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May 25, 2021

Water shortage soars to over 17pc: Sindh, Punjab lock horns over water losses

ISLAMABAD: Sindh and Punjab had a heated debate over non-implementation of para-2 of 1991 of the Water Apportionment Accord and huge water losses between Taunsa and Kotri in the NA Standing Committee on Water, presided over by Nawab Mohammad Yousuf Talpur, on Monday. However, the meeting recommended to IRSA to implement Para-2 of the Water Accord as demanded by Sindh. IRSA also asked to send its inspectors to assess if misreporting was being done by the Sindh Irrigation department. The NA committee also asked the water regulator to provide full share to Sindh and Balochistan.

The IRSA chairman, Rao Irshad Ali Khan, who is also member Punjab, told the participants that IRSA had anticipated 10 percent shortages from April 1 to May 20, whereas 20 percent shortages occurred in real terms. IRSA, he said, has now revised its projections upward and expects 17 percent shortages from now onward up to June 10, keeping in view the dwindling water flows in all rivers.

The IRSA chairman also told the committee that water flows as of today (May 24, 2021) stood at 186,600 cusecs, which is 12.62 percent less than water flows of 214,000 cusecs of the corresponding period last year. However, if compared with the average water flows which stood at 249,000 cusecs per day, the existing flows have dropped by 24.9 percent, the IRSA chairman said.

Accusing Sindh of causing acute shortages in Balochistan, IRSA Chairman Rao Irshad Ali Khan said that Balochistan was being provided with 58 percent reduced water supply by Sindh. He charged that Sindh was also provided the water share of Balochistan, but Sindh forfeits the share of the neighbouring province.

About the water losses in the Taunsa-Kotri reach of 400 kms, he said during 1977-1999, water losses on the Indus stood at 11 percent but they increased to 21 percent from 2000 till 2020. On an average, the water losses on Indus from 2000-2020 have increased to 37 percent.

The IRSA chairman referred to an inspection of Indus in 2019 by the IRSA chairman and Member Sindh that confirmed misreporting of 15-20 percent losses by the Sindh Irrigation department.

Responding to the charges, the Sindh Member in IRSA, Zahid Hussain Junejo, denied any knowledge of any such inspection and the existence of any report. Junejo said that a huge water shortage is passed to Sindh making it unable to provide Balochistan its full share. He also severely objected to opening of the Chashma-Jhelum (CJ) and Taunsa-Punjab (TP) link canals by Punjab without intimation to the Sindh government, arguing that CJ and TP canal can only be opened after Sindh is first provided its full share but accused Punjab of opening these canals in violation of the water accord.

A MNA from Balochistan objected as to how a low-riparian federating unit like Sindh can commit water theft. He said only the upper riparian federating unit like Punjab can do this because of its location. He asked Punjab and IRSA to give full share of water to Sindh and Balochistan in accordance with the water accord.

The Sindh Member also severely objected to lack of implementation of para-2 of Water Apportionment Accord, saying that IRSA’s figures of water distribution and shortages are unconstitutional.

Citing the critical importance of providing escapages of 5,000 cusecs water below Kotri as imperative to avoid sea intrusion, the Sindh Member IRSA charged that even that is being denied to the province. Only 450 cusecs water is being released below Kotri, which does not reach sea as that is used to cater to the drinking needs of Kotri, Hyderabad, Latifabad and Hussainabad.

Disputing the Sindh stance, the representatives of Punjab government said IRSA has allocated 30 percent losses in the 400 kilometers reach of Taunsa and Kotri but the Sindh government was inflating them to 39 percent highlighting increasing water theft. It said if the losses are controlled, then country can come out of the water crisis. They also charged that in the Taunsa-Kotri reach about 1.2 MAF water is wasted and questioned the water loss, saying the amount of water is almost double of the combined storage of 0.742 MAF of both Tarbela and Mangla reservoirs at present.

The Punjab Irrigation department officials also asked for shutting down the water releases to Sindh from Mangla, fearing if that is not done, the reservoir will be not filled during the Kharif and Punjab will be deprived of water from Mangla reservoir even for Rabi crops, inflicting huge damage to the Punjab, which is the country’s food basket.

They also charged that for the Chashma-Taunsa reach, Punjab has reported gains of 2pc against the anticipated losses of 30pc, which shows the kind of misreporting being undertaken by the Sindh irrigation department. They said that ISRA should appoint its inspectors to monitor the water flows at all barrages on Indus to pinpoint the water theft. They also offered IRSA to send its team to monitor water flows on barrages in Punjab.

They said if the water losses are plugged on Indus, then the country will have no water shortages. Punjab also objected to releasing water below Kotri by the Sindh irrigation department saying at a time when the country is facing water shortages and has no water for irrigation, Sindh is releasing water below Kotri.