Hoor Asrar describes an increasing difficulty
It is an acknowledged fact that in three years’ time, the Water shortage in Pakistan might turn from a water-stressed county to a water-scarce country. This situation has come to pass because the county has seen its population to explode registering an unbelievable five-fold increase that has badly affected its water resource. It is accordingly estimated that with the current 30-day water storage capacity, some 207 million people will face absolute scarcity of water with less than 500 cubic meters available per person by 2025. It is not only the dangerous transformation into a water-stressed country that Pakistan is predicted to become but it is also emphasised that by 2024 it would become the most water-stressed country in the world. This predicament is the result of numerous factors particularly climate change, uncontrolled population growth, mismanagement of water economy, primitive irrigation practices, obsolete water transmission and lack of reservoirs among others.
This is an extremely scary scenario that may prove disastrous for a country like Pakistan that decisively depends on agriculture and has to feed ever-increasing mouths. Water supply overall in the country has decreased significantly due to reduction in supply from water reservoirs alongwith ground water depletion. The situation has aggravated also due to extensive and unregulated usage of ground water for household and commercial purposes. The situation has brought Pakistan to a level where it is ranked 14th among 17 extremely high water-risk regions rated almost at par with hot and dry Saudi Arabia. In actual fact water scarcity has already become an existential challenge for Pakistan as there is a serious dearth of reservoirs to handle acute periods of shortages aggravated by failing water transmission infrastructure.
Pakistani people have a tendency to consume water indiscriminately as it comes with low monetary value in addition to less regulatory conditions it is consumed with. Currently, the searing heatwave has made life unbearable and it has also brought tremendous water scarcity along with it. The heatwave has proved murderous for desert areas of Sindh and Punjab where people are reported to be migrating from their homes and hearths creating a problem for the administrative and municipal services in the area. The mercury is now regularly hovering between 45 and 50 degrees Celsius breaking all records of summer heat and causing tremendous hardship. There are scant chances of rainfall and its absence is drying up rainwater ponds with almost drought-like conditions witnessed in the southern regions of the country.
The current water shortage and its fall-out was predicted much earlier and the worrying aspect in this respect is that nothing was done to tackle this situation. The weather experts were warning about impending water shortage as it was mentioned that Pakistan has received 26 per cent less rainfall than normal in the last winter that was followed up a dry spell for two full months of April and May. It was accordingly opined that the slower melting of glaciers would intensify shortages and that is precisely what is now happening. The most obvious fall-out is that Pakistan’s rivers are drying up and that in turn have resulted in two largest reservoirs of the country, Mangla and Tarbela, reduce to dead level much earlier in the cycle than expected.
This year, despite an early onset of summer in mid-March and April the snow melting process in mountainous and hilly areas has not picked up pace, putting profound pressure on the national water supplies and making the planners quite nervous. Subsequently, national water supplies dipped substantially considered lowest of the average supplies. The result forced Pakistani agriculture sector to begin its Kharif season with close to a 40 per cent shortage in both of its water-producing systems with 30 per cent reduction witnessed in Indus and 20 per cent in its Jhelum arm and the situation has become precarious in Mangla that is hosting less than 1pc of its capacity. Currently, Mangla is holding only 354,000 acre-feet against over seven million of its capacity. This is largely because the Mangla Lake is mainly rain-fed and there has virtually been no rain. To make matters worse, 37 inches of snow fell this winter against the yearly average of 50 inches registering a drop of 26 per cent and even those 37 inches seem to have fallen on higher altitude, where the temperature needs to be more than the current 23 degrees Celsius to melt it.
Viewed in this backdrop, it is not surprising to observe that the lower riparians in southern Punjab and Sindh are facing their worst shortages in decades with water flowing from the Indus River reduced to 40 per cent from its normal flow. This intense shortage of water has now sparked tensions between Sindh and Punjab with officials dealing with water affairs blaming each other for the crisis between supply and demand. The political functionaries of Sindh have taken up the issue publicly accusing the water officialdom of Punjab for denying the due share of Sindh creating water shortage. The altercation reached the crisis stage compelling the concerned personnel including the chairman IRSA to gather at Sukkur to monitor water flows at Sukkur and Guddu barrages. This action followed a heated debate in the National Assembly in which the Sindh Irrigation minister kept on pressing for equitable distribution of water. He opposed the three-tier formula that has been the basis for inter-provincial water distribution as it places Sindh at great disadvantage.
Whatever the result of this altercation be, it is very obvious that vast swathes of parched agricultural land are facing the brunt of water shortage with the livestock badly suffering. The situation is precarious as a very large number of people in the affected districts are on the verge of losing their crops and animals. The situation is pretty scary as it is predicted that even when the glaciers start melting in the next few days, filling rivers and dams, and the monsoon season sets in, most affected farmers will not be able to recover their livelihood losses. The worry is exacerbated by the fact that it is almost certain that the current water shortages will persist beyond summer into winter acutely cutting adequate water for the oncoming crucial Rabi crop particularly wheat that may endanger food security of the country.
Punjab’s irrigation authorities blamed the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) for worsening the crisis by apportioning the province 0.4 million acre feet (MAF) less water than its share, compared to what they believe is 0.6MAF supplied to Sindh in excess of its share since 16 April. It was claimed that Punjab had received up to 26 per cent less water than its due share whereas Sindh had received up to 77 per cent more than its share during the same period though this claim was subsequently disputed by the officials from Sindh. Some experts consider this situation as the result of the failure to construct the Trimmu-Islam Link Canal that was supposed to have been built by 31 March, 1968 under Annexure H of the Indus Water Treaty and had a designed capacity of 20,000 cusecs. This canal was meant to mitigate the loss of Sutlej’s waters in the Cholistan-Bahawalpur region and could also have been used to feed artificial lakes in the Sutlej River valley to replenish the fast-depleting underground water resources there. TW