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June 8, 2021

Punjab govt attributes water scarcity to reservoirs’ silting

LAHORE: The country has been in the grip of water scarcity mainly due to silting up of major reservoirs, a provincial minister said, agreeing with the decision of appointing independent inspectors for monitoring nationwide water distribution to maintain transparency.

Irrigation Minister Punjab Mohsin Leghari told The News water availability should be increased through constructing storages wherever deemed technically feasible.

Leghari said carryover stored water was 1.50 million acres feet (MAF) on March 31 against the last year's corresponding level of 5.38 MAF. This feeble storage was reduced to a critical level of just about 0.8 MAF on May 12, sparking an unfortunate row over water distribution among the province.

The water storage capacity of Tarbela dam on the Indus River has gone down to 5.98 MAF from original 9.68 MAF. According to an estimate, sedimentation is set to bring it down further to 4.20 MAF by 2025 with a loss in the storage capacity of about half.

Punjab has been on the receiving end as far as levelling allegations over water theft. “We always tried our best to share accurate data to provinces and Indus River System Authority (IRSA),” he said in an interview with The News. Teams from Sindh Irrigation Department and IRSA visited several barrages in the province and they found water distribution as per share of the province. All these exercises have been documented.

The minister said Sindh even failed to provide daily flows of the Indus River at Guddu Barrage during May. IRSA, in writing recently, asked Sindh to provide data of 10 days that had been missing from the reported gauges of May, he said.

Despite highlighting discrepancies in water sharing data, the minister asked IRSA management and representatives of all provinces, especially leadership of Sindh, to address the root cause of water differences among the federating units.

“Almost all water woes stem from low water availability particularly on the largest Indus River. Only water can be stored at Tarbela dam on the Indus River and its water holding capacity has been dwindling day by day,” said Leghari who is from South Punjab. Leghari has been member of the Punjab Assembly thrice since 2003 in addition to serving Senate of Pakistan during tenure of 2012-18.

One can imagine how difficult it would be for the provinces to manage burgeoning requirements by 2025 with a meager water conservation level. The under construction Diamer Bhasha dam will not be sufficient to deal with the emerging potentially catastrophic water supply situation, according to the irrigation minister.

“Construction of Diamer Bhasha dam would take around 10 years to complete and even after its completion, the combined water storage capacity would be far less than original around 16.20 MAF capacity achieved back in 1976,” he said. “With almost doubling of population from the levels of 1976, it would be hard for us to meet water needs of all Pakistanis by then.”