ACUTE WATER SHORTAGE LURKING AROUND PAKISTAN

THE COUNTRY HAS TO CONSTRUCT NEW WATER STORAGES AND IMPROVE WATERCOURSES.

SHABBIR H. KAZMI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Mar 14 - 20, 2011

Achieving food security is considered a must for defending sovereignty of any country. Achieving this objective can help Pakistan in accelerating GDP growth rate and alleviating poverty. While agriculture contributes around one-fifth to Pakistan's GDP and the country continues to spend billions of dollars on the import of food products. Two of its key agro-based industries suffer due to an acute shortage of raw materials.

Major crops of the country are wheat, rice, sugarcane, cotton, and edible oil seeds. Only recently self-sufficiency in wheat production has been achieved and Pakistan remains a net importer of cotton, sugar and edible oil. Indigenous production of edible oil meets only 20 per cent of country's demand.

Poor performance of agriculture can be attributed to inadequate disbursement of loans to the farmers. This is evident from the fact that agriculture contributes nearly 20 per cent to Pakistan's GDP but loans extended to farmers constitute less than 5 per cent of the total lending of the financial institutions. At any point in time exposure of financial institution to agriculture sector is 200-250 billion rupees.

The worst problem faced by the agriculture sector is disappointingly low yield of different crops in Pakistan. The key factors affecting production as well yield are inadequate availability of water, fertilizers and certified seed. Adulteration of pesticides and insecticides is common. On top of all, supply of irrigation water is inconsistent. All these problems can be overcome.

Pakistan faces strange situation as regards to water. If downpour is heavy many of the areas are inundated by gushing flooding water and when rainfall is low drought like situation emerges. This is mainly because of two reasons 1) deforestation and 2) lack of water storage facilities.

Pakistan will face water deficit of millions of acre feet if more dams are not constructed and water storage capacity is not enhanced in next few years.

This point has once again highlighted by Rao Irshad Ali Khan, Chairman of Indus River System Authority (IRSA) at a two-day roundtable discussion on agriculture and water in Pakistan. He stressed on rigorous and concretes step for construction of more dams and enhancing water storage capacity.

Pakistan may face deficit of 2025 million acre feet in 2020- 2025 despite efficiency improvement. He said Mangla, Kala Bagh, Akori and Bhasha dams would improve situation but would not end the problem. He said increasing the storage would not only benefit agriculture but would also provide a source of cheaper energy.

Chairman informed that Pakistan's water storage capacity has been decreasing over the years and has reduced to less than 94 million acre feet as against 107 million acre feet in nineties. This reduction can be attributed to silting and failure to construct new facilities. The last mega storage facility Tarbela was completed in 1976 and since then no other facility has been constructed.

Water storage capacity is likely to increase once project like Diamer Bhasha Dam, Akhori Dam, Munda Dam, and Kurram Tangi are completed but some more projects also have to be constructed. Kalabagh Dam controversy also has to be resolved. Though the government is considering steps to overcome shortage of irrigation water by improving water use efficiency, the work has to be expedited to achieve food security.

Mushtaq Ahmad Gill, chief executive SACAN, said that 90 per cent production in agricultures comes from irrigated areas and share of the non-irrigated in the production is very low that signify strength and importance of waters for a country. He said Pakistan is a water deficient country that enjoyed per capita availability of 5000 liter in the past which has reduced to 1000 liter and over the next 15 years the figure could go as low as 500 liter.

Ironically, over the years experts have been highlighting the need to increase water storage facilities, make water distribution system efficient to contain spillage. Improper maintenance of water courses is the main cause of water logging and salinity in the country, eroding cultivable area. They said that if dams are not constructed the economic development of the country would become impossible but the idea of achieving food security can be jeopardized.

Keeping in view the rising population and reducing water availability modern and mechanized methods of utilization of the limited water have to be adopted. A large percentage of area cannot be cultivated due to non-availability of water. If spillage and wastages can be contained and one of the much talked about option is to benefit from the experience of other countries, which have overcome the issue. One such example is Sinai and other Middle Eastern countries that produce fruits and other products.

Pakistan faces the threat of stopping water by India. Though Pakistan's rights have been clearly defined in Indus Water Treaty, construction of dams by India will give it the power to disrupt flow of water to Pakistan as and when it pleases her. It may not be wrong to say that Pakistan has not been able to plead its case prudently and efficiently. Ironically, a section of media is keen in improving relationship with India but has been constantly avoiding discussion on the issue.