For water management, ‘too many good-for-nothing managers’
Karachi The efficiency of water management in Pakistan can be gauged from the fact that thousands of people have to be displaced from their homes in the upper districts of Sindh for the Indus Delta to receive enough flow to make potable water available for at least a couple of
The efficiency of water management in Pakistan can be gauged from the fact that thousands of people have to be displaced from their homes in the upper districts of Sindh for the Indus Delta to receive enough flow to make potable water available for at least a couple of months.
There are no legal provisions in the country for permanent transfer of water from one canal head to the other, which means that some areas continuously receive more water, while others continuously receive less – even though there are four regulatory bodies managing the river and canal network in the country with too many laws for effective management.
“On one hand there is no national policy for regulating water in the country while on the other there are too many institutions managing water and too many laws for effective governance,” said Khalid Mohtadullah, a senior adviser to the Global Water Partnership of the United Nations Development Programme and a former official of the Water and Power Regulatory Authority (Wapda).
This means that good management of three major water reservoirs of the country, 19 barrages, 43 main canals covering a distance of 57,000 kilometres, and 89,000 water courses with a running length of more than 1.65 million kilometres in the Indus Basin Irrigation System is compromised on several levels.
With Wapda looking after major dams including Tarbela and Mangla and the subsequent production of hydroelectric power, the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) and the Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (SIDA) also manage the flow of water along with the irrigation departments of all provinces.
With the IRSA managing the flow of water through barrages all over the country, the SIDA is supposed to look after the flow of water in parts of the canal network in Sindh.
Mohtadullah said these independent bodies and their overlapping functions made water regulation inexplicably difficult because Wapda was expected to be the custodian of the water of the basin, but in reality this had never happened because of the similar responsibilities of these water institutions in the country.
Then there was the Indus Water Treaty, he said, which was a tricky strait to swim. He said though the treaty had withstood the test of time and resolved the dispute between two warring neighbours over the flow of rivers, it was silent on quite a few important subjects and renegotiating the accord would be harmful to Pakistan’s interests.
Mohtadullah said the Indus Water Treaty was silent on the subsequent course of action if there was an overall decrease in water flow in the system on account of climate change, pollution or deforestation. He added that there were also no provisions with regards to the mutual or exclusive management of watersheds of eastern rivers and groundwater in both India and Pakistan.
“Pakistan is a water-based economy,” said Mohtadullah. “Climate change and other factors will directly impact the water flows of the country which need to be regulated under a cohesive water policy.”
The dying Indus Delta is perhaps the most poignant example of the bad governance of water resources of the country.
As northern districts of Sindh flood year after year, at least 12 percent of agricultural land across the length of Indus Delta has been devoured by the Arabian Sea because the basin does not have enough flow of river water to sustain it, according to a study by the Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO).
Though the inter-provincial water accord of 1991 calls for releasing at least 10 million acre-feet of water downstream Kotri Barrage, but it seldom happens.
A combination of the lack of adequate water flow in the Indus Delta and rising sea levels on account of climate change has resulted in the disappearance of at least 12 percent of the cultivable area along the coast of Sindh, states the SPO study.
Only in the past two decades, salinity levels on the coast of Sindh have increased from 35ppt to 45ppt, making it unfit for agriculture.
The study gives a conservative estimate of around 400,000 families of coastal communities which have been affected due to the shortage of potable water, fodder and crops, thus causing large-scale migration to other cities of Sindh, mostly to Karachi, and straining the provincial capital's resources.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature calls for a minimum flow at the Indus Delta to be around 8.8 trillion gallons but its estimates reveal that for the past two decades water the flow has not been more than 3.3 million gallons, with 2010 being the only exception on account of the “super flood”.
For the revival of the Indus Basin, Simi Kamal, the founding chairperson of the Hisaar Foundation, suggested learning lessons from the management of the Murray Darling Basin in Australia.
In her opinion, leveraging the economic benefits of the water infrastructure to all groups was crucial. She said with time the environmental conditions had changed but the methods of agriculture in the deltaic area had stayed the same.
Kamal said both external and internal pressures needed to be leveraged into economic benefits for all the stakeholders involved with a focus on conserving the Indus Basin. However, she pointed out, this process would take at least a few decades of coordinated and unhindered work.