fluctuations in the last half decade, 12.5 per cent of value addition in agriculture and 3.1 per cent share in the GDP.

In 1999-2000 wheat was sowed over 8.575 million hectares of the 22.96 million hectares of the total cropped land in the country. Wheat is sown in the winter harvesting season Rabi and is the most important crop. An acute shortage of water across the country due primarily to deteriorating availability and absence of winter showers, particularly in the arid province of Sindh, is feared to take a heavy toll on the standing wheat crops in both Sindh and Punjab. If the situation persists a 50 per cent fall in wheat production is feared in Sindh as water shortage affect the crop in many ways including quantity as well as smaller grain size.

Punjab is the top wheat producer of wheat followed by Sindh. On an average Punjab contributes over 70 per cent in term of area and over 77 per cent in term of quantity to the total wheat production in the country. Sindh on the other hand, contributes an average of over 15 per cent in term of production and 13 per cent in term of area to the wheat production in the country.

How severe is the water availability situation? Very bad. According to Dr Noor Muhammad, member of Indus River System Authority from Sindh, chairing a meeting in Islamabad on February 6, both Punjab and Sindh will be facing a water shortages of 73.3 and 69.9 per cent respectively during the remaining Rabi season. The situation forced him to ask the two major wheat producing provinces to review their irrigation plans to help adjust revised quantity of available water."

The water shortage situation has worsened since January 3 when overall water shortage stood at a much low level of 39.7 per cent while the projected shortage was 51 per cent. The situation, though bad, looked much more manageable then compared to the crisis at present despite the fact that the estimates had been revised to an increased level of 60 per cent.

In its last week meeting IRSA was also reported to modify the shares of Punjab and Sindh. The distribution of water during the remaining Rabi season, which ends in April-May, would be in accordance with Water Accord 1991 as IRSA was unable to implement the annulment of inter-ministerial decision which faced strong opposition from Punjab.

The water levels at both the Tarbela and Mangla dams would touch dead level in about two weeks time, on or around March 1. Water level at Tarbela presently stands at 1,391.15 million acre feet (MAF) barely above its dead level of 1,389 MAF. Water level at Mangla dam presently stands at 1,13.25 MAF is feared to touch the dead level of 1,000 MAF on March 15. If that happens, and we depend almost entirely on the benevolence of the nature for that not happening, the provinces, particularly arid Sindh, would entirely depend on IRSA and River Kabul for any and all water inflows.

The reduced water supply to Sindh since early last month when the situation was bad but not as bad as it is today has developed into severe crisis with the reduction of 70 per cent supply of water by IRSA from February 8. There are complaints that despite assurances IRSA is supplying between 12,000-13,000 cusec cubic feet per second, a unit to measure running water compared to MAF used for standing water of water to Sindh instead of 24,000 cusec as promised.

The drastic reduction in water supply is feared to result in acute water shortage for both irrigation in rural areas and drinking purposes in the urban areas of the province. The Governor of Sindh has reportedly asked officials of the irrigation department in the rural areas and their counterparts in the urban areas to ensure judicious use and supply of water for both agriculture and drinking purposes. In case the situation persists, he has also asked them to resort to water saving measures as severing supplies to such bulk water users as petrol pumps, cinema houses, and under-construction multi-story building projects in the first phase. If necessary, plans to resort to water rationing in the industrial areas should also be resorted to in the second phase. One can just hope that the situation does not deteriorate to a point where taking such drastic measures would become a necessity.

As if the situation was not bad enough there are reports in the Indian newspapers that it is pondering to use water as a weapon to pressurise Pakistan to meet its illogical demands. According to these reports India is pondering to break 42-year-old Indus-Atlas agreement signed between the two countries in 1960. The Agreement gives Pakistan the rights to share water from rivers with India.

India has reportedly established a technical committee to help devise formulas to change the courses of various rivers. One such report prepared by a retired engineer has been forwarded to the federal government to divert the water of Chenab River to Indian state of Himachal Pardesh.