Projecting a critical water situation, the river system regulator’s technical committee sees a 21% water shortage in early Kharif season from the start of April to June 10, which may delay sowing of crucial crops.
The projection comes as water in Mangla and Tarbela reservoirs stands at the dead level.
“Owing to shortage of water, the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) has asked provinces to delay crop plantations by April 15 when snow will start melting on glaciers, leading to increased water flow into rivers,” a senior Irsa official told The Express Tribune.
According to the Meteorological Department, snow will start melting from April 15 and temperature will be higher by 1% to 3% compared to average temperature at the same time in the last three to four years. “If that happens, water shortage will be just 5% in the whole Kharif season,” the official said.
However, he said, the technical committee of Irsa, which met here on Monday, failed to make an assessment of water availability in the entire Kharif season. It will meet again on June 10 to estimate water releases for the remaining season.
To take a decision on water distribution among provinces, Irsa’s advisory committee will meet on March 30. Punjab and Sindh will share the water shortage while Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa will enjoy exemption.
According to initial estimates, Punjab will receive nine million acre feet (MAF) of water, Sindh 5.6 MAF, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 0.28 MAF and Balochistan 0.4 MAF in the early part of Kharif from April 1 to June 10.
Earlier, the technical committee met on March 16 but could not come up with an estimate of water availability due to uncertain river flows. However, it believed that in the early part of the season, Sindh and Punjab may face a water shortage of 15% to 25%.
“The same situation persists and therefore no final assessment of water supply for the Kharif season could be made,” the official said, adding the situation would be clear on April 15 with the melting of snow.
Glaciers usually start melting in March every year and provide enough water for upcoming crops, but the recent cold wave lasting halfway through March has prevented this natural phenomenon from happening.
Growers of Sindh and Punjab fear that crops will suffer a setback at the start of the Kharif season because of water shortage. Cotton, sugarcane and rice are the major crops. Of these, cotton may be affected the most as a delay in cultivation will result in pest attacks.
An Irsa member said this time glaciers had a record volume of snow and enough water would be available with the change in weather. “This is for the first time that the country is facing a cold wave even in March,” he said.
According to an official statement, water level in Tarbela and Mangla reservoirs stood at the dead level at 1,378 feet and 1,040 feet respectively. Water flow into Tarbela was 24,000 cusecs against outflow of 23,300 cusecs. In Mangla, the inflow was 25,500 cusecs against outflow of 26,400 cusecs.
Water flow into Kabul River at Nowshera was 15,000 cusecs, in Indus River at Chashma 25,700 cusecs and in Chenab River at Maral 15,400 cusecs.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2012.