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ISLAMABAD: The Indus River System Authority (Irsa) on Thursday expressed fears of unusually acute water shortage during the current Rabi season and asked the provincial governments to make contingent plans for wheat sowing to avoid major losses to upcoming crops.

In letters to provinces, Irsa said the water shortage could go up to 30 per cent instead of up to 20pc forecast on Sept 29 in view of lower than anticipated river flows in the first 10 days of October and depleted resources in storages. “It is requested that contingent plants may be prepared based on 25-30 per cent shortages in the Indus Basin System to cope with the situation in case of the any eventuality,” wrote water regulator’s Director of Operations Khalid Idrees Rana to the provincial governments.

The provinces were told that due to atypical prevailing weather conditions in the country river flows were not showing promising trend and the phenomenon may lead to more water shortage in the ongoing Rabi season.

Mr Rana told Dawn that predicting water availability and weather systems had become very difficult now due to climate change conditions and not only Irsa, but Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) also had to change their forecasts.

Provinces told to make contingent plans

“We are witnessing changed weather patterns and foreseeing problems,” he said. He said that the PMD had also withdrawn its forecast for the rain system in October and has now predicted no rains till December.

Irsa has also noted dry weather behaviour to continue at least for the entire October. He said that hot weather still persisted in almost all the provinces and yet flows in rivers was 10-15pc lower than usual.

The water storage in dams at present was almost two million acres feet, lower than the last year’s because the provinces were given water discharges from reservoirs according to their demands because no shortage had been anticipated in September.

He said Irsa would watch the situation carefully till Oct 31 and would continue to release agreed water shares to the provinces with a request to them to make contingent plans after that. He said Irsa would also call another meeting of the advisory committee in the first week of November where the provincial contingent plans would also be discussed for future planning.

Informed sources said that the water shortage issue was also discussed at a meeting of the Federal Committee on Agriculture (FCA) where Federal Minister Sikandar Hayat Bosan enquired about the withdrawal of an advisory made by the PMD for the rain system a week ago. The PMD confirmed to have changed its forecast saying that climate conditions were abnormal and forecasting had become difficult.

The FCA has set 26.46 million tonnes of wheat output target for the current crop against the last year’s output of 26.38 million tonnes.

Separately, Irsa also warned the Punjab government that its ongoing water withdrawal pattern would exhaust its share on the Indus zone within November because of its continuously higher reliance on non-perennial canals.

The Punjab has been advised to plan its wheat sowing in accordance with higher water shortages.

Strangely, the provincial governments have indicated that they were increasing area under cultivation for sugarcane, wheat and cotton crops on a regular basis even though water availability has been on the decline. This showed the farming community was heavily relying on the underground water exploitation that can have a lasting stress on the water table.

On Sept 28, Irsa estimated about 20pc water shortage for the Rabi season and flagged falling storage capacity as a serious concern and asked the provincial leaders to start building dams on a war-footing.

The Rabi season begins in October-December and ends in April-May. Wheat is the largest crop in the Rabi season. Gram, lentil, tobacco, rapeseed, barley and mustard are some of the other Rabi crops.

Wapda has already warned that silting was taking a heavy toll on two major reservoirs and is seeking a change in the storage criteria. Water experts have been raising the issue of declining water storage year after year.

On Thursday, the total river flows at rim stations were noted at about 68,000 cusecs against 122,000 cusecs of outflows which meant the discharges from dams were taking place at double the pace of inflows.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2017

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