Crops go thirsty across Sindh with canals running bone-dry

Published May 8, 2022
SUKKUR: A view of the dried out bed of River Indus after the water level decreased due to an acute water shortage.—PPI
SUKKUR: A view of the dried out bed of River Indus after the water level decreased due to an acute water shortage.—PPI

HYDERABAD: “Do you think we can have water for irrigating our farmland to sow Kharif crops when we have to buy water even for drinking?” remarked a frustrated farmer, who was among a group of protesters staging a sit-in outside the office of chief engineer of Rohri Canal here the other day.

“As of today, we have to spend Rs2,000 to Rs2,500 per tanker to get water for drinking,” complained Raheem Kaloi, who owns a 13-acre piece of land in the command area of Khairpur Gamboh subdivision fed by Rohri Canal.

Kaloi, who was among thousands of small scale growers haunted by the spectre of widespread water shortage in Sindh, and his colleagues brought their family members from the tail-end district of Badin to lodge a protest outside the office of Rohri Canal chief engineer against acute shortage of irrigation water in the district as season of Kharif sowing entered a crucial stage in lower Sindh.

Read: Extreme heat events expose climate vulnerabilities

Water flows remain highly inadequate in the Indus river these days to meet demands of canals during peak season of cultivation of summer crops in Sindh. The shortage is mainly affecting the cultivation of cotton crop, which has started showing production-wise improvement i.e. from 1.8 million bales in 2020 to 3.5m bales in 2021 in Sindh.

Growers look to nature to come to their rescue as shortages worsen Sindh-wide

Sindh agriculture department’s director general Hidayatullah Chajjro said: “Against a sowing target of 640,000 hectares, cotton could be sown on 243,200ha till May 6. The crop was sown on 378,880ha last year in the corresponding period, thus showing a decline of 21pc in acreage so far which may increase further if water shortage persists. “Water is to be given to cotton crop after 20 days of sowing which is not available in many cases, causing damage to the standing crop,” he said.

Water shortage has been reported in entire system since early Kharif period when Tarbela dam hit dead level on Feb 22 when development works in T3 and T4 of the dam were carried out. Wapda started the work in February considering it to be a lean period.

“We had told the Indus River System Authority that Sindh will not be able to get water for early Kharif when the work started in Tarbela dam but we had to agree for the sake of greater good,” said Sindh Minister for Irrigation Jam Khan Shoro. “Water shortage in Sindh had got severe as current water distribution is not based on Water Accord 1991,” he said.

“The situation may worsen in June if temperature doesn’t increase in upper catchment and rainfall doesn’t occur,” cautioned an official of Sukkur barrage, who monitored water availability figures on a daily basis. The current shortage, he explained, was attributed to dips at Chashma barrage where flows from Kabul river were first received.

Wapda authorities have lately started storing water in Tarbela dam where storage stood at 1395ft on May 2 after having remained at 1392ft since Feb 22. Kabul river flows had improved lately only to record back to back dips at Chashma in last week of April.

Flows at Chashma barrage were recorded at 50,000 cusecs on April 27 and dropped to 45,000 cusecs on April 28; 38,266 cusecs on April 29; and 37,000 cusecs on April 30. “Impact of quick falls in flows is being severely felt in Sindh,” said an official. It was evident from flows at Guddu – first barrage over Indus in Sindh.

“Till May 7, 52pc shortage is recorded in Sindh,” said Aziz Soomro posted at Sukkur barrage’s control room after assessing percentage-wise shortage at three barrages. Sukkur’s Rohri and Nara canals reported 32pc and 30pc shortage on Saturday. Both the canals irrigate large swathes of farmlands on left side of Sukkur barrage.

Besides these, Khairpur Feeder East had 49 pc shortage, Khairpur Feeder West 43pc, North Western Canal 46.6pc, taking overall shortage at Sukkur barrage to 45pc. The barrage’s two right bank canals, Rice and Dadu were still closed.

Kotri barrage has reported overall 60pc shortage with Kalri Baghar feeder that supplies water to Karachi reporting 35pc, Akram Wah 72pc, Old Phuleli 47pc and New Phuleli 70pc shortage. These percentage-wise shortages were assessed in comparison with Water Accord-based allocation as per ten-daily calculations for May’s first ten-daily viz-a-viz available flows there.

Guddu barrage was having flows of 37,554 cusecs on May 3; 35,683 cusecs on May 4; 33,252 cusecs on May 5; and 29,819 cusecs on May 6. The remaining two barrages would have to bear with this shortage in the days to come especially Kotri — last barrage over Indus — where rice sowing has already started on its left bank.

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah advised growers earlier in Sehwan to avoid sowing water-guzzling rice crop in view of the water shortage that he attributed to inadequate flows in the river system.

The Irsa had increased flows from Chashma to 60,000 cusecs only on May 4; 70,000 cusecs on May 5 and 72,000 cusecs on May 6. “Such impact of flows will be seen after more than a week in Sindh,” said an official.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2022

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