IRSA Forecasts Up to 30% Water Shortage in Kharif Season, Threatening Major Crops

The Indus River Authority (IRSA) has issued a warning that Pakistan could face a water shortage of up to 30% in the upcoming Kharif season. This alarming situation is attributed to the failure of the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) to address constraints related to the Tarbela and Mangla Dams.

The IRSA Advisory Committee (IAC) anticipates that the 30% water shortage in the early Kharif season will be reduced to 7% later on. However, the situation may worsen in the early Kharif season, potentially affecting cotton and rice seedlings in Sindh. This development comes after a session presided over by IRSA Chairman Abdul Hameed Mengal, attended by IRSA’s five members, secretaries of provincial irrigation departments of the four provinces, and other officials.

An official from the provincial Irrigation Department highlighted that from April 1 to June 10, during the early Kharif season, there will be no water available for below Kotri water releases. These releases are essential to prevent sea intrusion into Sindh’s agricultural land. The official further noted that around 3.5 million acres of agricultural land in Sindh has already been eroded since 1956 due to sea intrusion, caused by the non-availability of below Kotri water releases.

During a recent meeting, Sindh voiced its opposition to the water distribution under the three-tier formula and called for the implementation of the Water Accord 1991 and its para-2 for 4-5 MAF (million acres feet) water. However, IRSA maintained that the issue was pending with the Council of Common Interests (CCI), and therefore the three-tier formula is currently being used for water distribution between the provinces.

It is important to note that the country is likely to have 99.41 MAF of water during the whole Kharif season. However, the country will have 23.55 MAF in early Kharif and 75.85 MAF in late Kharif from June 11 to the end of September. In canals, Punjab will have 31.13 MAF of water, Sindh 28.81 MAF, followed by Balochistan with its share of 2.85 MAF, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is to have 0.28 MAF in its canals.

Both Sindh and Punjab have blamed each other for maximum water losses in their respective territories, with the former stressing the water losses to be around 40%, whereas the latter said the losses would be 20%. Nevertheless, the IAC decided that system losses should be considered at 20% until the joint discharge measurement, after which the issue will be decided accordingly.

Despite Punjab’s opposition, the forum unanimously agreed on constituting a committee comprising Member IRSA (Punjab) & Member IRSA (Sindh), along with nominated chief engineers from the Power Irrigation Department (PID) Punjab and PID Sindh. This committee will physically review and monitor the sites of both the dams and prepare a report for the resolution of the operational constraints.

Furthermore, it was agreed that Punjab and Sindh would activate their respective Discharge Observation Cells (DOCs) for data reporting at different locations. Punjab SDOs will be stationed at Guddu, Sukkur & Kotri Barrages in Sindh, while Sindh SDOs will monitor the discharges at Jinnah H/W, Chashma Barrage, Taunsa H/W & Panjnad H/W in Punjab.

This water shortage warning has raised concerns among farmers and policymakers alike. The potential impact on major cash crops could have far-reaching implications for Pakistan’s agricultural sector and food security. As the country grapples with this challenge, the decisions made by IRSA, Wapda, and the provincial governments will be crucial in determining the future of water management in Pakistan.

The situation calls for urgent measures to address the constraints of the Tarbela and Mangla Dams and to ensure equitable water distribution among the provinces. The activation of the DOCs is a positive step towards this goal, providing a mechanism for transparent and accurate reporting of water discharges. However, much more needs to be done to prevent a water crisis that could have devastating effects on Pakistan’s agriculture and economy.

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