Water shortages

Published April 7, 2021

IRSA will meet tomorrow to address the issue of distribution of irrigation water — or rather its shortage — among the provinces for the kharif season. With 12pc to 19pc shortages anticipated this summer against the provisions of the 1991 Water Apportionment Accord, the total amount of water likely to be available for distribution is expected to be in the vicinity of 65 MAF and 68 MAF. But before distributing water, Irsa will have to tackle two critical issues. First, Punjab believes that the system losses for the early kharif season (April 1-June 10) would be nearly 20pc — and not 35pc — unless ‘justified’ through a professional study or Irsa’s technical consensus. Second, the bigger challenge would be the demand from Wapda to fix 1,470 feet as the water conservation level at Tarbela against its maximum conservation level of 1,550 feet until June 10 in view of ongoing development works at its two power stations. It is hoped that the authority will develop a consensus on these challenges without much difficulty as these issues aren’t new for Irsa.

Ever since the water accord was finalised, water stress has intensified and its availability for the kharif and rabi seasons has come to be defined more by shortage than abundance. In fact, since the accord, the demand for kharif crops has never entirely been met. The annual availability of water for summer crops has averaged 14pc less than what is envisioned in the accord because of lack of sufficient water storage and climate change. As a result, we have seen provinces accusing each other of stealing water from their respective shares and Irsa blaming them for theft and misreporting. The situation gets worse each year with a seasonal deficit of 4pc to 28pc because of climate change. The winter shortages are even higher. The water stress is anticipated to increase going forward. The emerging situation calls for urgently building new storages to trap floodwaters, as well as incentivising farmers to adopt modern irrigation technologies so that they can achieve better yields while conserving the depleting resource.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2021

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