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Pakistan needs proper water management, scientists say
Dam construction, water resource development, proper irrigation system can help
By Amna Nasir Jamal
LAHORE – More dams could have eased Pakistan’s July flood levels – and made more water available for irrigation, say Pakistani scientists.
“If today more dams were available, all the floodwater could have been restored and ultimately used for irrigation,” Dr. Sarmar Mubarakmand, former chairman of Pakistan’s National Engineering and Scientific Commission, told Central Asia Online.
“It is estimated that Pakistan loses potential revenues of around Rs 240 billion (US $2.8 billion) since it cannot store 40m acre-feet (MAF) of flood water, as it simply flows into the sea,” he said.
Water scarcity is a long-standing problem for agriculture, which contributes about 21% of the country’s GDP. A single MAF of water can generate Rs 6 billion (US $70m) in revenue, according to Federal Flood Commission (FFC) estimates.
Representatives of all provinces, Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan attended governmental pre-flood season meetings in June and July, and were told to expect 10% more rain this monsoon season, FFC Chairman Zarar Aslam told Central Asia Online.
Monsoons in 2010 exceeded forecast
According to NASA satellite data, several of the July 2010 rain storms were twice as large as the largest rain storm in 2009. The Pakistan Meteorological Department reported that in one 24-hour period in Peshawar, 274 mm (10.7 inches) of rain fell, compared to a maximum of 187 mm (7.36 inches) for any period in 2009.
“It is up to the provincial governments to ensure appropriate arrangements for dealing with extraordinary floods,” he said, lamenting that provincial governmental plans “weren’t up to the mark.”
Pakistan’s rivers carry 142 MAF of water yearly, with 104 MAF diverted to canals and the remainder lost. The country depends on six major water projects – Gomal Zam Dam, Mirani Dam, Mangla Dam, Spartha Dam, Guddu Barrage and Sehwan Barrage – to harness its waters.
The 1929 flood (951 feet above sea level) served as a marker for this year’s devastation. But that level was broken this year when waters crested at 961 feet.
The lack of storage capacity on the Indus resulted in flooding and devastation. Things would have been even worse if the Tarbela Dam hadn’t stored 233,000 cusecs of water July 30, Aslam said.
Federal Minister for Environment Hameed Ullah Jan Afridi underlined the need for proper management of water, especially for irrigation, and praised the efforts of Rawalpindi’s University of Arid Agriculture to pursue water management projects in different areas.
He also appreciated support by the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, for the On Farm Water Management (OFWM) programme – a project to reduce colossal water loss. “Experts are providing training facilities for the staff of (OFWM) and the agricultural extension service and are finding solutions to problems faced in water management,” he said.
Dr. Khalid Riaz, Foreign Professor HEC (Higher Education Commission) who is experienced in natural resource management and economics, highlighted that the water shortage in agriculture, as well as the overuse of underground aquifers, poses a serious environmental threat.
“There is a strong need to establish an authority with special focus on water management in Pakistan as there is no specialised department working in this direction,” he said.
“Water issues are not just shared at the trans-boundary level, but it is also a point of concern among the provinces of Pakistan,” he said. “Pakistan's water resources are rich in biodiversity but need to be taken under careful consideration, and international instruments must be implemented in their real spirit.”
World Bank warns Pakistan is becoming "water-scarce"
“The availability and development of water resources in Pakistan are gradually turning into a crisis … that needs to be resolved immediately,” Dr. Shoaib Ahmad, a social scientist and visiting faculty member at the Department of Government and Public Policy in the International Institute of Islamic Economics, Islamabad, told Central Asia Online.
The country doesn’t harness its water well, he said. “After all losses, there are only 70 MAF of water available after a total of 51% losses,” he said.
Challenges to water management are numerous: chronic water shortages; low productivity of those using land and water; increasing competition among agriculture, households and industry; environmental woes; aging and underperforming infrastructure; increased maintenance costs; low cost recovery; sedimentation of reservoirs; and droughts.
The country is transitioning unhappily from being “water-stressed” to “water-scarce,” the World Bank warned in 2006. Political opposition to storage projects is another problem, Shoiab said.
“There is immense need for a political consensus … to ensure the country’s water security,” he said.
Citizens can help at the individual level by conserving water, he said. “In 1951, per capita available water was 5,300 cu m, which has now been reduced to 1,000 cu m,” he said.
“Wasteful farming techniques, leakages in the irrigation network, climate change and the over-exploitation or pollution of natural aquifers and other water bodies also rank among major culprits,” said coastal ecosystem scientist Muhammad Tahir Quryshi of the July floods.
“At the same time, little attention has been paid to rain harvesting and the storage of seasonal flood waters,” he lamented. Provincial squabbling complicates water management. The Punjab government claims that the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) has bowed to pressure from Sindh and has reduced water deliveries to Punjab canals. Scarcity could curtail production, Punjab officials have warned.
But, IRSA has refused to supply additional water to Punjab from the Indus zone, stating that Punjab has already received its share from the Indus zone and will have to acquire additional water from the Mangla zone.
On the contrary, Sindh is demanding implementation of the 1991 Inter-Provincial River Water Accord and immediate closure of Chashma-Jhelum link canal so that flow of access water to Punjab could be restricted.
“Future conflicts are rooted in disputes over water,” Tahir said. “Within nations, downstream users may accuse upper riparians of stealing their water and thus their rights and livelihoods,” he said. “This has long been a simmering issue in Pakistan, one that has stoked the fires of nationalism and increased the trust deficit between provinces.”
Talking about dispute in the light of the 1991 Accord Tahir said “disputes between provinces must be resolved in a judicious way and there is a need to expedite water conservation plans as plentiful water is wasted due to unavailability of mega storage capacity.”
Meanwhile, untreated sewage and pesticides contaminate streams and groundwater, making their use hazardous. “We are also contaminating our water and reducing its usability,” Quryshi said. “City sewage flows on the streets and in the gutters. Ultimately, it’s discharged into canals.”
Pakistan’s overburdened sewers cannot bear the load during heavy rains. They choke and overflow, fouling the environment.
Quryshi suggested replacing sewer lines every 15 to 20 years and upgrading them where needed. “Policymakers must rise from their slumber,” he said. “Experts should provide general guidance for coordinating inter-subsectoral investments in ground water development, drainage, hydroelectric power, agricultural inputs and economic sector planning.”
“Irrigation engineers and scientists need to work together to reduce water waste in industries and households,” he said. “Water conservation needs to start from households … up to mega-cities.”
He also called for improvements to the irrigation system and modification of crop rotations. “It is high time to change our crop patterns (away from) water-intensive crops like rice and sugar, etc.
Now we should grow short-rotation crops like vegetables, cereals, etc. for food security and water conservation.”