SUKKUR/DADU: World Bank task team leader Francois Onimus has stressed that release of environmental flows downstream Kotri barrage is essential not only for the survival of Hilsa (Palla) fish in Indus river and mangroves cover in deltaic area but is also very crucial for controlling sea intrusion into the river.

Mangroves not only provided habitat for many fish species and aquatic life but it also served as first defense line against tsunamis, which affected not populous areas but also destroyed economy of a country, he said while presiding over the concluding day of the two-day virtual meeting held to review progress on modernisation and rehabilitation project of Guddu and Sukkur barrages under the Sindh Barrages Improvement Projects (SBIP) on Friday.

Onimus, who is also a renowned water expert, appreciated progress on the project and said that the barrages were backbone of Sindh’s economy. Should any harm came to the barrages, their structure and river training works it might cause dollars to the province’s economy, he said.

He said that rehabilitation of the two barrages would enhance capacity of water supply to their command areas, which did not only consist of irrigated land but also livestock, industrial sector and human settlements which needed water for drinking.

He said that groundwater in the command area of off-taking canals of Guddu barrage was brackish and saline and not drinkable hence overall population had to depend on canal water. In the command area of Sukkur barrage off-taking canals, groundwater was almost brackish but drinkable due to continuous recharging of aquifers through irrigation network, he said.

World Bank official says release of adequate flows downstream Kotri vital

Takeaki Sato, WB’s environmental expert, spoke on endangered blind Indus dolphin and said the dolphin’s population should be preserved between Guddu and Sukkur reach, which had been declared as a sensitive area, a Ramsar site.

He showed keen interest in rescuing stranded dolphins in canals and said that an initial survey conducted by Sindh wildlife department in 1972 found 132 dolphins while another survey in 2019 put the number at 1,490, which showed continuous growth of the animal.

He emphasised that Indus dolphin surveys must be carried out at least on a yearly basis because this species was rare and endangered on global level. Release of waste and effluent from different locations into upstream Guddu barrage and runoff from power plants in Rohri and Sukkur affected not only endangered dolphins but also other fish species as well as aquatic life in general, he warned.

Dr Asghar Mahesar, deputy director of environment SBIP, informed the meeting about studies on environmental flows downstream Kotri barrage and fish migration, especially Palla from Arabian Sea up to Multan.

He shed light on terms of reference of both the studies and said that three studies on release of flows downstream Kotri were carried out by the federal government and an international panel of experts recommended releasing 5,000 cusecs downstream Kotri consecutively.

He said that Palla used to migrate from Arabian Sea up to Multan covering a distance of 1000 kilometers but after construction of barrages on Indus, movement of Palla was confined between the sea and the Kotri barrage.

He stressed the need for the release of essential environmental flows to save Palla from becoming extinct and said that Palla catch in 1953 was 10,000 tonnes while in 2012 it dropped to mere 266 tonnes as per a survey. Therefore, there was need for further surveys of not only Palla but also other local fish species which too were rich in nutrition, he said.

He called for an end to release of effluent into Manchhar Lake and Indus as their water was used for drinking not only in Hyderabad and adjoining cites and towns but also in metropolitan Karachi.

He suggested stopping release of effluent of industrial units, pharmaceutical firms and powerhouses into the river at up and downstream of Kotri barrage as it was highly dangerous for human lives and fish species.

Mohiyuddin Mughal, project director of SBIP, briefed the meeting on replacement of gates of three off-taking canals of Guddu barrage and said the work had been completed, while the main barrage gates were being fabricated in Rona Makina facility in Turkey.

He said that replacement of six gates numbers 39, 40, 35, 33, 32, 31 on 92-year-old Sukkur barrage had to be done on emergency basis. The gates 39 and 40 had been replaced while work on the replacement of gate 35 was going on. Gates 33, 32 and 31 were being fabricated and 80 per cent of their work had been completed, he said.

He said that 50 main gates of Sukkur barrage and 56 gates of its off-taking canals would be replaced under the SBIP contract which was to be awarded in June 2021.

Mr Chirshall, chief resident engineer of project implementation consultants, told the meeting that 10 out of 65 gates of main Guddu barrage had been fabricated in Turkey and six fabricated gates would arrive at the project site before end of May.

The meeting was also attended by Sajid Ali Bhutto, deputy project director of SBIP; Abdul Razak Memon, deputy director of procurement SBIP; water experts, former secretary of irrigation Junaid Memon, former additional secretary of irrigation Aslam Ansari, member of Sindh on IRSA Zahid Ali Junejo, Rubina Wahaj, Dr Maria and Momoir from FAO, Ghulam Hyder Qureshi, Maryam Minhas, Fareeha of project coordination monitoring unit of planning and development department.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2021

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