LAHORE, Aug 13: With monsoon producing exceptionally low water and temperatures in the Northern Areas dropping unusually, drought conditions in the country have become severer; threatening standing Kharif crops and generating fears that Rabi water shortages may well go beyond 50 per cent.

On Monday, all rivers witnessed extremely low inflows and water planners fear that for the second time in its history, even Tarbela Dam shall not be filled this year – threatening next Rabi season and food security of the country.

On Monday, the Tarbela Dam stood at a level of 1,494.5 feet, against 1,521 feet last year. As per filling plan this year, the dam level should have been at 1,546 feet – only four feet below its optimum level of 1,550 feet. But currently, it is at 1,496.5 feet – some 55.5 feet below maximum level and, more threateningly, receding as authorities release water to save standing Kharif crops. In the last 24 hours, the Indus River registered an inflow of 148,800 cusecs against 228,000 cusecs last year. The authorities fear that the dam might not go beyond a level of 1,510 feet, storing five million acre feet (MAF) water against a capacity 6.6maf.

Similarly, Mangla Dam is stuck at 1,164.40 feet – some 79.6 feet below the newly fixed optimum level of 1,240 feet after the raising the dam level. Last year, on the corresponding day, the dam stood at 1,200 feet and it should have been at 1,238 feet by now according to the filling plan for this year. Now the fear is that lake might not be able to go beyond 1,185 feet, with only 3maf water against a capacity of over 7maf now.

Two other important rivers have also seen their inflows dipping to an exceptionally low level as mercury in their catchments also drop, and monsoon refusing to add more water. River Chenab, which was flowing at 138,000 cusecs last year on Aug 13, was recorded at 53,100 cusecs on Monday. River Kabul dipped to 34,500 cusecs against 52,900 cusecs last year on the same day.

“Problem is that monsoon is not supplementing water supplies, putting the entire pressure on canal water,” says an official of the Punjab Irrigation Department. So, the province is left with no choice but to run all canals on full capacity, compromising storage filling. Now the option is either save the standing crops or store for Rabi. The department is going for first option and also requesting the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) to take the same route and save the bird in hand rather than two in the bushes, he said.

“We are still hopping and praying for a monsoon surge in late August or early September,” says an official of Irsa. Historically, all high floods and sometime rains hit the country during these two weeks. “Such a recurrence is now the only hope for the country, its agriculture, food security and national economy.”


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