• Irsa team visits Sukkur to monitor flows at barrages
• Punjab complains of receiving less than its share since April 16
• Share unfairly being diverted to Punjab, claims Sindh official

HYDERABAD / LAHORE: Acute water shortages coupled with a searing heatwave have sparked grave concerns in South Punjab and Sindh, with tensions building between the two provinces over their share of the nation’s water resources as demand far outstrips supply.

Life has been upturned in the desert areas of Punjab, including Cholistan, Thal and the tribal areas of Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur, where people have been forced to migrate with their cattle to greener pastures and urban centres in their desperate search for water.

A heatwave there in the early days of May saw the mercury shoot up to 50 degrees Celsius in desert areas,compared to an average of 44 degrees Celsius over the past decade. In other regions, temperatures rose to 48 degrees Celsius compared to past records of 40 degrees Celsius in the same period.

Unlike in the past, Cholistan also received no rainfall in the months of March, April and May, leading to the eventual drying up of rainwater ponds. The death of more than four dozen sheep due to dehydration amid the unnaturally hot weather eventually jolted the Punjab administration into action, with Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz ordering the immediate provision of water through bowsers, as well as medicines and fodder for livestock through 11 base camps set up for this purpose.

Punjab’s irrigation authorities blamed the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) for worsening the crisis by apportioning the province 0.4 million acre feet (MAF) less water than its share, compared to what they believe is 0.6MAF supplied to Sindh in excess of its share since April 16th.

An official claimed that Punjab had been receiving up to 26 percent less water than its due share between the April 16 and May 11 period. They alleged that Sindh had instead been receiving up to 77pc more than its share during the same period.However, an official from Sindh had the exact opposite to say, claiming that Sindh’s share is in fact being unfairly diverted for Punjab’s use.

Prof Mushtaq Gadhi of the Seraiki Lok Sanjh said the situation in South Punjab has arisen due to failure to construct the Trimmu-Islam Link Canal, which was supposed to have been built by March 31, 1968 under Annexure H of the Indus Water Treaty.With a designed capacity of 20,000 cusecs, the canal was meant to mitigate the loss of Sutlej’s waters in the Cholistan-Bahawalpur region and could also have been used to feed artificial lakes in the Sutlej River valley to replenish the fast-depleting underground water resources there.

Watershortages in Sindh

There is anger in Sindh over its due share of water not being provided to it.

The Irsa chairman, accompanied by the Balochistan and Punjab members of the authority, some members of the National Assembly’s Standing Commi­ttee on Water Resources, Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) representatives as well as Sindh irrigation officials, reached Sukkur on Friday evening to monitor water flows at the Sukkur and Guddu barrages.

The delegation had traveled to Sukkur after the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Water Resources met under Nawaz Yusuf Talpur on Wednesday and Thursday in Islamabad.The committee had witnessed heated debate overthe two days over water shortages in Sindh, with Sindh Irrigation Minister Jam Khan Shoro pressing for equitable distribution of water. He opposed the three-tier formula that has been the basis for inter-provincial water distribution as it places Sindh ­— the lower riparian in the Indus River system — at great disadvantage.

“Will water supply not be ensured to us if the majority in Irsa decides against it?” the minister was quoted as having asked the meeting. “Sindh only wants its share. Distribution and shortage be managed as per the Accord,” he asserted.

Friday also brought with it a ray of hope. The Guddu Barrage recorded a rise of 7,575 cusecs in water flows on Friday morning. It had reported a flow of 36,800 cusecs on May 12 at 6am, which improved to 44,375 cusecs on May 13.

The water was late in arriving, however — a matter that had perplexed both Irsa and Sindh irrigation officials. Flows at the downstream [U1] Taunsa Barrage had already reported a constant rising trend since May 6, but that improvement had not been reflected in the measurements taken upstream at Guddu, giving rise to various questions over the delay.

“It appears that since these are fresh water flows from Tarbella, they took time to develop a path in the riverbed and are now reaching gradually,” offered an irrigation officer by way of explanation. He said that their delayed arrival had justifiably worried everyone and hoped they would improve further.

One official visiting Sindh for the water flow monitoring exercise said: “We will be monitoring each and every canal’s flows at the Sukkur and Guddu barrage in these two days because the deficit of flows between Taunsa and Guddu remains mind-boggling for us. We are optimistic that flows will show a rising trend.”

A Sukkur Barrage official, however, remained worried about shortages in the days to come.

“Flows have indeed improved at Guddu, but demand for water will keep increasing. Water is to be provided to the non-perennial Dadu and Rice canals, which are exclusively rice cultivation channels, and Balochistan’s share is to be ensured too.”

‘Stop diverting Sindh’s water’

The Sindh Irrigation Department’s director of regulations has written to the Irsa chairman, seeking an end to the transfer of water from the Indus River system to the Jhelum-Chenab system, which has serious consequences for Sindh. The letter, sent on Thursday, referred to a May 7 communication in which the province had requested Irsa to fulfil the indent of the province at once instead of storing water in dams at this critical time.

“However, it is noted regretfully that Sindh’s indent has not been met by Irsa and as a consequence Sindh is facing about 61pc shortages of water at its [three] barrages. In most channels, even water for drinking is not available,” the letter said. The director stated that due to acute shortage of water, there was an uproar in the farming community.

Instead of fulfilling Sindh’s share, Irsa was storing water in the Chashma and Tarbela reservoirs on the one hand, and on the other transferring water from the Indus River system to the Jhelum-Chenab system through C-J and Taunsa-Panjnad link canals, he believed.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2022

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