Dry weather leads to record water shortage in 2017
Pakistan is heading towards an acute water shortage in the current cropping year, which may equate the shortfall observed during the severe drought of 1998-2002.
The anticipated shortfall of 36.4 percent in river water in the current Rabi 2017-18 against average system uses may further soar to 40 percent by end of the season. The cropping year is being described as one of the driest years in the recent history of the country as far as water availability is concerned.
In 2001-02, water shortage was recorded at over 40 percent, making it the most water short year since establishment of Indus River System Authority (IRSA) in 1991.
One of the main reasons of low water availability for irrigation purposes in 2017 has been intentional delay in filling of Tarbela Dam by the authorities, which resulted in inadequate water in the reservoirs for the lean period of Rabi.
Wapda surprisingly kept mum on delayed filling of Tarbela Dam, even though significant volume of water was available for storing in the dam during Kharif 2017. According to Wapda’s own figures, 9.42 million acres feet (MAF) of water was allowed to escape below-Kotri Barrage into the sea during this year.
The impending water crisis unfolded in recent months following repeated reviews by the water watchdog since September. In its advisory committee meeting held on September 29, 2017, IRSA while approving the water availability forecast for cropping season Rabi 2017-18, anticipated availability at 20 percent less than the average system uses.
However, during the month of October 2017, the actual river flows were short of the anticipated flows, requiring reviews of the earlier forecast afresh.
An urgent meeting of the IRSA advisory committee was held on November 1, 2017 and the forecast of water availability was pegged at 36 percent short of average system uses in view of the actual river flow trends.
The shortage of water may adversely affect production of Rabi crops including wheat. The trickledown effect of lingering water shortage would also be seen in early Kharif 2018-19 in case of lesser rains in later months coupled with dwindling water flows.
Both Mangla and Tarbela dams have just 1.79MAF of water right now. These reservoirs are likely to touch dead levels in the next couple of months, leaving supplies purely on run-of-the-river basis, which will be quite low as compared to rising demand in spring months.
This drought is ranked as the worst during the recent history of the country. An extremely devastating flood event was observed in 2010, which was termed a super flood of all time. Later, floods in 2012, 2013 and 2014 have also led to huge losses.