Deal­ing with drought

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

Ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, drought-like con­di­tions have hit most parts of the coun­try, af­fect­ing Kharif crops.The Pak­istan Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Depart­ment has said that due to de­fi­cient rain­fall, drought like con­di­tions have emerged over most parts of Pak­istan, spe­cially in barani ar­eas of Pun­jab, lower KP, South Pun­jab, south­west Balochis­tan and southeast Sindh.This dry con­di­tion caused wa­ter stress in the agri­cul­ture ar­eas of the coun­try that de­mands avail­abil­ity of more sup­ple­men­tary ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter for Kharif crops. Ac­cord­ing to PMD, the months of Jan­uary - March re­ceived below nor­mal rain­fall whereas April - May wit­nessed neg­a­tive 9.9pc.

This year, our river in­flows have been at an all-time low due to lower-than-nor­mal pre­cip­i­ta­tion in the catch­ment ar­eas trig­gered by cli­mate change. In re­cent meet­ings, the In­dus River Sys­tem Author­ity has pointed out acute wa­ter short­age in the In­dus basin river sys­tem. Ir­ri­ga­tion sup­plies for win­ter crops in Pun­jab were 40 per cent lower than his­tor­i­cal av­er­ages. More than 90pc of our fresh wa­ter is used in agri­cul­ture and 60pc of our pop­u­la­tion is di­rectly or in­di­rectly as­so­ci­ated with agri­cul­ture.De­mand for drink­ing wa­ter in cities is grow­ing rapidly. Many parts of Karachi are al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a Cape Town-like Day Zero.

Pak­istan is inch­ing to­wards a se­ri­ous wa­ter cri­sis as per capita wa­ter avail­abil­ity is fall­ing due to di­min­ish­ing fresh­wa­ter sup­plies and the bur­geon­ing pop­u­la­tion. The chal­lenges are twofold: de­creas­ing river in­flows and reck­less wa­ter man­age­ment. The Falken­mark Wa­ter Stress In­di­ca­tor sets 1,000 cu­bic me­tres per capita as the thresh­old where wa­ter short­age starts hurt­ing eco­nomic growth and hu­man health. Pak­istan be­gan in 1947 with 5,650 cu­bic me­tre per capita fresh wa­ter an­nu­ally, way above this thresh­old. A wa­ter man­age­ment ex­pert as­so­ci­ated with the Pun­jab Ir­ri­ga­tion Depart­ment re­cently said that our an­nual wa­ter avail­abil­ity was 1,000 cu­bic me­tre per person and the sit­u­a­tion was wors­en­ing day by day.

The gov­ern­ment has shown crim­i­nal dis­re­gard for man­ag­ing our wa­ter re­sources - sur­face and ground - ef­fi­ciently. In the last six decades, Pak­istan hasn't built a sin­gle ma­jor wa­ter reservoir. Wapda sources claim Pak­istan frit­ters away wa­ter worth Rs25 bil­lion ev­ery year. Tar­bela, one of the two ex­ist­ing reservoirs, has lost its stor­age ca­pac­ity by over three mil­lion acre feet due to silt buildup. Our fail­ure to build any new reservoirs af­ter its con­struc­tion in the mid ' 70s, shows our short-sight­ed­ness and in­ep­ti­tude. Out of the 145 MAF we re­ceive an­nu­ally, we store only 14 MAF.

Ac­cord­ing to Irsa fig­ures, Pak­istan has been dis­charg­ing an av­er­age of 30 MAF an­nu­ally into the ocean whereas the req­ui­site en­vi­ron­men­tal flow down­stream of Kotri is less than 8 MAF. Dur­ing the dry win­ter sea­son, our ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem re­lies solely on wa­ter stored in the Tar­bela and Mangla dams. This year both have been at dead level through­out the spring sea­son, so the tail reaches of the In­dus basin ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem have not had any sig­nif­i­cant sup­plies.Post In­dus Waters Treaty, river in­flows have dwin­dled whereas pop­u­la­tion growth has con­tin­ued un­abated. I

We need swift ac­tion to tackle the wa­ter emergency. A na­tional wa­ter pol­icy has been for­mally ap­proved and it should be speed­ily im­ple­mented. Our na­tional and pro­vin­cial wa­ter man­age­ment bod­ies, lo­cal gov­ern­ment bod­ies and pub­lic health and ir­ri­ga­tion de­part­ments must com­mit them­selves to im­ple­ment­ing ef­fi­cient wa­ter re­source man­age­ment. The prov­inces should agree on build­ing new wa­ter stor­ages. Wa­ter ex­perts say that the way our pop­u­la­tion is swelling we need a Tar­bela-size reservoir ev­ery decade. Along with wa­ter poli­cies we also need fed­eral and pro­vin­cial wa­ter com­mis­sions to mon­i­tor ef­fi­cient wa­ter re­source man­age­ment at all lev­els.

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