The growing water shortage poses a great threat to the economy and future of the country. During a meeting of the Senate Special Committee on Water Scarcity, Federal Flood Commissioner stated that total water release to the provinces is 121,500 cusecs with a shortage of 35 percent with Punjab currently getting 67,500 cusecs (facing 37 percent shortage), Sindh 45,000 cusecs (37 percent shortage), while Balochistan is getting 5,900 cusecs and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 3,100 cusecs. As per Irsa, this decline in water availability will negatively impact not only on kharif but also rabi crops. This massive decline in water availability in just one year should be a matter of serious concern for the government.
Severe water shortage has fuelled considerable bickering between the provinces. Sindh maintains it is facing drought conditions which recently led to the passage of a resolution in the Sindh assembly accusing Irsa and Punjab of illegally opening the Chashma-Jhelum Link Canal and Taunsa-Panjnad Canal, thereby violating the inter-provincial agreement and depriving Sindh of its rightful water share as per law.. Punjab in turn maintained during the Senate Committee meeting that it gave up its share of water to Sindh twice. However, at present its own requirements are high and it can no longer do so. Balochistan is accusing Sindh of passing on a water shortage of between 75 to 80 percent to Balochistan.
The reasons cited for the water shortage are external as well as internal. External factors include (India's dam building in violation of the World Bank-brokered Indus Water Treaty of 1962 though successive Pakistani administrations must be held accountable for failing to take the matter up for arbitration in a timely manner. Then there is the factor of climate change, and here too Pakistani governments must be held accountable for contributing to climate change by failing to implement environment protection laws, including undertaking environment impact assessments for major projects. The Federal and provincial governments have done little to take appropriate measures which required prioritizing investment in this sector to mitigate some of the factors over which they had little control.
Recently, Chairman Irsa informed the Senate committee that Pakistan dumps 22 billion dollars worth of water into the sea each year due to lack of storage capacity and pointed out that if dams are not constructed on a war footing, in the near future Pakistan will not be able to produce major crops like wheat, rice, sugarcane, cotton and maize due to the acute water shortage. Investment to desilt existing storage capacity is also not forthcoming. Reportedly, 500,000 tonnes of silt deposits in the Tarbela and Mangla dam every day. Because of this, the two major water reservoirs have already lost 12 percent of their storage capacity.
Agriculture, besides providing food for the population, contributes 24 percent to Pakistan's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provides employment to at least half of the country's labour force. Additionally, it also provides raw material for manufacturing value-added products like textiles which account for a major portion of the country's exports. In these circumstances, to ignore the agriculture sector in general and its basic input, water, in particular is a serious blunder on the part of economic planners. Some time back a water policy was formulated but it was not approved by the Council of Common Interest and its recommendation to allocate 10 percent of the federal Public Sector Development Programme to the water sector were ignored. We are facing a water emergency which calls for prompt action by the government.