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December 29, 2017

Dry weather leads to record water shortage in 2017


December 29, 2017

LAHORE: Pakistan is heading towards an acute water shortage in the current cropping year, which may equate the shortfall observed during the severe drought of 1998-2002.

The anticipated shortfall of 36.4 percent in river water in the current Rabi 2017-18 against average system uses may further soar to 40 percent by end of the season, as per latest official estimates. The cropping year is being described as one of the driest years in the recent history of the country as far as water availability is concerned.

In 2001-02, water shortage was recorded at over 40 percent, making it the most water short year since establishment of Indus River System Authority (IRSA) in 1991.

One of the main reasons of low water availability for irrigation purposes in 2017 has been intentional delay in filling of Tarbela Dam by the authorities, which resulted in inadequate water in the reservoirs for the lean period of Rabi.

Wapda surprisingly kept mum on delayed filling of Tarbela Dam, even though significant volume of water was available for storing in the dam during Kharif 2017. According to Wapda’s own figures, 9.42 million acres feet (MAF) of water was allowed to escape below-Kotri Barrage into the sea during this year.

Water shortage exacerbated in Rabi season due to the fact that authorities intentionally delayed filling of Tarbela Dam to maximum capacity during secondary level of water impounding, said an official.

Later at the advance stage, authorities accelerated filling while ignoring all safety precautions. On August 16, 2017, water in Tarbela Dam reached maximum conservation level, which could have been achieved at least couple of weeks earlier.

The delayed filling of water in Tarbela Dam to maximum level eventually made full storage of Mangla Dam impossible as its water level could only be raised to 1,235 feet above mean sea level against the maximum conservation level of 1,242 feet. Hence, Mangla Dam was short of about 0.5MAF of water against the maximum storage level.

“Had we been able to increase storage of Tarbela Dam to maximum capacity about two weeks earlier, we would have been able to accelerate impounding of water in Mangla by reducing outflows in River Jhelum, while meeting irrigation requirements largely from filled Tarbela reservoir through River Indus,” an official said.

The impending water crisis unfolded in recent months following repeated reviews by the water watchdog since September. In its advisory committee meeting held on September 29, 2017, IRSA while approving the water availability forecast for cropping season Rabi 2017-18, anticipated availability at 20 percent less than the average system uses.

However, during the month of October 2017, the actual river flows were short of the anticipated flows, requiring reviews of the earlier forecast afresh.

An urgent meeting of the IRSA advisory committee was held on November 1, 2017 and the forecast of water availability was pegged at 36 percent short of average system uses in view of the actual river flow trends.

The shortage of water may adversely affect production of Rabi crops including wheat. The trickledown effect of lingering water shortage would also be seen in early Kharif 2018-19 in case of lesser rains in later months coupled with dwindling water flows.

March 2018 is being dubbed as the most challenging month as far as meeting irrigation requirements of the crop are concerned, since water stored in the dams is expected to be fully utilised by the end of February next.

Both Mangla and Tarbela dams have just 1.79MAF of water right now. These reservoirs are likely to touch dead levels in the next couple of months, leaving supplies purely on run-of-the-river basis, which will be quite low as compared to rising demand in spring months.

“We have been able to ensure wheat sowing with the available water in most parts of the country and are optimistic about providing water till the grain formation stage,” said an official. “However, we are not sure about provision of water for the grain development stage as it will be dependent on rain pattern and river inflows in the month of March following exhausting of all stored water.”

As per break up of water scarcity registered in the last ten years, 21.9 percent water shortage was seen in Rabi 2007-08, 33.7 percent in Rabi 2008-09, 29.8 percent in Rabi 2009-10, 11.1 percent in Rabi 2010-11, 9.4 percent in Rabi 2011-12, 17.2 percent in Rabi 2012-13, 14.7 percent in Rabi 2013-14, 3.8 percent in Rabi 2014-15, 13.5 percent in Rabi 2015-16, and 17.2 percent shortage of water against average system uses in Rabi 2016-17.

Climate change, erratic flows and rising temperature have been affecting agriculture sector more often in recent decades.

In 1992, a major flood event hit the agriculture sector, with a few wet years in later periods, while from 1998 severe drought conditions were witnessed till 2002.

This drought is ranked as the worst during the recent history of the country. An extremely devastating flood event was observed in 2010, which was termed a super flood of all time. Later, floods in 2012, 2013 and 2014 have also led to huge losses.

It may be noted that about 93 percent of available water is used in agriculture sector as more than 60 percent of population depends on farming. The contribution of agriculture sector to GDP is recorded at 22 percent, while the share of agriculture produce in exports is as high as 70 percent.

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