Friday May 24, 2024

Worst drought alert launched as water flows hit rock bottom

By Munawar Hasan
April 19, 2022

LAHORE: Water crisis has become increasingly visible in recent months as extremely low flows in near all major rivers and virtually zero storage at main reservoirs have triggered unprecedented drought alert in the country, officials said on Monday.

The shortage of water could surge to 45 percent from Indus River System Authority’s (IRSA) earlier prediction of 28 percent, said a senior official.

"This is something that has never happened like that in the recorded hydrological history of the country," the official said. "Most worryingly, such a grave water availability crisis would be hard to manage."

According to official data, water storage at Tarbela Dam, built on mighty River Indus, has been at dead level since February 22, 2022, or 56 days running. This is the new historic low. Against the average storage of 0.512 million acre feet (MAF) recorded in the last ten years, these days the reservoir is dry as a bone.

Similar is the case with Mangla Dam on Jhelum River, the largest water storage site in the country. Only 0.130 MAF water has been left in the reservoir against average storage of 1.105 MAF, recorded on April 18 in the last 10 years (2012-2021).

Owing to cumulative effect of lowest ever river flows in high-demand early Kharif sowing season, the combined inflows in all four major rivers including Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, and Kabul stood at mere 73,800 cusecs on April 18, 2022 over 140,200 cusecs average inflows registered in the last ten years on corresponding day.

As per breakdown of river inflows, a rounded 10,000 cusecs of water were recorded in Kabul River at Nowshera against average 37,700 cusecs noted on the same day in the last ten years.

Flow at Jhelum River at Mangla was 21,700 cusecs on April 18, 2022 over average 47,100 measured on the same day in the period under review. Similarly, inflow at Chenab River at Marala was just 9,100 cusecs compared to 24,100 on the same day in the same period. Consequently, barrages in Sindh province, where water is direly needed for irrigation, have been facing crippling scarcity. As per official data, Guddu Barrage in upper Sindh received only 35,400 cusecs of water, against the average 48,300 the province used to get on this day during the last ten years. For Sukkur Barrage, only 26,600 cusecs of inflows were recorded on April 18 against last ten year's average of 44,000.

Kotri Barrage being situated at the tail-end of the massive Indus Basin System got only 5,300 cusecs on April 18 against average 18,100 received on the same day since 2012.

Reacting to this extreme shortage of water, authorities in Punjab province formally wrote a warning letter to the Agriculture Department and its own formations, ringing the alarm bells.

Given the gravity of the situation, Punjab has cut water to Upper Province canals by 45 percent to accommodate it in some of the non-perennial watercourses to ensure availability of potable water in the brackish groundwater areas along with sustaining some flows in South Punjab for irrigation as cotton cultivation is currently underway.