HYDERABAD: Children let loose on the bone-dry bed of the River Indus near Jamshoro. The mighty river now resembles a desert at several places as an almost 60pc shortage of water threatens to ruin Sindh’s economy. The silhouette of a city in the background serves as a grim reminder of the enormity of the crisis.—Umair Ali
HYDERABAD: Children let loose on the bone-dry bed of the River Indus near Jamshoro. The mighty river now resembles a desert at several places as an almost 60pc shortage of water threatens to ruin Sindh’s economy. The silhouette of a city in the background serves as a grim reminder of the enormity of the crisis.—Umair Ali

• Provincial barrages face acute water shortage owing to inadequate flows in Indus
• Minister says Sindh population, agriculture, livestock are at risk

HYDERABAD / ISLAMABAD: While the barrages of Sindh continue to face a severe water shortage, two controversial link canals were opened on Wednesday with the permission of the Indus River System Authority (Irsa). Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman called the 60 per cent shortage of water in the Indus “very dangerous”, putting at risk the provincial population, agriculture and livestock.

The Chashma-Jhelum (CJ) link canal, which was opened on Tuesday with a flow of 958 cusecs and was being provided 2,000 cusecs on Wednesday, is operated by the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda). The Taunsa-Panjnad (TP) link canal was regulated by Punjab’s irrigation department for which a flow of 2,404 cusecs was allowed on Wednesday.

Irrigation officials in Sindh told Dawn on Wednesday that Irsa Chairman Zahid Junejo was against opening of the CJ canal, observing that it could not be operated at this time as Tarbela Dam had inadequate flows and Sindh’s indent for water flows had not been met yet.

He claimed that downstream flows of Kotri barrage also remained zero and, above all, permission from the Sindh chief minister for opening of the CJ link canal had not been sought. “CJ is an interprovincial canal and can’t be operated like this. It can only be run when Sindh’s indent is met and there is surplus water in the system,” an official quoted the Irsa chairman as having observed on Tuesday.

Both the link canals have always been a bone of contention between Sindh and Irsa. These days Sindh’s barrages are facing an acute water shortage due to the inadequate water flows in the River Indus system. Initially early and now peak Kharif season was being badly hit in the province, leading to an outcry from the representatives of growers bodies.

“An average of 62pc shortage has been recorded at all three barrages of Sindh on Wednesday,” said the control room in-charge at Sukkur barrage, Aziz Soomro. The barrage feeds the right and left banks of Sindh through its seven major canals.

The barrage-wise shortage in Sindh shows Sukkur barrage short of 53.12pc with flows of 18,516 cusecs against an allocation of 39,500 cusecs; Kotri barrage is 69.4pc short with a flow of 4,805 cusecs against an allocation of 15,700 under the Water Apportionment Accord 1991. The Guddu barrage canals are presently closed.

On Wednesday, Sukkur barrage’s main Rohri canal had a shortage of 41.6pc, North Western Canal 46.4pc and Nara 33.6pc. Similarly, a 77.7pc shortage was being observed at Kotri barrage’s Akram Wah [controlled by the Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (Sida)], 76.6pc at new Phulelli, 69pc at old Phulelli and 27.5pc at Kalri Baghar feeder. These shortages are likely to worsen when the non-perennial old Phulelli (controlled by Sida) is opened for supply of six-month water.

Missing flows of Guddu

“Interestingly, an engineer of the Punjab irrigation government is present at Guddu barrage these days and will vouch that flows are reaching there,” remarked an irrigation official. He said there was another disturbing trend in the flows.

“Taunsa’s downstream flows were recorded at 47,532 cusecs on May 6 — up by 6,000 cusecs a day earlier on May 5. This is intriguing,” said an official. “Guddu barrage upstream flows always improve four days after Taunsa downstream flows record an upward trend.”

He further said that given this travel time between the two barrages, the rising trend at Taunsa barrage downstream is not being reflected at Guddu barrage upstream since May 8. “It means that the over 13,000 cusecs of flows released downstream Taunsa between May 6 and 11 have gone elsewhere because the downstream has shown a constant increase since May 4 after observing a dip initially,” he maintained.

Meanwhile, according to Sindh Irrigation Secretary Sohail Qureshi, the issue of opening of the link canals dominated a meeting of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Water Resources. “The issue was raised by Sindh Irrigation Minister Jam Khan Shoro on the grounds that when the province did not experience normal flows why the link canals should be allowed to be opened,” he said. The meeting would continue on Thursday (today) as well

‘Dangerous shortage’

Federal Minister for Climate Change Senator Sherry Rehman on Wednesday expressed concern over the water crisis in Sindh. “The 60pc shortage of water in River Indus is very dangerous,” she told the media in Islamabad.

The population of the province, agriculture and livestock are at risk due to the 52pc to 62pc shortage in Sindh’s barrages and canals. “Many cities of the province are not receiving water due to a shortage in the Indus,” Ms Rehman said.

She further said right now, Kotri barrage downstream should have an adequate 15,000 cusecs of water, but instead less than 2,000 cusecs were being released. Due to this severe shortage, farmers were dangerously at a risk of losing their cotton, rice and other crops in Sindh. “Water scarcity in Sindh and south Punjab is worrisome in this warm weather.”

The minister quoted a UN report as saying Pakistan will experience a drought by 2025. According to a 1991 accord, equitable distribution of water was essential. “We have to ensure water conservation and fair distribution among the provinces,” Ms Rehman stressed.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2022

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