AGRICULTURE NEEDS REGULATED WATER SUPPLY YEAR ROUND

SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Apr 06 - 12, 2009

Analysts have been saying that the next world war would be fought over water, which most of us considers invaluable today. Water wastage is most common be it domestic or industrial consumption or agriculture. While the water resources are becoming scarce with the growing population and industrialization, the existing sources are being wasted inadvertently as well as deliberately. Though, in most of the urban areas the well offs have switched over from ordinary tap water to mineral water, bulk of the population still does not have access to fresh and clean drinking water. In some of the remote rural areas, human beings and animal are seen drinking water from highly unhygienic pond etc.

Pakistan suffers from two contentious problems 1) inadequate water storage facilities and 2) sources of fresh water being contaminated by public as well entities like WAPDA, industries and even farmers (because of excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides). Mighty Indus, the biggest sources of water in the country is being polluted virtually at every point. In most of the cities, town and villages sewerage and industrial effluent is being discharged in the river without any treatment. Horrific contaminated man-made lakes have emerged at cities at Kasur due to effluent coming from tanneries. Ravi no more looks like a river but a 'ganda nala' (sewer) because of discharge of industrial effluent into it, which also ultimately falls into Mighty Indus.

Discharge of saline water pumped out from waterlogged areas of Punjab into Manchar Lake, one of the largest sweet water lakes of Pakistan located in Sindh has destroyed its aqua life and the only source of income for the residents of the areas. WAPDA is working on a project whereby the highly polluted water of Manchar Lake would ultimately be discharged into Mighty Indus. Thousands of most fertile and cultivable land has been used for the construction of channels to take water from Manchar to Indus, which will render Indus water unsuitable for irrigation as well as human consumption.

It is often said that Sindhi nationalists are the biggest opponents of construction of mega dams. However, hardly any attention is paid to understand their point of view and to convince them that regulated discharge of water from these dams would not turn their fertile land barren. According to an old saying 'acts speaks louder than words'. According to the nationalists, water supply to the province has been decreasing with the passage of time and discharge on untreated water into Indus renders it unfit for consumption. Seawater is intruding into certain areas because of the delta drying up and mangrove becoming extinct. On top of every thing, there have been instances when Punjab withdrew more than allocated water and deprived Sindh of its legitimate share.

Ironically, politicians and elected governments remains too engrossed in maneuvering for the rise and fall of installed governments that often their focus shift away from national issues to petty matters. The worst example is the ongoing Indian assault in the shape of construction of dams in blatant violation of Indus Water Treaty. It is collective responsibility of opposition and ruling parties to stop India from this. As some of the people say, 'In an attempt to subjugate Pakistan, India is curtailing supply of water, which would ultimately turn the fertile areas into deserts'. The point of view carries weight because now counties do not subjugate their opponents by indulging into wars but destroying their economies. If Pakistan gets the due share of water then Sindh's complaints would be resolved despite construction of dams in Pakistan.

About water supply Pakistan suffers from a strange phenomenon, when there is shortfall in rain drought like situation arises and when there is excessive rain floods create havoc. The prevailing situation can be attributed to highly inadequate water storage facilities. The prime reason for creating water reservoirs is to ensure regulated supply to avoid both the situation drought and floods. One the worst example of ongoing controversy is Kalabagh dam. The talk has been going on for more than five decades and many times the cost of project has been spent on repeated feasibility reports, but all in vain.

In was not written in any holy book that a dam has to be built at any specific point, if there was disagreement the site could have been shifted. It is ironical that the last dam was built in seventies and since than no other dam has been constructed in three decades. Ideally, three dams of Terbella size should have been constructed during this period. Over the years water storage capabilities of Mangla and Terbella are reducing due to deposit of silt. Though, efforts have been made to raise containment walls, yet it is not a best solution. The country has to construct water storage facilities at all the available sites.

It is also believed that multilateral donors, who have supported Pakistan in construction of dams in the past, have become the opponents. Pakistan's simplest and most convincing argument is that it has to strength agriculture to feed a population of 200 million people, operate agro-based industries and ensure clean drinking water for all.

It is blessing that China is willing to share its expertise for constructing dams. However, to arrange funding Pakistan has to satisfy the multilateral donors/lenders. Therefore, the first and the most important step is to develop consensus on a few projects and commence their construction at the earliest. It goes without saying that construction of dams would also help in enhancing hydropower generation capacity in the country and lessen dependence on fossil oil. The country needs to double its generation capacity and hydel generation offers the most cost effective option.