By Prof Farakh A Khan:
Mr Arif Mahmood head of Pakistan Meteorological Department in Islamabad told us two months back that we shall get 30% more monsoon rains this year. Today he tells us that we have had 43% below normal rain for the month. The shortfall is 91% below normal in Sindh. This will affect our summer crop production (Jamal, Nasir. Drought fear. Dawn Economic & Business Review. August 6, 2012). Mr Mahmood’s article produced a huge deluge in Pakistan (August 4) but the two dams for Islamabad remained dry. Lahore was sunk and so were other cities. But there is no doubt that Pakistan is water starved and we have not done anything.
Indus River Basin (IRB) is the most widely studied area. It has 157 million-acre feet of annual surface water resource. About 106 maf annually is diverted for agriculture. Of the Pakistan’s 77 million acre cultivatable land 48 maf is taken from the ground water while only 15% is rainwater. Tarbela has storage capacity of 11.62 maf with live storage capacity of 8.9 maf. Since 1974 the capacity has been reduced to 9.0 maf (22% reduction) due to silting (Omar, Kaleem. Managing the Indus River Basin. The News Political Economy. January 11, 2009). The use of rainwater for agriculture may be small but it not only fills the dams but also recharges the ground water source. Islamabad water supply is dependent on the filling of Khanpur and Simly dams which are rain fed. Monsoon rains so far have been sporadic causing some panic in Islamabad. Interestingly it was reported that ‘with the help of USAID’ electricity supply was ‘resolved’ and 20 tube wells were made operational. This is our conspiracy theory since USAID had to step in (Teepu, Imran Ali. Monsoon rain not enough to solve capital’s water crisis. Dawn Metro & North. August 4, 2012). Today Islamabad population is touching two million and draining 23 million gallons per day, which is beyond the capacity of the two dams to fulfil. If water crisis is looming in the capital city I dread to conjure what is happening in other cities of Pakistan.
In Lahore indiscriminate pumping of groundwater shall create many problems in the future. In Bangladesh excessive pumping of groundwater has led to arsenic poisoning. Pakistan, India and other countries are sucking out water more than the required rate of replenishing ‘fossil’ groundwater at an alarming rate. The aquifer is mainly used for agriculture and the demand shall increase in future with disastrous consequences (Pakistan, India, US overusing groundwater. AFP. The Nation. August 9, 2012).
The underground water level in Lahore area has been falling at a rate of 3 feet per year. WASA is now pumping water from a depth of 700-800 feet. The shallow water depth is now 70-150 feet. During 1976-1980 the fall was one foot per year (Raza, Ali. Water crisis in the offing. City New The News. March 18, 2010).
My thesis is that drought in Pakistan is not a new phenomenon. It started in Pakistan in late 1980s and our planners slept. Do you ever wonder what happened to our acute waterlogging problem? When the British completed the canal system in Punjab in late 1890s two years later waterlogging was reported because these canal not only had huge seepage problem but also blocked the flow of ground water. In later years the problem of waterlogging became critical. In 1960s the American ‘experts’ advised large number of tube wells to be bored along the canals, which theoretically would suck the seeped water back into the canal. The experiment was an expensive failure. We also dug drains to remove water logging. They did not work. Then waterlogging started to decrease gradually. The level of ground water also lowered. By early 1990s shortage of water was experienced. The monsoon rain pattern also changed. The usual massive monsoon rains in the mountains became a trickle. Our wells were drying up and so were the springs in the mountains. There was subtle change in the flora of the mountains.
We had been advised to brick line the canals and smaller irrigation channels to stop seepage and hence waterlogging. Today we are saying the same but this time we want to conserve water in water stressed country.
We have been told that Himalayan glaciers are shrinking which shall result in reduction of traditional water supply to the plains of India and Pakistan. This perhaps is not true for all Karakorum glaciers. Unfortunately we are firmly stuck in NRO and letter to Swiss government to take note of life and death situation regarding water for the nation. We have not been able to develop scholars in this field. The government response to water catastrophe will be to call in foreign experts at a huge cost rather than develop indigenous capability. Drought has led to multiple issues, which need to be addressed. We need research in many fields including glaciers, rain pattern, botanists, zoologists, social scientists, geologists, meteorologists etc. Unfortunately we have ignored scholars in Pakistan and depend on whims of a few. We make plans, float ‘task force’, hold seminars and produce reports but with no result.
Unfortunately our delivery system (administration) is still stuck in Todar Mal era (Akbar times) and it is hard to get out of it. Our senior civil servants are ‘experts’ in all fields and head departments who are non functional. Water scarcity in Pakistan is too serious a problem to be left for our bureaucracy.