ISLAMABAD: With acute water constraints continuing during the ongoing Kharif season despite heavy downpour this week, the country may be heading towards a drought-like situation in the coming Rabi season because of the lowest-ever water storage in the country’s two major reservoirs — Tarbela and Mangla.
While the country’s water regulator — the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) — feared a water crisis spilling over to the next season with greater food security consequences, a meeting of federal and provincial ministers on Tuesday assured Balochistan of more water flows from Sindh in four to five days.
They, however, expressed their inability to be of much help unless river flows upstream of Guddu and Sukkur barrages go higher than 200,000 and 150,000 cubic feet per second (cusecs) compared to 72,000 and 59,000 cusecs at present.
Sources said river flows in the Indus at Tarbela were better than those between June 1 and June 20 and comparable with previous years, but flows in Jhelum, Chenab and Kabul were still historically low, according to data available with Irsa for more than 100 years.
Likewise, storage in Tarbela and Mangla on June 21 was also the lowest ever, they said.
Overall, irrigation shortage had been running at 58 per cent this season. It dropped to about 28pc in the recent couple of days but not of the scale that allows Irsa to return to normal irrigation allocation to the provinces because of no shortage.
The rains positively impacted fields but not river flows or the catchment areas of dams. Officials said most of the heavy rains reported in the country’s plains and Balochistan and those in areas like Koh-i-Sulaiman in Balochistan, Karachi and Lahore were not helpful for irrigation in the canal command areas.
Unfortunately, though, the rains have come with a surprise snowfall as well in the catchments of both Mangla and Tarbela dams and a drop in temperatures has negatively impacted snow melting.
“This snowfall reported in areas at higher elevations of Chitral, Skardu and Babusar Pass at this time of the year (mid-June) is unprecedented. Temperatures at Skardu are hovering at 12-17 degrees Celsius” against over 26 degrees necessary to help snow melting, a senior official said.
This is leading the country towards a drought-like situation in Rabi, and unless temperatures rise in higher elevations — such as Skardu — within 48 to 72 hours, the overall water shortage, even during the current Kharif season, could be around 50pc.
“If dams are not filled in Kharif during monsoon, there would be a precarious situation in Rabi because of higher shortages,” the official said, adding that Irsa’s analysis appeared to tilt towards drought conditions in Rabi.
Meanwhile, Water Resources minister Syed Khursheed Ahmad Shah and Economic Affairs Minister Ayaz Sadiq held a meeting with the representatives of Sindh and Balochistan to address the latter’s complaints against the former for releasing lower than allocated water share.
The joint secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources informed the meeting about the outcome of the site visit of the Sukkur barrage conducted on June 18 and reported that Sindh had promised to try to increase Pat Feeder Canal flows by about 3,700 cusecs in three to four days, but expressed its inability to increase in other canals.
Sindh, however, expressed its inability to provide water in Uch and Manuthi canals and release no more than 650 cusecs in the Kirthar canal until flows upstream Guddu and Sukkur cross 200,000 and 150,000 cusecs, respectively.
Considering the limitations conveyed by the irrigation department, it was decided that short-, medium- and long-term measures would be put in place to address the issue of short supplies of water from Sindh to Balochistan.
Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2022