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EDITORIAL: It turns out that data provided by the Punjab Irrigation Department regarding water discharge at Taunsa Barrage was correct after all, and a team of independent observers appointed by the water resources ministry has confirmed downstream discharge at 69,100 cusecs. Yet only days earlier the team also measured water at Guddu and Sukkur barrages and substantiated Sindh’s claim of missing flows between Taunsa downstream and Guddu upstream as well.

IRSA (Indus River Systems Authority) claimed only last week that flows for Sindh had been raised up to 67,000 cusecs to meet urgent water shortfall and that “the situation for water availability would improve soon”.

Yet Sindh is only recording a flow of around 37,000 cusecs at Guddu upstream, which led a member of the team to confide to sections of the press that there was either misreporting at Taunsa or the water was being drawn in Punjab.

And that’s pretty much where the matter rests now. It’s not unusual for disputes to erupt between the lower and upper riparian, especially when water has become such a prized commodity, but this particular dispute goes all the way back to the signing of the Water Appointment Accord to share waters of the Indus river basin three decades ago. Pretty much all that has happened since then is that Sindh has constantly accused Punjab of stealing its water, with severe consequences, while the upper riparian has always had issues with the data of water-loss between the barrages of Sindh, alleging misreporting of flows.

Sindh has a pretty valid point, at least this time, since it’s been warning of a very serious drought, with severe implications for agriculture and lives and livelihoods of farmers, and nobody’s been listening. And a delayed inspection by the water resources ministry has only now revealed that steps taken by Punjab are having no effect in Sindh because the water is mysteriously going missing along the way. Now, even if they are able to figure out what’s been happening and finally get some of the additional water to Sindh, much of the damage done there will still not be undone.

This is already one of the driest years on record with less than usual snowfall in the winter, less than usual rainfall in Mar-Apr, and a record heatwave hitting the entire region.

Pakistan is expected to become one of the most water-stressed countries in the region by 2040, which is shameful considering that we were comfortably water-abundant till just a few years ago. Yet things like rapid climate change and an unusually high population growth rate have combined with unforgivable lapses like relying on outdated irrigation methods, a crying lack of necessary reserves, and gross mismanagement to push us right to the edge. And irrigation authorities of the two most important provinces are still unable to overcome their petty disputes and hammer out a workable solution that would benefit the whole country.

It’s not possible to solve the many problems created by climate change, etc., immediately, of course, but it isn’t exactly rocket science to work out an equitable water-sharing formula and also make sure that none of the water that is available goes missing with nobody able to explain it. The government is terribly behind the curve in handling this crisis. Pakistan has already dropped from an agri-exporting country to one that imports even its staple food because of precisely such malpractices and oversights.

There’s no possible reason for the government not to be able to solve this problem, except lack of proper political will; and that goes for all parties that have formed governments in at least the last 30 years. But now the can simply cannot be kicked any further down the road because we have come right to the end of it. Therefore, either the system will read the writing on the wall, pull its socks up, and begin a slow process of rehabilitation; or we’ll just keep looking here and there for a miracle cure and fall over the edge.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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