ON THE CUSP OF WATER SCARCITY

IF THE DECLINING TREND PERSISTS, THE RESERVE WILL SLIDE NEAR TO DANGEROUS ZONE OF WATER SCARCITY (1200 CUBIC METERS) BY 2025 AND TOUCH THE LINE OF 1,000 CUBIC METERS BY 2035, SAID A WORLD BANK'S REPORT.

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Dec 5 - 11, 20
11

Oblivious to the necessity of improving the country's largest age-old integrated irrigation network for the betterment of the provincial agriculture economy, the government of Punjab keeps irrigation sector on low priority in every annual budget.

The Punjab government has to spend at least $0.6 billion on both replacement and maintenance of water channels to improve the irrigation system, strongly advised a study on irrigation sector by the World Bank this year. Against this, the provincial government earmarked minuscule Rs11.25 billion in the current budget (2011-12) for irrigation sector. The outlay was also not substantial in 2010-11.

According to the study, irrigation infrastructure in Punjab is worth $20 billion and its rehabilitation can improve the delivery capacity of canals, "that [at present] is below 30 per cent of design".

It is estimated that 60 per cent of agriculture lands are fed by groundwater in the province. The percentage was 10 per cent in 1960s.

Now, 40 per cent irrigation supplies are from canal water directly, 10 per cent from tube wells from natural recharge, and 50 per cent from tube wells from canal-induced recharge, said an estimate.

Canal system is the effective means of recharging groundwater. Most of groundwater in the province comes from canals that are used for recharge mostly than transmission and distribution.

AGRICULTURE BLESSED WITH ARTIFICIAL WATER APPLICATION

Punjab boasts of the longest and extensive irrigated area in Pakistan. Its total cropped area is somewhere around 16 million hectares, according to the latest figure of bureau of statistics. Total cropped area in the country is about 22.2 million hectares. Over 41 per cent of cropped area in the province is dedicated to wheat. Canals, wells, tube wells, canal wells, canal tube wells, etc. irrigate around 14.6 million hectares.

UNDERFED RURAL ECONOMY

Water supplies are not equal in the province manifesting itself in the differences in crops yields across the province.

Crop yields in all over the country are not up to the mark and in case of major grains such as wheat, cotton, rice, and sugarcane, the yield per hectare is lowest in the region.

Over-irrigation is also a sobering issue that has led the government to transfer tube wells management rights to private sector and local communities. Small farmers are deprived of their due shares in the irrigation system.

IN RETROSPECT

Before partition of the subcontinent, farmlands of Punjab were irrigated from the water flows of Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej rivers.

According to Indus Waters Treaty, negotiated between Indian, Pakistani and the World Bank officials, Pakistan got the rights over 75 per cent of Indus system containing Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab.

Barani or rain-fed agriculture in most of the areas is not possible because of low precipitation levels.

British men well understood the sobering impact of low rainfall on agriculture sector and therefore they brought immensely in use hydraulic techniques to cultivate fields in arid zones of mainly eastern Punjab. It is heartening to know that Pakistan remained the world leader in hydraulic engineering even after partition.

It is said Mangla dam is vital for the agriculture of Punjab. The province is granted a major share from Indus river system. According to the Water Accord 1991, water distributions were agreed as 55.94 million acre feet (MAF) for Punjab, 48.76 MAF for Sindh, 5.78 MAF for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and 3.78 for Balochistan.

Irrigation network in Pakistan fed by Indus river and its tributaries is said to serve 42 million acres cultivated land nationwide.

Salinity is also a major issue in Pakistan. An estimate says 15 million tons of salt are submerged in the Indus Basin every year, and further transmitted to over-pumped freshwater aquifers. Billions of cubic waters are trapped in underground layers of rocks in Punjab.

DEPLETING FRESHWATER

Pakistan is a water-strained country in the world and fresh water scarcity is posing gravest threats to the developments of the country, said the report.

Availability of water somewhere below 2,000 cubic meters per capita per year entitles a country water-stressed, as per the definition of the bank.

Considering the depleting fresh water reserves in the country since its inception, Pakistan had fallen below redline back in 2003 when per capita per year availability plunged to a little over 1500 cubic meters.

If the declining trend persists, a chart suggests, this rate will slide near to dangerous zone of water scarcity (1200 cubic meters) by 2025 and touch the line of 1,000 cubic meters by 2035.

SOLUTIONS

Dams and water reservoirs are important to store water needed for agriculture and day-to-day lives. A dam can give two pronged advantages: hydroelectricity as well as water storage.

Both energy and freshwater are direly needed. It is estimated that Pakistan has a potential of 50,000 megawatts of hydropower generation whereas it produces only 6,000mw.

Water availability is important for food security. It is worthwhile to mention that provincial ministry is reported to kick start a six-year long irrigation system rehabilitation project for which Rs36 billion has been allocated. This project is aimed at to install drip irrigation technologies across 120,000 acres of farmlands and revamp 9,000 watercourses across the province.

On the face of it, the project looks promising. However, experts call for other prerequisites like efficient and uninterrupted water supply besides rehabilitation and upgrades of watercourses.

Conservation and good governance are imperative in order to ensure water distribution to all connected to so pervasive irrigation system.

There is also a need to develop underground abstraction techniques in modern lines to tap on the water resources.

Having the country's largest cultivated areas, the agriculture economy of Punjab can play an important role in ensuring food security for Pakistan. Water distribution should be transparent to bring rural population out of grinding poverty.