Sindh’s irrigation woes

By Saleem Shaikh (DAWN Economic & Business Review

(June 15 to 21, 2009)

Dawn Sindh's woes

Sindh woes 1

GROWERS in Sindh are concerned over the extreme shortage of irrigation water, and fear that Kharif crops of rice and cotton will suffer badly if the required quantity of water is not released in time.

They said water presently available in cotton and rice belts of the province was 65-70 per cent less than what had been agreed in the Water Accord 1991. It would not augur well for the hardpressed farmers, especially small land holders, to see this season’s crops in peril.

A growers’ representative told this scribe on phone from Badin that though sowing of rice and cotton had started in the area, no water had been released yet in downstream canals of Kotri barrage, which otherwise should have been overflowing from midApril.

“Paddy sowing in parts of upper Sindh has started one month late, and still a majority of growers are in double mind weather or not to continue its cultivation in the rice belt of upper Sindh as they do not see the release of required quantity of water from the Kotri barrage,” says Nawaz Memon, secretary general of Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB).

He further said that scarcity of irrigation water in downstream areas of the Kotri Barrage could be judged by the fact that growers, particularly the tail-enders, could not cultivate paddy on at least 1.2-1.5 million acres in dif ferent parts of lower Sindh. While, standing cotton crop on thousands of acres has been dam aged, Mr Memon added.

“At present, downstream wa ter flow from Kotri Barrage is at around 15,000 cusecs. But according to the Water Accord, it should have been 30,000-35,000 cusecs daily,” he complained.

Sources in the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) say, during the last 21 days of May, around 40-45 per cent less water has been discharged downstream Kotri Barrage. On the contrary, downstream Sukkur Barrage water flow during the same period of last month was more than its actual share. (Table) Farmers complain that 0.117 million cusecs extra water released downstream Sukkur barrage is in violation of the Water Accord. The irrigation department officials connive in the additional water discharge for the benefit of the influential landlords.

“At least 10 per cent of cotton crop in lower Sindh has already been destroyed, whereas rice growers are confused over cultivation of the crop,” says Abdul Majeed Nizamani, SAB president. “If the downstream Kotri Barrage water continues to flow at the current level, it is unlikely that the 3.25 million bales cotton production target for achieved.” the current Kharif season will be In accordance with the water agreement, the daily water discharge in June at downstream Kotri barrage should have been around 27,000 cusecs. But, at present barely 7,000 cusecs was flowing. On the other hand, 188,000 and 123,000 cusecs water discharge have been recorded respectively at Chashma and Taunsa canals, he remarked.

Rice growers in upper Sindh have expressed similar concern over water shortage and are afraid that their 2.2 million acres in the rice belt may suffer poor yield, resulting in huge financial losses to them again.

The Rice Canal’s command area is 5,29,000 acres and its discharge capacity is 14,500 cusecs from the head at Sukkur barrage. A grower in Larkana told this scribe on phone that if water level did not improve this month, paddy on over 5,000 acres in the district would not be cultivated and the seedlings would be destroyed.

“Whatever quantity of water is available to his land in the suburb of Larkana city has been pumped through tube-wells and generators. But it is much below the required level as one cannot afford to pump out water at the soaring costs of electricity and diesel,” he said.

While another grower in Dokri Taluka lamented tampering of water heads at the head of the Rice Canal; water shortage had become acute for the tail-enders, he said.

Gada Hussain Mahisar, SAB vice-president said: “Paddy cultivation in the upper Sindh rice belt kicks off from May 1, but it has not been sown on 80 per cent lands fed through the Rice Canal. Rice Canal gives a look of a driedup canal,” he added.

He recalled that during last week of May 2009, water level at the Guddu Barrage downstream was recorded at 64,000 cusecs and at the Sukkur Barrage downstream 14,000 cusecs, with siphoning of almost 90,000 cusecs of irrigation water.

This enormous “wastage” could be avoided by demolishing the illegally constructed water courses, canals and scores of tube-wells on the Guddu and Sukkur barrages, he suggested.

A number of growers complain that water theft was not possible without the collusion of influential landlords and irrigation officials enjoying political backing, he told this scribe.

It is a great injustice to growers in the lowest riparian province, that they get water with protracted delays. Whereas, growers in the upper riparian areas forcibly take away water, Mir Murad Ali Talpur, senior vice-president of Sindh Agriculture Chamber, observed.

He said the Sindh government should take up the issue with the federal government and fight for its share of water as agreed in the Water Accord 1991.

Taj Muree, an agriculture expert, said: “The agriculture sector is definitely going to be hit by water shortage and suffer huge losses in rice as well as cotton export next fiscal year, in case there is reduced output in two major crops because of severe water shortage.”

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