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May 17, 2018

Running out of water


May 17, 2018

Pakistan is facing a severe water shortage, said to be at 37 percent of the requirements of Sindh and Punjab. Both agricultural output and drinking water supplies are under serious threat. The minutes from a meeting of the Senate Committee on Water Scarcity make for worrying reading. Tarbela Dam and Mangla Dam have hit dead level. The Chashma barrage is almost at dead level. The flow from Taunsa barrage is at 3,000 cusecs, instead of the regular 17,500 cusecs. Canals are operating at low levels. Each province is facing a severe shortage, as only 121500 cusecs are being released into the system. Punjab is getting 67500 cusecs with a 37 percent shortage, Sindh is getting 45000 cusecs with a 37pc shortage, while Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are getting 5900 cusecs and 3100 cusecs each. This has created a situation where provinces are blaming each other for the shortages once again – despite claims from IRSA officials to the contrary. Balochistan has filed a formal complaint against Sindh for allegedly stealing its water. Sindh’s political representatives, however, are claiming dams that are being filled, instead of supplying water to the region. With no rain on the horizon for two months – if the Met Department’s predictions are correct – it is clear that the country needs emergency water supplies. But water cannot be inserted into the system magically.

If the deviations in rain patterns due to climate change move the monsoons to August as predicted, the country will be facing a 50-55 percent water shortage by the start of July. This will create a drought situation in regions that fall in the farthest ends of the water distribution network. There are major problems in the existing water storage system, with over 30 percent of the capacity of dams and barrages reduced due to siltation. This is in addition to the large amount of water that flows into the sea due to the absence of storage capacity. The crisis is also affecting urban areas, with Islamabad facing a 50 percent water shortage. Not only does the country face a drought like situation, this could also lead to severe food and cash crop shortages come harvest season. The sugar cane, cotton and chilli crops will be severely affected – which will obviously have consequences on the sugar mill and textile industries. The reality is that there are few short-terms solutions available in the current situation. Twice, Punjab has given part of its water share to Sindh, but it now says it cannot do so anymore. Chances remain that this might produce inter-provincial conflict once again at a time when the water system itself does not have enough water for everyone’s needs. With Pakistan already predicted to be water deficit by 2025, this is the time for all the provincial governments to sit down with the federal government to chalk out a joint plan for solving the country’s water scarcity issues in both the short and long terms.

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