Water sharing for Kharif crops – By Zulfiqar Halepoto
After securing a historic unanimous vote of trust from the National Assembly, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said the country is now beset with crises, on the top of the list being the crises of electricity and water.
The scarcity of water; construction of small and carryover dams, equitable water sharing, quality of the water discharged to Sindh from upstream, efficient water management at the provincial level, brick-lining of irrigation channels, alternative energy resources and acute shortages of electricity are enormous challenges for the new government to tackle.
Of these, the one related to water is caused by exponential increase in population which has risen from about 20 million to 145 million since the construction of the Mangla dam and is estimated to go up to 280 million by 2025.
Pakistanï¿½s economy relies on agriculture, which contributes nearly 21 per cent of the GDP and employs 44 per cent of the workforce. It is a major source of raw material to the industry and also of foreign exchange.
Water shortage affects agriculture in a way that not only food security is threatened — especially in arid and semi-arid areas where irrigation is the main source of water– but also employment and industry.
The Musharraf government had unilaterally initiated various visions and plans to address water sector development, including the Ten -Year Perspective Plan (Planning Commission, 2001), Vision 2025 (Water and Power Development Authority, 2001), the National Water Policy (Ministry of Water and Power, Draft, 2002) and the Pakistan Water Sector Strategy Study. But the small provinces were not taken into confidence on the water sector development strategy. All feasibility reports and strategies have supported the construction of large dams including the controversial Kalabagh dam.
In August 2002, General Pervez Musharraf addressed technocrats, water experts, writers and intellectuals of Sindh to convince them to get agreed on the construction of KBD.
At that time, he had formed a technical committee (and political committee) on water resources under the chairmanship of Mr A.N.G Abbasi to establish a consensus to resolve water dispute and dams controversy among the provinces.
Abbasi had clearly highlighted the significance of an integrated approach to conserve water resources and manage it at both national and provincial levels without going for major water reservoirs or dams.
The report noticeably stressed the need for legal and constitutional safeguarding of equity and rights of the provinces. His report criticised link canal operational criteria, the criterion of filling Mangla dam and total water availability in the system. Mr Abbasi has given a viable formula for equitable sharing of available water and emphasised on the functional role of the Indus River System Authority (IRSA).
Mr Gilani’s announcement was made at the time when the provinces had locked horns over the unresolved water sharing mechanism, each coming up with its own water availability figures for the Kharif season.
The federating units particularly Punjab and Sindh plan to demand water distribution in accordance with their suitable options with IRSA and table their own calculations to sort out a way for the Kharif season starting from April 1, 2008.
There is an acute shortage of water in Sindh for early Kharif crops and on the other hand Punjab is filling the Mangla dam for its next Rabi. Rabi season concluded on March 31 with low price of wheat crop in Sindh and with no subsidy and the Advisory Committee of IRSA failed to finalise the Kharif 2008 Water Distribution Plan.
The total needs of all the provinces in Kharif season stands at 71 MAF. The Punjab province wants that the water be shared under 1977-82 ten dallies (historic uses) in case of shortage and under para 2 of the accord, if there is no scarcity.
The Sindh province will require 80-90 per cent of total water availability in April because the Kharif sowing period in Sindh starts much before Punjab, and this also creates problem in water distribution.
Punjab always takes advantage of the Water Apportionment Accord 1991 with the 1994 inter-ministerial ad hoc decision that provided water distribution in two different ways– when the country suffers shortage or when it has the commodity in surplus.
Punjab and Sindh often come up with different contentions on the water availability figures and thus arises the question of implementing the para 2, 4 of 1991 accord or distribution under 1977-82 historic uses basis. The fulfilment of the legal and constitutional demands of Sindh strictly under the 1991 accord is a great challenge for 100- day plan of the coalition government’s package.
Now it is a great test for the new regime to settle the water scarcity issue.
The writer is secretary of the Sindh Democratic Forum, a civil society think-tank.
Courtesy: daily Dawn