Weather was harsh in Pakistan for some years and created protracted drought in many parts of the country. But nature relented this year with timely rains that have been a boon for crops and enhanced availability of water in the country.
Conditions were favourable to the extent that Indus River System Authority (IRSA), usually hard put to the conflicting ends, managed to distribute water among provinces without confronting high demands, strong objections and far apart views containing no room for compromise by any province.
There is general agreement between private sector experts, farmers and government officials that rains have been a blessing for standing crops though the later seem to be going overboard with visions of a bumper wheat harvest.
No one would grudge them if the assessment proves correct and damage from hailstorms and high velocity winds turns out to be minimum and whatever the harm, it is offset by late sowing in cotton and cane fields. But it is too early to start counting grains. This is also unwise approach as evaluations have an impact on the market that is invariably out to exploit farmers and take them for a ride. This amounts to opening the doors for speculating sharks that have no sympathy for tillers of the land.
The chances of damage and benefit to the crop evening it out seem fair, the two should cancel out each other with the result that the target should be met. That would be splendid and bail out the country from dependence on import of wheat, something most regrettable and ignominious for an agricultural country.
However, not merely the benefit to the Rabi crop, the rains have produced enough water to satisfy agriculturists during Kharif to ensure optimum produce in the next season. Agriculture should receive a general boost in the Kharif season.
That is the reason why IRSA, mostly caught between hard position of provinces and their excessive sounding bills of irrigation requirements that sounded unfair in the context of available water, has succeeded in getting its water distribution arrangements accepted without a murmur from any federating unit.
The country would have 121.9 Million Acre Feet (MAF) water available during Kharif while the requirements, according to IRSA, stand at 74 MAF. This is considerably more than surplus quantity of water the country has known for some years.
This is a positive development for the sector. The farmers should be happy; the manager’s sigh of relief can be heard from a distance. This makes for an occasion to be grateful to nature and to be pleased with the turn of events. But the reprieve should also be seen as time for organizing things on, of course within the constraints that would still be there in prolonged dry weather, to organise water distribution on firm, consistent and equitable footing.
A high percentage of the surplus water would remain unutilized and would flow into the sea for lack of storage reservoirs. Building them is a controversial and contentious issue.
Gross mishandling of issue by the authorities is adding to divisiveness, the rhetoric of the officials seemingly aimed at bridging distances is only leading to widening gaps and deepening mistrust.
A certain quantity of water must be directed into the sea to counter intrusion in Sindh but a substantial percentage going unused and unpreserved is serious waste of nature’s bounty. These issues are, however, outside the purview of IRSA.
The governments of NWFP and Punjab missed a major opportunity to store rainwater. Both governments have plans for building storages in rain fed areas and, from what one knows, funding is currently not a great constraint.
That the administrations could not be there in time is unfortunate and as in the past lip service remains the order of the day more than practical work. They must undertake construction of small dams to be in a position to take advantage of the next sympathetic turn of nature.
The other possibility currently explored by the government with the massive financial outlay of about Rs66 billion is through lining of watercourses is a long drawn project. Work on the project is reportedly in progress in earnest.
Its importance cannot be minimized but, considering the country’s resources and news, it is not a complete and comprehensive solution. It would make contribution but the impact would be limited.
Pakistan’s agriculture and the country’s expectations cannot be met merely by conservation efforts. They can lend support to plans for increasing water resources marginally rather than contributing significantly towards resolving them.
Further, an evaluation of the project is indicated in the international context, particularly with India because productivity of Pakistani agriculture, particularly that of Punjab is constantly compared with the Indian province across the Wagah border.
It is consequently vital to check whether such practices have been adopted in the lands where produce is higher than similar acreage in Pakistan. There is every reason for undertaking this exercise when all other factors are taken in to account.
What IRSA can do in this period of plenty is embark on an assessment of needs based on cultivated land across the country, types of crops sown, quantity of water essential for properly and fully irrigating them to obtain the best from the land and ensure a minimum of wastage.
IRSA and provincial governments should coordinate to make an inventory of needs. A survey along thee lines would help the sector a great deal because this would promote more efficient use of limited and dwindling water resources of Pakistan.
The availability of water suggests that there wouldn’t be much complaint from tail end farmers during Kharif and theft would not take place because it does not offer any mileage to these indulging in this nefarious activity. But one can regrettably trust that the ugly practices would be revived the moment scarcity returns to the scene.
One hopes that wouldn’t happen soon but there is now time and suitable conditions for protecting rights of small farmers at the tail end an organized basis and enabling them to produce more for themselves as well as for the country.
IRSA has little to do with this issue, which is entirely the domain of provincial administrations but the two, IRSA and provinces can pool resources to undertake a survey of water needs and interest of tail end farmers. This would be harnessing the windfall from nature to a productive end.
Courtesy: The DAWN