Water ‘most dear’ as heatwave sets in from today

Published May 21, 2024
goats graze on the dry bed of Indus river downstream Kotri, on Monday.—Photo by Umair Ali
goats graze on the dry bed of Indus river downstream Kotri, on Monday.—Photo by Umair Ali

• Groundwater recharge dams in Sindh’s most arid areas have already run dry
• Urban areas facing shortages due to prolonged loadshedding
• Improved flows in Indus yet to reach Sindh

HYDERABAD: With temperatures already in the high 40s, the availability of water is bound to be the main issue facing some of Sindh’s most vulnerable areas once the heatwave predicted to start from today (Tuesday) sets in.

Prolonged loadshedding has already made life hell for those in urban areas, with frequent and unannounced power cuts leading to shortage of water in areas served by the Sukkur and Hyderabad power utilities.

“We have asked the divisional commissioners of Hyderabad and Sukkur to liaise with Hesco and Sepco in this regard to make sure that load- shedding is avoided”, Sindh Chief Secretary Asif Hyder Shah told Dawn.

However, the Water and Sanitation Authority (Wasa) blames the distribution companies and loadshedding for their inability to ensure potable water supplies for the residents of Hyderabad, which requires around 130 million gallons per day during peak summer.

“We are able to provide 70-75 million gallons per day, the rest is raw or settled water supplies”, a Wasa official told Dawn, saying that Hesco was turning a deaf ear to their requests.

Barring cities like Karachi and Hyderabad, most other areas in the province perhaps don’t have large filtration plants that supply drinking water to people.

“Extreme weather conditions force civic bodies to press the panic button,” says Ghulam Murtaza Arain of Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR).

He told Dawn that heatwave conditions increase the evapotranspiration of water, which provides a conducive environment for bacterial growth anywhere.

“Civic agencies end up supplying untreated water to meet the increased demand for potable water… but if we avoid chlorination and treatment, it will cause fecal contamination and cases of water-borne diseases could skyrocket,” he says.

PCRWR Chairman Ashraf Mohammad told Dawn that during heatwaves, evaporation from surface water in dams and canals increases, compromising the total availability of water.

“Moisture in the soil starts depleting at a fast pace and crops require back-to-back cycles of irrigation, which become impossible”, he remarked.

This is likely to compromise the availability of irrigation water for the agricultural sector, and increase groundwater abstraction from wells in the arid regions of Nagarparkar in Tharparkar, Kachho in Dadu and Kohistan in Jamshoro, where re-charge dams have already been depleted.

Recharge dams have been built in large numbers to reinforce groundwater aquifers in especially arid areas, but even though around 52 such dams are currently functional, the water stored there has already been absorbed. In Kohistan and Kaccho, currently 7,323 acre feet of water is available in six dams, which have a cumulative capacity of 37,658 acre ft. In the Nagarparkar area, eight dams now have a storage of water that is sufficient for 20 days to 90 days.

“In Thar’s context, re-charge dams benefit human and livestock population alike”, says Ali Akbar, a development sector worker from Chhachhro. “Since the aquifer is not being recharged, severe heat increases salt concentration in groundwater wells, besides bringing shallow groundwater under severe stress”, he says.

The Indus River System Authority has recently predicted that the Indus will have adequate water flows downstream of Tarbela.

This means that water availability may improve for Sindh, but still a shortage of around 34pc was reported from Sindh’s three barrages until May 18.

Improved water flows bode well for the agriculture sector, provided better management is done. Currently, the Guddu barrage has the highest water shortage of 44pc, followed by Kotri’s 43pc on May 18 as the improved flows released downstream from Tarbela have yet to reach Sindh.

Former Pakistan Agricultural Research Council chairman Yusuf Zafar points out that the heat-wave might undermine the early-sown cotton crop in Sindh. PCRWR’s Mr Ashraf said the heat could affect the sugarcane crop as well.

Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) President Mahmood Nawaz Shah was of the view that dry spell would primarily affect vegetable production, especially that of onions.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2024

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