THE Indus River System Authority has made a career out of controversy, as it were. How much of the 60 to 70 per cent water shortage this Rabi season comes from Irsa’s mismanagement is an open secret. As a result, lower riparian farmers in Sindh fear that their crops will suffer enormously; Tarbela Dam has already hit dead level while the Mangla reservoir is set to do so in the days ahead. This means that little water will be released from these reservoirs to meet the agricultural requirements of Punjab and Sindh as the dry season progresses. Sindh will suffer dual harm, as not enough water will be available for its cotton and sugarcane crops, the banana and mango plantations, and only a trickle will reach the delta, which is already threatened by seawater moving upstream and damaging arable land.
Farmers in lower Sindh suffered heavily last year too when rains inundated a standing cotton crop. It took months for the water to dry as the drainage system collapsed — and now we have to face this shock of shortage. Farmers allege that Irsa has breached the provisions of the inter-provincial water accord by using excess water for power generation instead of saving adequate quantities for agriculture. The water regulatory body has not offered any explanation as to the use of the depleted stock. It is time Irsa was made more accountable with regard to allegations that the agreed terms of water usage among the provinces have been breached. For now, we remain at the mercy of nature: having lost quantities of the life-sustaining resource, we can only hope that the melting of ice on the mountains and sufficient rainfall in the catchment areas of the river system can somewhat mitigate the suffering of farmers, particularly those in lower Sindh.