Experts warn Indus basin may become ‘closing basin’ if more dams built

HYDERABAD: Speakers at a programme warned that the Indus basin was fast approaching a stage where it would be considered a ‘closing basin’ if one or more dams were built; it was therefore need of the hour to adopt holistic approach to the developing problem and formulate a better strategy for water conservation, storage and efficient irrigation practices.

They were speaking at a consultation on ‘Combating environmental pollution, equitable water management in Sindh’ organised by Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC) at a local hotel here on Thursday.

Sindh Secretary for Irrigation Jamal Mustafa Syed said: “We are reaching a stage at a fast pace where Indus basin will be considered as ‘closing basin’ if one or two more dams are built. Signs are quite evident to this effect”. Acute water shortage and persisting water crisis were some of its visible symptoms, he said.

About groundwater abstraction, he said if there was 50MAF of groundwater Punjab extracted 35MAF and the rest was used by the three provinces. “It is not storages alone that will ensure survival. We need to adopt holistic approach and formulate a better strategy encompassing water conservation, storages and better irrigation practices in order to be able to face water challenges,” he said.

He said that sea intrusion was a fact which was chiefly caused by fast declining accumulation of sediment. The sedimentation was recorded at 8mm per year which used to increase soil surface and block sea intrusion; it had now dropped to as low as 1mm a year while the level of sea intrusion was 1.1m a year. “So we are already sinking and our delta is a sinking delta due to lower levels of sedimentation,” he said.

Mr Shah attributed drop in sedimentation load to inadequate flows downstream Kotri Barrage and said that of 40.2 MAF water in the first 10 dailies (days) of April under the Water Apportionment Accord 1991 Sindh was supplied 13.2 MAF that indicated 67pc shortage. 14.9 MAF was provided to Sindh in the second 10 dailies of April, he said.

Umer Karim, a consultant, empha­sised the need for ensuring equity in the usage of groundwater resources. Punjab had recharged its groundwater aquifer through Salinity Control and Reclamation Project. It was high time equity in groundwater at national level was ensured and reflected in ’91 water accord, he said.

Ali Palh advocate pointed out gaps in Sindh Environmental Pro­tec­tion Act, 2014, and said that environmental tribunals should be headed by competent and qualified members of judiciary. Initial environmental examination and environmental impact assessment were not usually done by authorities concerned and they were carried out only when a project became controversial, he said.

He said that all direct outlets should have been dismantled in line with apex court’s order. No big landowner was booked for water theft and small farmers received water only for three months, he said.

Environment expert Afia Salam said that there was no mapping for silt and groundwater while debate revolved only around release of 10MAF downstream Kotri. “We need to look at the benefits of sharing but there is an element of mistrust in Kalabagh dam debate involving link canals,” she said.

Irrigation officer Zarif Khero said that Sindh government considered Bhasha as a repla­ce­ment dam as it would increase life of Tarbela which had accrued sedimentation. If ground­water was abstracted fully it would take centuries to recharge it, he said. SHRC head Majida Rizvi, MPA Kulsoom Chandio and Amar Sindhu also spoke at the programme.

Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2018

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