Punjab covers a vast area of over 205,300 square kilometres with millions of acres of agricultural land. Woefully, its irrigation system is experiencing high losses in water delivery owing to obsolete engineering design and operational flaws. The province’s major irrigation channel supplies to 58,000 watercourses, or water flow paths, that irrigate nearly 37.5 million acres of land. This is a most pressing issue as the country already faces other challenges to its water supply elsewhere, including the threats by India over the Indus Waters Treaty and the perpetual water shortage in Karachi. Pakistan has poor water storage capabilities and according to one report, 95 per cent of the water from the Indus system is used for agriculture, which is an unsustainable model. These factors do not bode well for the water situation in the country and the wastage of water in Punjab’s major water channel, attributed to leakage, misalignment and silt deposits, cannot be afforded.
The On Farm Water Management Programme has led to some positive developments in agriculture in Punjab, but the work is far from being complete. The irrigation system’s inefficiency is risky as Pakistan continues to face high food insecurity, ranking 76 out of 113 countries on The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2016 Global Food Security Index, mostly beating out several African and war-torn countries. A faulty irrigation system can further exacerbate the problem if water resources continue to be squandered. The problem also needs to be assessed through the angle of malnutrition and the health of crops.
Like the centuries-old canal in Punjab that requires either heavy maintenance work or complete restructuring according to modern engineering design, many aspects of the country’s infrastructure are falling apart and require timely attention. It is high time the leadership take more keen interest in revamping the infrastructure across all cities, be they irrigation or water supply systems, buildings, or roadways. The majority in this country either falls below the poverty line or exists in the middle socioeconomic class and is at the mercy of government assistance in meeting its basic needs, such as its need for access to water.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2016.
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