Mar 16 - 22, 2009

Scarcity of money and delay in release of funds under public sector development programme due to major cutback in proceeds has aggravated slowdown in development and improvement of Sindh irrigation and drainage system. Talking to PAGE, Syed Mazhar Ali Shah, Additional Secretary Irrigation and Power Government of Sindh said acute shortage of funds is causing slowdown in rehabilitation and development of irrigation and drainage projects all around the province.

Especially, some mega projects are facing the peril of low pumping of money and will finish far beyond their scheduled date of completion. Underestimated costs or close budget estimation of some projects at the time of beginning are also making them meet monetary problems.

In a response to a question, he remarked initial estimated cost of Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD) was Rs29 billion and the project was to be completed by December last, however only about 60% works finished so far. "We have to revise our projection as the project both needs time and money," added Additional Secretary.

Once completed, RBOD will become a channel from Karampur to Gharo Creek to drain out effluent of Sindh and Balochistan in to the sea. "If we can treat the effluent why we need to dispose off this in the sea," he questioned rejoining, "Although this is a dilemma, there is no concept of treatment". 'The fact is we do not have enough money for all this.' He repeatedly reminded of us belonging to a poor (cash-strapped) nation. The financial constraint has affected ongoing rehabilitation and improvement works on irrigation network and drainage system in Sindh.

Though water supply varies from season to season, according to him, there are total approximately 13 million acres irrigated lands across the province or cultivable commanded areas of Gudu, Sukkur, and Kotri barrages. While brrani (rain-fed) tracts compose of three million acres, there are vast lands, for example, alongside highways unirrigated, he said commenting on the potential capacity of extension in irrigation to enhance agriculture outputs. Water supply and drain-back of unused water through drainage system requires maintenance and protection.

There is a coordinated network of canals, distributaries, and minors, which carry out water from barrages to agriculture lands. It is a natural gift that irrigation network in Sindh evolved naturally over a time. For improving and maintenance, this network needs frequent funding. Government allocated certain amounts in annual budgets for revamping and lining of distributaries and minors, however flow of water from upper stream and water conservation through building of reservoirs have slightly been ensured. Heavily depending on allocations by provincial government and public sector development programme, developments of irrigation system come to a halt every time there is a delay in release or curtailment in funds. Technical assistances and loans from international lenders are also important sources of development funds.

Sindh ministry of irrigation and power completed 8 to 10 minors, said Mazhar Ali Shah. Over Rs12 billion for lining of distributaries will irrigate 0.8 million acres and add a discharge capacity of 200 cusecs. About Asian Development Bank's recently approved fund of $50 million for Sindh water resource development, he said the ADB was discussing conditions with the ministry prior to release of the fund. Under country partnership strategy (2009-13), ADB will extend a total of $4.4 billion loan to government of Pakistan in tranches. This loan includes $315 million for water and irrigation of four provinces. After final approval, Sindh ministry of irrigation and power will be entitled to $50 million in 2010. ADB has attached certain conditions, which we need to qualify before receiving the amount, he said. Among others, the conditions pertain to focus areas where the fund should be allocated in preference.

There is a need to invest in development of water conservation including flood protection and building of reservoirs of groundwater and surface water so that tail-end farmers who have irregular access to mainstream water supply can get rid of disadvantages of no link to channels under command of barrages or seasonal water stoppage. It is important to save water through utilizing different modern irrigation techniques such as modern drip irrigation technology and spate irrigation. Drip irrigation system has become popular in many developed nations as it prevents wastage of water through delivery of water at targeted location. However, this modern technology is not an economically viable option for Pakistan due to its pre and post management costs.

According to a source, four provincial chief engineers rejected the introduction of drip irrigation as unviable unanimously in a meeting with planning commission in Islamabad. This irrigation requires sizeable outlays in acquiring technology and most importantly recurring expenditures on electricity that runs the mechanism, he said. 'A country with serious energy crisis could not afford such a project.' In addition to this, there is high concentration of silt in water that would routinely clog openings of drippers. "Ours is the gravity-fed irrigation system," said Additional Secretary. 'We advise pilot programmes of new irrigation technologies.' According to a research report, drip irrigation can give better performance if it gets consistent water pressure i.e. PSI-pound per square inch-that increases with the force of gravity. However, without machineries this pressure could not build up, particularly in lower irrigated lands.

This water protection technology will demand additional power outlets and regular management in order to provide benefits. There is no power generation by Sindh ministry of irrigation and power despite having license to do so and no utilization of renewable energy resources to take assistance in agriculture. 'It has no technical expertise of power generation,' said Mazhar Ali Shah.