ISLAMABAD: After a bad Kharif cropping season, Pakistan may be braving for up to 45 per cent water shortage in coming Rabi season that would negatively affect agricultural and resultant economic output.
“As per preliminary analysis of data, it is anticipated that the deficit may result in 35-45pc shortfall during the forthcoming Rabi season 2018-19”, the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) on Thursday told a Special Senate Committee on Water Scarcity.
The committee, presided over by Senator Maula Bux Chandio, was, however, told that Tarbela Dam had now achieved maximum conservation level of 1,150 feet and prevailing temperatures in the catchment areas currently were promising. That would mean the drawdown for irrigation during the current Kharif season would mostly remain contained.
The committee was also informed that the total storage in reservoirs currently stood at about 9.255 million acre feet (MAF), 32.4pc short of its total capacity, which is 13.681 MAF. The reserve last year at this stage was 12.08MAF, almost 24pc lower.
The Rabi season begins in October-December and ends in April-May. Wheat is the largest crop in Rabi season. Gram, lentil, tobacco, rapeseed, barley and mustard are some of the other Rabi crops.
Briefing the panel on the current water scarcity situation, Secretary Water Resources Shumail Ahmed Khawaja said that Pakistan was losing almost 50pc of its total water availability and lamented that infrastructure worth billions of dollars had been developed by the federal government. However, the lack of matching efforts from the provinces rendered it useless.
He gave three examples of this case: Darawat Dam in Jamshoro, Katchhi Kanal in Southern Punjab and Balochistan and a small dam in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where only 5-6pc of envisaged benefits could be realised. Katchhi Kanal had been built with an investment of Rs80 billion to irrigate 713,000 acres of land, but owing to the inability of both the provincial governments to develop allied facilities, only 10,000 acres could be irrigated.
Mr Khawaja said that it was imperative for the country to take maximum value for money by simultaneously completing projects at the federal and provincial level in a timely manner.
He said the total water resources available in the country were 138MAF with a storage capacity of 13.7MAF – 10pc of our available water resource. Pakistan can store water for a maximum of 35-36 days which is way less than the rest of the world. Any countries can hold their reserves for 130 days. He said that India’s storage could last for about 320 days.
The secretary explained that since water was a devolved subject, the four provinces were the key players and equally responsible to take remedial steps. In order to come to a consensus on this issue, four sessions with all chief ministers were held under the Council of Common Interest (CCI) and a consensus was achieved on National Water Policy.
In addition to construction of dams, the secretary stressed the need to conserve water. He said 90-95pc of Pakistan’s water was being used for irrigation; 50pc of which was lost during canal diversion.
He said that the parties to the National Water Policy have committed to conserve at least 33pc of this water by 2030 with minimal expenditure. He said 8-9MAF water can be conserved if this wastage is controlled.
Senator Azam Khan Swati emphasised the need to strengthen officers working on this daunting challenge. He also asserted that for any progress to be made it was imperative that awareness about this issue is created at every tier of society.
While highlighting the problems of Sindh, Senator Sassui Palijo said that since yearly rainfall was rare in the province, the people largely depend on the river system. She stressed the need for equal distribution of water and implementation of the Water Apportionment Accord 1991 to address grievances of smaller provinces.
Secretary Water Resources was of the view that it is imperative to regulate the water distribution to all provinces. The Pakistan Council for Research and Water Resources (PCRWR) responding to a question on the need for installation of water desalination plants in the country reported that when faced with acute water shortage, desalination was the last option due to exorbitant costs.
(This news/article originally appeared in DAWN on September 7th, 2018)