Drought-like situation for Rabi crops feared

By Ahmad Fraz Khan, Friday, 25 Sep, 2009

The current pattern of river flows resemble that of severe drought years of the 70s and 80s and the water shortage, which is currently around 35 percent, can go exceptionally high, says an Irsa official. - APP/File Photo

The current pattern of river flows resemble that of severe drought years of the 70s and 80s and the water shortage, which is currently around 35 percent, can go exceptionally high, says an Irsa official. - APP/File Photo

LAHORE: The country may face drought-like situation this Rabi (October-March) as heavy water withdrawals from dams draw down steeply without replenishment because of exceptionally low river flows.

The Indus River System Authority (Irsa), which is meeting in Islamabad on Friday (today) to firm up its Rabi forecast, is expected to announce around 35 per cent shortage. Some Irsa officials, however, fear that the situation could be much worse than that.

‘The current pattern of river flows resemble that of severe drought years of the 70s and 80s and the water shortage, which is currently around 35 per cent, can go exceptionally high,’ says an Irsa official.

‘Currently, Irsa is making the seven-year high releases from both dams as it has to save standing rice crop which is at a flowering stage and the cotton crop at the picking stage. But these heaviest releases are going to cost it heavily two months down the line when dams’ level will be very low and river flows will drop due to winter season,’ he said.

According to the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) report, Irsa on Thursday faced a water deficit of 70,800 cusecs, which was met through withdrawals from dams. It received 136,800 cusecs and released 207,600 cusecs to meet irrigational needs of the country.

‘The current withdrawals are heaviest since 2002,’ says chief meteorologist Hazrat Mir. On Thursday, Irsa released 45,000 cusecs from Mangla dam and 130,000 cusecs from Tarbela dam. Last year, the releases were 40,000 cusecs and 115,000 cusecs, respectively.

‘Though it is too early to predict the river pattern in the winter right now, the Met office is expecting good rains this winter. In El nino year, which 2009 is, there are normally good rains in the winter and one should keep the fingers crossed,’ he said.

Chaudhry Hamid Malhi of the Punjab Water Council, who is also a rice grower, said: ‘The heavy withdrawals are justified because there have been no rains during September so far. The problem is not with heavy releases which are normal during this part of the year but with reduced river flows.

‘The dams are not being replenished because of substantial reduction in river flows. Irsa and the provincial irrigation departments are trying to save the standing crops rather than saving water for the Rabi which is yet to start. And it does make sense to save the already sown crop rather than saving water for crops which have not been sown yet,’ he said, ‘but the Rabi would be a difficult season this year as shown by dams and rivers situation.’

An official of the Punjab Irrigation Department said the Tarbela dam had been dropping at a rate of almost one feet a day and Mangla by half a feet daily since the start of September. The Tarbela dam, which stood at 1,548 feet on Sept 1, had come down to 1,511 feet by Sept 24. Similarly, the Mangla dam had come down to 1,188 feet from 1,202 feet since the month began, he said.

Both the dams had caused 2.5 million acre feet water hole. ‘One can only hope the Mother Nature comes to the country’s rescue through heavy rains, otherwise Rabi crops, especially wheat, may face tremendous pressure,’ he concluded.

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