Irrigation infrastructure in a shambles

Post Source: Dawn economic & business review


By Saleem Shaikh

While the irrigation infrastructure in Sindh is in a bad shape, the funds allocated for its rehabilitation in development plans every year remain either unutilised or under-utilised. Harnessing the irrigation system beyond actual design capacities, tampering of control structures, damaged canal banks, and more importantly, inadequate maintenance have resulted in deterioration of the irrigation infrastructure.

While there are reports of an accumulation of deferred maintenance all over the system, smaller irrigation channels (distributaries and minors) are the most neglected. In many cases, small channels operate without control structures (gates, regulators).

Increased incidents of breaches in canals, branches, channels and minors show that the irrigation infrastructure needs to be revamped and rehabilitated on an urgent basis.

Even the maintenance work, wherever undertaken, has been shoddy. For instance, the newly-built walls on left and right banks of Dadu canal were washed away after weeks’ of repair work because of substandard construction material. The walls were constructed in April last by the irrigation department to protect the Dadu city from any possible breach.

According to reports, walls on either side of different gates of the Sukkur Barrage, built in 1923, have developed deep cracks and fissures and cement plaster continues to peel off at different places. It is feared that moderate level flood may damage the barrage and inundate adjoining areas.

The state of Guddu and Kotri barrages, built in 1963 and 1955 respectively, is no better either.Irrigation officials admit that condition of Kotri barrage as compared to that of the Guddu barrage is worse in the absence of major rehabilitation work over the last several years.

The three major barrages together irrigate 10-12 million acres.

A World Bank study on problems of the province’s irrigation system notes that low irrigation delivery and application efficiencies arise from several factors, including excessive lengths of unlined alluvial channels; lack of routine and preventive maintenance; channel erosion and siltation; inadequate control structures, culverts and cattle drinking points; nonstandard outlets for irrigating the fields; poorly levelled farms; and inappropriate scheduling of water in canals not reflecting crop water requirements.

The report points out that the irrigation water losses are particularly high from unlined canals and watercourses, ranging from 25 to 30 per cent of the water entering the watercourse. The high water losses caused due to crumbling irrigation network system/infrastructure not only reduce water availability for crops but also contribute to water logging and salinity.

With reduced water availability, irrigators at the tail-end of watercourses, in particular, are exposed to greater risks of crop failures leaving little incentive for them to invest in non-water inputs. The drought and accompanying canal water shortages during the last four years has aggravated the situation.

Aijaz Qureshi, an irrigation expert, said that although several projects were implemented to address the issues of irrigation infrastructure, their feel-good impact is yet to be felt.

The projects included National Draining Programme, Sindh Water Sector Improvement Project, Sindh On-Farm Water Management Project, Sindh Water Resource Development and Management Investment Programme, Revamping/Rehabilitation of Irrigation and Drainage System in Sindh.

And the objective was augmentation of water resources, conservation of water and strengthening of irrigation infrastructure.

But most of the projects fell prey to official apathy and negligence, or have been left incomplete for want of funds or foreign donors’ objections over modus operandi of implementation.

The slow and under-utilisation of funds for revamp/rehabilitation of irrigation system is a major problem.

Three major federally-funded uplift projects for revamping of the irrigation infrastructure included into PSDP 2010 – were implemented some two years back for which a hefty amount was also released during the outgoing fiscal year. But the provincial irrigation department failed to utilise the funds appropriately.

A sum of Rs500 million was released for continuation of work on the multi-year ‘Rs16.8 billion Revamping/Rehabilitation of Irrigation and Drainage Project’ for 2009-10. But only Rs209 million could be utilised up to May 2010.

An amount of Rs300 million was also released for Rs13.8 billion Lining of distributaries and minors in Sindh, but no amount could be utilised.

For initiation of work a third multi-year Rs2.5 billion Sukkur Barrage Rehabilitation and Improvement Project, an amount of Rs500 million were released in 2009-10 but no amount was spent.

The irrigation officials’ inefficiency to use the uplift funds for rehabilitation of the ailing irrigation infrastructure has dealt a severe blow to the province’s agriculture sector.


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