Water management is key to a sustainable economy
he World Bank has committed a $200 million loan as a part of its Punjab Resilient and Inclusive Agriculture Transformation Project. The funds will be released between the financial year 2023 and 2027. The project’s primary objective is to increase the productivity of the water management system in the province, which will enable equitable access to water for small and medium-scale farmers. This will be done by introducing climate-smart technologies and systems that will build resilience to extreme weather conditions. The Punjab plays a key role in Pakistan’s economy and accounts for over 70 percent of the country’s food production. The focus on water management is key to a sustainable economy. However, federal policymakers in charge of provincial water allotment and budgeting water management projects must ensure their policies are fair and impartial towards all provinces.
The 2022 floods wreaked havoc in both Sindh and Balochistan and Sindh was the most affected province. The Pakistan Agricultural Research Council documented an economic loss of $1.3 billion in the province due to the destruction of its rice, cotton, tomato, sugarcane and onion crops. Sindh’s agriculture sector contributes 21 to 27.8 percent to Pakistan’s gross domestic product (GDP). To cater to its water requirements, the National Water Accord of 1991 allocated the province 41.55 percent of the water from the Indus Basin Irrigation System. This was when Sindh had a population of 30 million people. The province is now home to 47.9 million people. The water flowing into Sindh is no longer enough to cater to its needs. The federal government must ensure that its policies are not biased against Sindh because of its lower contribution to the GDP, as the province is home to more than 22 million rural residents, most of them dependent on agriculture for survival.
The Sindh agriculture policy, 2018, identified four resource advantages the province has over other parts of the country: 1) good climate; 2) location; 3) soils; and 4) water. Sindh’s soil is alluvial in nature, which means it requires less water because of its high porosity. Although the soil is deficient in key minerals like potash and zinc, the provincial government claims that the soil’s organic content can be considered ‘generally good‘. Despite these advantages, the provinces’ crop yields are well below their potential. The key reason for this is the province’s inefficient water management system.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department recorded that Sindh and Balochistan received 500 percent more rainfall in 2022 compared to their past average. According to the Irrigation Department, the total amount of rainwater on the right and left banks of the River Indus came to around 22 MAF in Sindh, which is four times the capacity of the Tarbela Reservoir. This downpour has now been attributed to climate change. There is evidence that climate change causes warming of the oceans that results in the evaporation of surface water. This moisture-laden air travels over the land and may form storms that result in a heavy downpour of rainfall.
The 2022 floods have made it plain that the impact of climate change on agricultural output is severe. The inadequate water management system in Sindh requires an immediate policy change.
The excessive rainfall resulted in unprecedented floods in the country, which wrecked the irrigation and drainage systems in the Sindh province. The chief minister announced the government’s plan to convene talks with international experts, including those from the World Bank, to discuss a redesign of the provinces’ water management system.
In Sindh, the primary focus of the provincial government is to reconstruct damaged irrigation and drainage systems. The focus must simultaneously be on ensuring that this incorporates climate-smart technology for better water management leading to higher crop yields in the future.
In the last decade alone, the World Bank has committed $325 million to enhance agricultural productivity and improve the irrigation system in Sindh. The credit approved for Sindh’s water management development is financed through the International Development Association (IDA) and has a maturity of 25 years from the date of release. This long-term finance facility allows for the gradual injection of funds. With climate change research being updated frequently, it gives the government sufficient time to allocate funds in the most efficient water management projects.
The 2022 floods have made it apparent that the impact of climate change on agricultural output is severe and that the inadequate water management system in Sindh requires an immediate policy change. Despite the foreign investment, the province still has one of the lowest crop yields per unit of water. It is important to repair damaged irrigation channels. It is equally important to do so in a climate change-aware manner.
The World Bank’s project in the Punjab is tailored for climate change-affected countries and is expected to benefit the province tremendously in the long term. The federal government must ensure that the blueprint for the novel water management projects and techniques being introduced in the Punjab are shared with Sindh’s provincial government as a form of technology transfer. After the recent flooding, it is apparent that Sindh must focus on adopting climate change-sensitive technology as opposed to simply repairing the damaged systems.
The writer is a public policy graduate from the Suleman Dawood School of Business, LUMS and holds an LLB degree from the University of London