Briefing the Special Senate Committee recently the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) revealed that as per preliminary analysis of data, it is anticipated that the water deficit may result in 35-45 percent shortfall during the forthcoming Rabi season 2018-19. The Tarbela Dam has now achieved maximum conservation level of 1150 feet, meaning that the drawdown for irrigation during the current Kharif season would mostly remain contained. Total storage in reservoirs stand at about 9.255 million acre feet (MAF) or 32.4 percent short of total capacity, which was 13.681 MAF. The reserves at this stage last year were 12.080 MAF or almost 24 percent lower than the capacity.
According to a report, Pakistan is losing almost 50 percent of its total water availability despite infrastructure development of billions of dollars by the federal government. However, the lack of matching efforts by provinces has rendered this investment useless. An example is of Darawat Dam in Jamshoro, Kachhi Canal in Southern Punjab and Baluchistan and a small dam in KPK where only 5 to 6 percent of the envisaged benefits could be reaped. Total water resources available in the country are 138 MAF with a storage capacity of only 13.7 MAF, i.e., 10 percent of the available total resources. Pakistan could store water for a maximum of 35 to 36 days which is way less than the rest of the world. India's storage however could last for as many as 320 days.
The briefing of Irsa to the Senate Committee on Water Security and observations by the Secretary, Water Resources clearly point to a very depressing picture of the water management in the country. The quantity of rainfall is endowed by nature, and, therefore, cannot be altered but other elements determining the productivity of crops could certainly be changed by human efforts. It is sad to note that after a bad Kharif season, Pakistan may be braving for upto 40 percent water shortage in the upcoming Rabi season that would adversely affect country's agricultural output. The total storage in all the reservoirs is not more than two-thirds full. It is also sad that Pakistan has not been able to build any additional capacity for storage of water despite being an agricultural country.
The federal government has been active in the field but matching efforts have not been made by provinces although the federating units are key players and required to take the necessary steps. In order to reach a consensus on the issue, four sessions with all the Chief Ministers were held under the Council of Common Interest (CCI) and a National Water Policy was evolved, committing the provinces to conserve at least 33 percent of the water by 2030. There is also a need to conserve water to the maximum. At present, 90-95 percent of the country's water is being used for irrigation and 50 percent of this is lost during canal diversion works. The country, as a last option, could install desalination plants in case of acute water shortage but this method of irrigation is too costly to be implemented.
It is, however, very good to see that, realizing the gravity of situation, the prime minister and the Chief Justice of the apex court are working on the issue on war footing and have appealed to all the Pakistanis, including expatriates, to contribute to the effort. How much money will be collected to build new dams is difficult to say but awareness about the issue will certainly be created at every tier of society. There is of course no doubt that agriculture sector plays a central role in the economy, contributing 19 percent of GDP and absorbing 42.3 percent of the labour force. It is also an important source of foreign exchange earnings; it stimulates growth in other sectors. In order to realize the full potential of the agricultural sector, there is also a need, besides adequate availability of water, to conserve water through various means such as sprinkling and rehabilitation of irrigation and drainage infrastructure. Moreover, agriculture modernisation is essential for enhancing integrative agriculture production capacity which, alongwith crop science, can give a massive boost to our crop yield. Improving credit access for farmers is also important in this regard.