Water scarcity threatens to halve cotton output in Pakistan

May 20, 2012 12:00 AM

Pakistan may be losing roughly Rs 2 bn a day as severe water shortages have restricted cotton sowing to 50 %.
The national water shortage exceeded 50 % as all rivers witnessed big dips in their flows, bringing the water availability to 163,344 cusecs against 334,700 cusecs for the corresponding day last year.

The Tarbela and Mangla dams, which had 2.64 mm acre feet of water on May 19 last year, had only 0.5 mm acre feet, and were draining fast. The Tarbela lake, which according to the estimates of the Indus River System Authority (IRDA) should have been at 1,386.8 feet, stood at the dead level of 1,378 feet.
The Mangla lake, which was estimated to be at a level of 1,138.2 feet on the day, was at 1,092 feet – a difference of 46.2 feet.

The Indus, which had an inflow of 137,300 cusecs last year, was flowing at only 53,000 cusecs. Jhelum had 43,844 cusecs against 75,500 cusecs last year.
Kabul had only 38,200 cusecs against 66,900 cusecs last year and Chenab went down to 28,200 cusecs from 55,000 cusecs last year.

“This is a water emergency,” says an official of the Punjab Irrigation Department. “If the situation does not improve in the next two to three days, the agriculture cycle, and national economy by extension, would be in for another crisis. The IRSA projections are alarming, given expected meagre river flows and worrying meteorological forecasts,” he added.
“No one really knows how to deal with this kind of water shortage which may soon break all drought records if there is no miraculous improvement in the next 24 hours,” he remarked.

“Cotton sowing has suffered beyond recovery now,” said Arif Mehmood, a grower from Southern Punjab.
“Sowing may have touched 50 % in the country. But in Punjab the loss so far is more than 50 % against a target of 5 mm acres. The actual sowing has not gone beyond 2 mm acres and the rest three mm acres will now be sown, if at all.”

According to him, cotton can be sown in the next three weeks at the risk of a massive pest attack and loss of yield, which takes ultimate deadline to mid-June.
“Over the next three weeks, if the country loses even 10 % of the production, its total loss will be over Rs 50 bn,” he said.

“This loss will mainly be concentrated in Southern Punjab, the pivot of politics these days,” regrets Tariq Cheema from the area. “What the southern part, along with other things, needs is water — for being brackish in sub-soil supplies.”
“There is no water in the area. One cannot pump it out of soil because of brackish supplies. Even if one tries, there is no electricity. The cost of diesel simply makes any crop commercially non-feasible. Where can the South go? Those playing politics on the issue should also be arranging water. Self-serving politics, which is not connected to the area, has its own limits.”

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