It's still spring in Pakistan — at least officially
despite rising of mercury to uncomfortable levels already across the
country. As usual, the people have mentally prepared themselves for
atrocious vagaries of weather turned even more sizzling with the
incessant power breakdowns and customary loadsheddings in addition to
short water supply.
As is, the water levels at the major reservoirs
across the country have already dipped to levels ahead of the official
start of the summer. Power generation from the Tarbela Dam, the biggest
hydro power generation plant with an installed capacity of 3,478 mw,
dipped to 300mw or less than 9 per cent of the capacity on the 11th of
this month, because its dead level was lowered by of less inflow of
Tarbela's dead level was revised downward from
1,369ft to 1,365ft by the Water and Power Development Authority on the
request of the Indus River System Authority. The Dam maintained its
crest level of 1,550ft for several days, mainly due to the rains in the
catchment area, but the water table shrank to 1,369ft that resulted in
the downward revision of the dead level.
The low water level at Tarbela has not only resulted
in drastic reduction in its power generation but also hints at water
shortage across the country both for agriculture and drinking. Protest
rallies have already been reported in Hyderabad from residents against
the shortage of water. It has compelled the officials of the irrigation
department of the Hala Division to announce water rotation programme due
to water shortage at River Indus and the Rohri Canal.
The long hot and dry spell would further push the
water demand in the months to come — household as well as agriculture,
particularly because it marks the beginning of rice and wheat sowing
season, both of which are highly water-intensive crops. The "Kharif"
season that starts in April-June and lasts till October-December, also
has another highly water-intensive crop, sugarcane, to push the demand.
Water shortage has become almost a routine year after
year. It has resulted in creating acrimony between the provinces about
their share of the water. On the 19th of this month, a 53 per cent less
water flow was recorded in the Indus River at Sukkur Barrage that forced
the provincial irrigation authorities to initiate rotation system in the
canals. The low water flow also resulted in the declaration of emergency
at Sukkur and Guddu Barrage located down stream.
For an arid province like Sindh, which receives a low
average rainfall of less than 15 inches and which is almost entirely
dependent on Indus for its agricultural and potable needs. As the
catchment of the river lies hundreds of miles away and it enters the
province after passing through the NWFP and Punjab provinces, Sindh is
dependent on its share of the water that can be as high as 44-48 MAF and
that too if it is distributed fairly. It depends heavily on the goodwill
of others to receive its share of water facing various technical
difficulties year after year.
What further worsens an already bad situation is that
a substantial quantity of water flows out into the sea unproductively.
The federal government and WAPDA put this wastage to sea at around MAF,
much higher under the Water Accord of 1991, 10 maf has been
provisionally earmarked for the outflow. However, despite the passage of
13 years no relevant study has been done to evaluate the exact quantity
of the flow of fresh water to the sea.
The federal government, Punjab and the WAPDA stress
that 35 maf water is flowing out into the sea wastefully but there are
those that disagree. There are many who claim that the quantity of the
flow is much less the figure quoted by the federal government, Punjab
and the WAPDA but even lower than the quantity of 10 MAF allocated in
the 1991 Water Accord. They say, that the flow of water to the sea has
been negligible to create devastation in the coastal areas of Sindh.
However, according to a study conducted by IUCN, an environmental agency
based in Karachi, 27 MAF of fresh water a year is needed to outflow to
the sea if an environmental balance is to be maintained. That highlights
the need for development of regional dams and water reservoirs for the
The perpetual shortage of water year after year and
the massive waste to the sea highlights the need for building small
regional water reservoirs across the country compared to controversial
mega dams which have become out of fashion globally. The newly formed
Parliamentary Committee on Water Resources met on the 25th of this month
and decided to visit provinces to physically inspect the sites once
again to identify prospective sites for water reservoirs. The Committee
would meet various stakeholders including politicians, relevant NGOs and
small political parties not represented in the parliament either at
federal or provincial levels.