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UMERKOT: Irrigation and agriculture experts, growers’ representatives and civil society activists have warned that severe drought will engulf the entire Umerkot district if judicious distribution of irrigation water is not ensured and water theft by influential landlords is not stopped.

They issued the warning at a seminar on “Judicious distribution of irrigation water and its benefits” organised by the Participatory Development Initiatives (PDI) in cooperation with Trocaire at Sooriah Badshah Complex here on Tuesday.

Addressing the seminar, PDI executive director Sikandar Brohi said that unfortunately water sharing mechanism among the provinces in Pakistan was flawed and Punjab did not allow other provinces to implement the 1991 Water Accord and water was being shared on an ad hoc basis.

He said the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) had failed in properly monitoring the consumption of irrigation water by different provinces, especially Punjab. Water theft by influential landlords was the key cause of water shortages in Sindh, he added.

PARC Director Dr Attaullah alleged that influential landlords in connivance with the irrigation department experts had been stealing water through lift machines and pipes from Nara Canal and Kotwah as a result vast tracks of land belonging to small farmers were not being cultivated.

Besides taking action against water theft, there was also need to educate growers on proper use of irrigation water, he said.

PDI research and advocacy coordinator Saleem Abbasi claimed that 47 per cent fertile land of Umerkot district was not being cultivated, adding that 71 per cent of the farmers of Umerkot were basically small farmers who were unable to even cultivate half of their lands due to water shortage because of water theft.

Noted poet Juman Darbadar said Umerkot district was facing artificial shortage of irrigation water because water was being sold to influential landlords by the irrigation department officials.

Sindh Agriculture Development Association executive director Mohammed Bux Kumbhar said the programme of lined watercourses had miserly failed in Umerkot due to corruption as a result Umerkot faced severe water losses.

Noted lawyer Nabi Bix Azad said the legal framework existed against the theft of water and appealed to small growers to come forward and send their applications against water thefts to the district human rights court of Umerkot. He announced to provide free legal support to the efforts of small farmers of the district.

Speaking on the occasion, many growers accused the irrigation department officials of selling irrigation water illegally. They said that each farmer was paying Rs5,000 for receiving irrigation water for only three hours on Ashabo Shaakh of Umerkot.

Saima Hassan, Pahlaj Rai and civil society activists Muneer Walhari and Dr Ghulam Rasool Sameejo also spoke on the occasion. Passing a number of resolutions, participants of the seminar demanded of the government to take serious action against influential landlords and irrigation department officials involved in the theft of water in Umerkot district and all the lift machines and pipes fixed on Nara canal and its tributaries in Umerkot district should be removed immediately.

They said small growers should be provided adequate irrigation water in the district and tail-end growers should be provided their irrigation water rights without any delay.