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Farmers in Pakistan's Punjab Facing Severe Water Shortage in Wheat Sowing Season

  • Pakistan, September 20, 2018: With Mangla Dam less than half filled and historically low river flows in summer months, Punjab province braces for unprecedented water shortages, prompting authorities to close all non-perennial canals during the upcoming wheat sowing in Rabi season.

    About 45 percent shortfall is expected in water availability if compared with average flows in coming Rabi, and Punjab is left with no option but to stop running non-perennial canals from mid-October.

    Non-perennial canals play an important role in provision of water to the freshwater zone for irrigation purpose, while seepage from vast channels also contributes in recharging the groundwater.

    Normally, watering is ensured twice through non-perennial canals in a good Rabi season, one each at sowing and at maturity stage. In milder shortages, water is used once during the sowing period.

    However, this year, a senior official said, because of grim water availability and persistent drought, it was likely that any non-perennial canal would be run during Rabi season, starting from October 1.

    In drought years of 2001-2002, similar water scarcity conditions were observed in Punjab.

    An official of the Irrigation Department said that every possible step would be taken to efficiently use every drop of water when and where needed.

    According to Punjab Irrigation Department, among the canal system, there are perennial and non-perennial channels in the province.

    Perennial canals mostly feed the areas where groundwater is brackish, while non-perennial canals largely irrigate freshwater zones.

    The non-perennial channels usually run from April 15 to October 15 every year.

    According to official figures, non-perennial canals feeds about one-third of the total irrigated area in the province.

    The vast land falling under non-perennial canal command area would be solely dependent on tube wells, leading to their high cost of production. Only rains can supplement some of the water needs of these areas, a major chunk of which falls in southern Punjab.

    It is emphasised by the Agriculture Department that one watering at sowing time should be provided to the non-perennial canal areas with a hope that subsequent rains could help maintain moisture in the ensuing period.

    Sowing in the maximum area is the first step towards achieving a good wheat crop, said an official.

    However, the Irrigation Department is not in favour of the proposal, given the unprecedented shortage of shortage of over 45 percent water in Rabi 2018-19.

    The Rabi crop requirement of Punjab stands at 18.2 million acre feet (MAF) water in the province against the availability of around 10MAF.

    The water requirement of non-perennial canals hover around two MAF.

    According to an estimate, about 50 percent of the wheat area in Punjab is irrigated through perennial canals and another 32 percent through non-perennial.

    The technical committee meeting of Indus River System Authority (IRSA) is scheduled to be held on September 25 with the mandate to review the water situation and finalise its recommendation regarding availability and demand for the upcoming Rabi season.

    The final decision about the anticipated water shortage for Kharif and share of respective provinces will be taken in the IRSA’s advisory committee meeting likely to be held on October 1.

    Usually the advisory committee's meeting takes place by the end of September, but since weekend falls on September 29 and 30, the meeting has been scheduled for Monday October 1, said the source.

    Talking about water paucity in the ongoing Kharif season, a senior official said, present shortage in canal flows was being observed at 18 percent less than the average flows, which was again unprecedented given the fact that summer months used to be blessed with abundant water.

    Against the estimates of overall shortage of 12 percent in Kharif 2018, it was now feared that gap between demand and supply of water would be widened to 15 to 16 percent.