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HYDERABAD: Close to 20 per cent water shortage is likely to hit the ongoing Rabi season in Sindh despite the snowfall and recent rains in various parts of the country.

Seven canals branching off from Sukkur barrage remained closed till Jan 30 for de-silting of its right pocket. Indents have been submitted for three of the canals — Rohri, Nara and North-Western — but water is not being released by the barrage administration due to the de-silting work, which is to continue for another couple of days.

Sukkur barrage feeds large swathes of Sindh’s agricultural lands on the right and left banks of the mighty Indus. Indent of 6,000 cusecs, 3,000 and 2,000 cusecs have been submitted to the barrage management for Nara, Rohri and NW canals, respectively, says a barrage official.

Initially, 18pc water shortage was assessed by the Indus River System Authority (Irsa). If the current cycle of rains continues intermittently, it might offset impact of water shortage in the farm sector. Otherwise, it may increase to 26 to 27pc.

“Sukkur barrage’s canals will be opened in February when the actual ratio of water shortage will be assessed and dams’ position will also become clearer as to how much flows are being withdrawn from both dams, Tarbela and Mangla,” said the official.

Sowing of wheat crop was completed last month. Farmers do not rule out an adverse effect on crops if water shortage persists or becomes somewhat severe. The grain starts reaching market in lower Sindh areas like Mirpurkhas as summer crops are sown relatively at an early stage of Kharif season there. Growers fear that health of crops like banana and mango would be at stake as well if water availability is affected during the Rabi season.

Fertiliser supply, backed by flows of irrigation water, is to be made to mango orchards in February. It is the period when trees start flowering and fruits enter the setting stage. Healthy flowering and fruit-setting leads to better per-acre yield. Likewise, banana orchards need fertiliser and water in February. Belated water supplies always affect banana, say growers. February-March is the period when wheat crop is at grain-formation stage.

Irrigation officials say that until Jan 3, the storage levels of Mangla and Tarbela remain at 1,100ft and 1,412ft, respectively. According to a Sukkur barrage official, if 1ft to 1.5ft of water is released daily, the situation is considered normal till January but actual assessment will be made in February, when demands for major canals is to increase. Rohri canal’s lining, which was continuing in a piecemeal fashion, was not done this season during the annual closure of barrage for maintenance.

Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) vice president Mahmood Nawaz Shah refers to reports about unusual withdrawals from dams by the Wapda authorities for power generation. “Principally, it is agriculture sector which is to be given priority in water distribution,” he says.

Mr Shah, speaking to Dawn, feared a 40pc shortage if there were no rains considering the fact that demands for water flow, soil temperature and rate of evaporation would increase from February onwards.

Irsa chairman Mazhar Ali Shah had told Dawn a few days back that a minimum 12pc and maximum 26pc shortage in the Indus river system was earlier assessed by his institution but now it appeared that it would be less than 26pc. “There will be 2MAF of water in two dams on Jan 30 — Mangla will have 0.9MAF and Tarbela 1MAF,” he said.

Till the second week of January, he said, both dams were a few feet above storage level than what otherwise was anticipated by Irsa. He added that so far provinces had borne 10pc water shortage. “We can now safely say that the shortage will not be more than 17pc and water will be available for early Kharif sowing in the lower Sindh region,” he said.

Published in Dawn February 2nd, 2017