A graph shows percentage of water losses at different barrages of the country.
A graph shows percentage of water losses at different barrages of the country.

HYDERABAD: Debate among stakeholders over water availability in kharif season once again turned acrimonious at the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) after Sindh’s official questioned Irsa’s figures on anticipated water shortage that tended to blame Sindh for high water losses and lose sight of the volume of water losses within Punjab, which usually remains greater than Sindh’s.

Sindh’s secretary of irrigation Sohail Qureshi, secretary of agriculture Aijaz Mehsar and chief engineer (development) region-II Zarif Khero attended Irsa Advisory Committee meeting (IAC) at Irsa headquarters on Thursday to discuss anticipated flows of kharif 2022.

Khero gave an analytical presentation at the meeting which was chaired by Zahid Junejo. The presentation laced with figures of past years’ flows showed water losses percentage and volume wise to have an actual idea of the water lost in different reaches of Pakistan’s barrages.

The debate turned hot when he discussed historical data to show that exceptionally high losses were recorded in Trimmu-Panjnad reach (within Punjab) not only in early kharif but in late kharif as well.

“Sometimes the losses are even more than 60pc. Irsa, however, is only mandated to highlight losses in percentage in Sindh despite the fact that the volume of water lost in Sindh was less than the losses within reaches inside Punjab.

“Percentage-wise losses in Sindh are more but quantum of water lost remains less. But interestingly in Punjab more volume of water is lost while percentage remains less,” he told Dawn on Friday.

“It is in fact a move which is bringing other provinces into confrontation with Sindh and harm provincial autonomy,” he remarked while explaining his presentation.

In fact, he said, record of flows showed that Sindh had to bear with more shortage of water than Punjab in 2021 early and late kharif seasons with regard to share anticipated by Irsa. “This disparity in distribution of water is due to unequal sharing of losses between the two provinces,” he said.

Early kharif season has already started in Sindh, mainly in lower region that is fed by Sukkur and Kotri barrages. Recent figures of water at Sindh’s Sukkur and Kotri barrage showed that Nara canal showed 41.7pc and Rohri canal 36.6pc shortage at Sukkur barrage while Akram Wah (lined channel) of Kotri barrage recorded 53.3pc shortage as of April 1.

Sindh official’s presentation and comment over misrepresentation by Irsa led to walkout from the meeting by federal government’s member, Asjad Imtiaz and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s member Zahid Abbas. “Such misrepresentation is in conflict with para eight of Irsa Act,” he said. Punjab’s member was also present at the meeting.

Both the Irsa members were later persuaded by Junejo and Khero to come back to the meeting with the latter telling them “provinces are stakeholders and they have the right to argue their case whereas Irsa is a regulatory body which is to ensure distribution of water judiciously as per the mandate”.

Khero observed that he was attending the meeting as representative of the province to discuss statistics in true perspective and he had talked about water losses in different reaches of Pakistan’s barrages which made interesting reading.

He explained that the losses in flows must be looked at with distance between different reaches in the perspective. “For instance, the distance between Trimmu and Panjnad barrages is 189 miles in Punjab; between Chashma and Taunsa barrages in Punjab 152 miles while it is 298 miles between Sukkur and Kotri barrages in Sindh. “The width of the plains of the river in Sindh is twice as large as Punjab’s and slope of riverbed within Sindh is meandering,” he said.

In 2021, he said, percentage-wise quantum of water losses between Sukkur and Kotri reach was 46pc but in terms of volume it was 0.945 MAF. “In Chashma-Taunsa reach the volume lost is 1.376MAF but percentage-wise the loss is just 13pc as per figures of flows that make an interesting reading,” he remarked while proposing that Irsa should report losses in terms of volume instead of percentage considering reach-wise losses.

“When Irsa claims that Sindh reported 46pc loss it tends to blame Sindh. Actually, water loss between a smaller reach was substantially higher when compared with volume lost in as big reach as Sukkur-Kotri,” he said.

The official once again pressed the point for distribution of water flows in line with the Water Apportionment Accord 1991 that remained sacrosanct by all provinces and vehemently opposed distribution of water flows on the basis of the controversial three-tier formula.

He did not lose sight of the fact that Irsa mentioned Jehlum-Chenab (JC) zone and Indus zone that did not exist within the accord’s parameters. They had separated southern Punjab’s canal commands from upper Punjab (JC zone) and shifted the southern Punjab’s command to Indus zone instead of Mangla’s, he said.

He said the southern Punjab was fed through controversial Chashma-Jehlum (CJ) and Taunsa Panjnad link canals which received water from Indus river although sufficient flows were available in JC zone. But, he said, such management of flows made Sindh and Balochistan provinces suffer shortages.

Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2022

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