The lingering water shortage in rabi is likely to hit winter crops, especially wheat, and ultimately the kharif crops if rains do not come to the rescue of the farmers, according to the irrigation authorities. Currently, 18pc of water shortage is reported in the Indus River System as assessed by Indus River System Authority (Irsa). The authority, however, expects rainfall during the current month and the next to offset the impact of water shortage. And in case of no rainfall, the shortage may increase to 26pc.
Wheat sowing has been completed in Sindh. Apart from wheat, crops like banana, mango and early sowing of kharif crops especially cotton are feared to be hit. Mango trees would be at a flowering stage in February, while banana orchards are to face the brunt of water shortage, if its persists.
Sukkur barrage officials point out until January 3, the storage levels of Mangla and Tarbela dams remained at 1,100ft and 1,412ft respectively, which, according to them, indicates that if 1-1.5ft of water is released on a daily basis, the situation would still be normal until this month.
The actual water shortage assessment would be made after the barrages’ closure in Sindh when demands would be made for water supplies. Presently, the Kotri Barrage is closed and it would be reopened on January 10. The Sukkur Barrage will close on January 6 for its annual maintenance till January 20. Sukkur barrage in fact takes another four to five days after its reopening to start supplying water to its canals as its ponds have to be filled first. “We will assess water shortage after the barrage’s closure is over. The barrage starts operations for water supply in mid January”, said a barrage official.
Irrigation department would also start the lining work of the Rohri Canal downstream, Sakrand regulator, but it plans to maintain the water supplies through Sakrand regulator upstream to many areas. Lining work also forces irrigation officials to keep the Rohri Canal closed for 30 days between January and February which means the command area of Sakrand would not get water during rabi and in early kharif periods. Mango trees need fertiliser backed by irrigation water in February for their flowering and fruits setting stage and likewise banana orchards are given fertiliser with water in February. Low temperatures leads to frostbite in banana crop, and according to Karamullah Saand — a banana grower — frostbite coupled with water shortage could undermine the crop in February, he said.
Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) Vice President Mahmood Nawaz Shah pointed towards reports that unusual withdrawals were made for power generation by Wapda from dams although the agriculture sector is the first priority for distribution. Until the last week of December 2016, water supplies were ensured by the barrage authorities but now they are bracing for managing impending water shortages.
The Sindh irrigation department, according to an officer, did not get its required share of water as per its indents during early January. The newly appointed, Sindh’s Secretary Irrigation, Junaid Memon is, however, optimistic that water shortage would not be severe in Sindh as there are rain forecasts and irrigation department is also managing rotation in major water channels to ensure availability of the last cycle of water for wheat crop and for early kharif sowing.