An Overview of the History and Impacts of the
Water Issue in Pakistan
By Altaf A. Memon (Ph.D)
When one looks at a satellite picture of Pakistan and Sindh, it is quite clear that the River Indus is a pivotal water source for Sindh as it is the only source of freshwater that sustains the people, local environments, and the economy of Sindh. Indus is the longest river of Indo-Pak subcontinent, about 1900 miles long. The Indus river system comprises of seven rivers including the River Indus itself. The five rivers of Punjab - Bias, Sutluj, Ravi, Chanab, and Jehlem discharge in Indus at Mithan Kot and the Kabul River at Attock. As a matter of fact, Sindh is a gift of the Indus, as most of the lower Indus basin that constitutes Sindh today is accumulation of the silt, deposited by Indus flood flows over both of its banks and down below where it discharges into the Arabian sea.
Present water crises that have engulfed Pakistan and Sindh are not so much a result of general water shortage due to climatic changes as some would want us to believe. As a matter of fact, these crises are a result of an unbridled greed and callous mismanagement of the water resources by the unrepresentative nature and hegemonic attitude of the powers that be in Pakistan. In this paper, we shall present the definition of the water issue, its history, and repercussions both in the context of Sindh and Pakistan.
Origins of the Water
Essentially, the water issue is between Sindh and Punjab provinces of Pakistan. This issue is not necessarily of recent origin. Punjab has had its designs on the Indus waters since the British had occupied both Sindh and Punjab in the middle of the nineteenth century.
The British colonizers were not interested in helping Punjab to damage Sindh. The issue came to the fore in 1901, when the Indian Irrigation Commission prohibited Punjab from taking even a drop of water from Indus without the approval of Sindh. In 1919, the then government of India issued the Cotton Committee report; where in, it prohibited Punjab from undertaking any projects until Sukkur barrage was completed and water needs of Sindh were determined. In 1925, Lord Reading, the British Viceroy of India, rejected Punjab's request for Thal canal from Indus considering the undue deprivation of Sindh's lower riparian rights. In 1937; however, the Anderson Commission allowed Punjab to withdraw 775 cusecs of water on experimental basis from Indus for Thal canal. This happened even with the absence of Thal canal in the terms of the commission and clearly constituted a direct violation of the viceroy's orders of 1925. In 1939, Sindh lodged a formal complaint with the government, under the Government of India Act of 1935. Consequently, in 1941, the Roy Commission recognized the injustice that was meted out to Sindh, recommended construction of two new barrages in Sindh on Indus, and ordered Punjab to pay 20 million Rupees of the construction cost of these barrages to ameliorate Sindh's losses due to the actions of Punjab. 1
Under the guidance of the Roy Commission, a committee comprising of the chief engineers of Punjab and Sindh came out with an agreement in 1945, known as "Sindh- Punjab Agreement." It resolved the distribution of the waters of all Indus basin rivers between Punjab and Sindh.2 Essentially, this agreement recognized Sindh's supremacy over the Indus river and nothing upstream could be changed or built without her formal consent and approval.
It is an open secret that since the death in 1948, of the first Governor General of Pakistan, Mr. M.A. Jinah, the Pakistan governments have been overtly or covertly influenced or directly controlled by the military, intelligence agencies, bureaucracy, and feudal lords and capitalists for hire, and in that order too. It must be noted that these components of oligarchy in Pakistan are dominated almost entirely by Punjabis. In the 55 years of Pakistan, more than half of its life it has been under the direct military rule. In the remaining period, the military has not so covertly influenced the civilian governments, with the possible exception of three years under Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan and first four years under Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
One Unit was imposed in 1955, by putting all of the provinces in the then West Pakistan out of existence overnight and making it almost painless for Punjab to exploit not only water but also all of the other resources of Sindh and other provinces. Sindh that had existed for more than 10,000 years as a country of the Sindhi people was no more on the face of the earth. The provinces remained under the One Unit for about 15 years. Even when they were not under One Unit, they were not given the autonomy that was due to them as envisaged under the Pakistan Resolution of 1940, or as promulgated under the various constitutions that were established in Pakistan in 1956, 1962, and 1973, respectively. These constitutions were whimsically and summarily abrogated, put in abeyance, or unilaterally amended by the different military dictators. Even when the majority seats in the Sindh Assembly were won by the legitimate representatives of the people despite all kinds of rigging by the "establishment," their mandate was frustrated by foisting of minority governments through "horse trading or floor crossing" under threats of imprisonment and "corruption" charges. This practice has continued in Sindh for the last three elections. The week governments so formed in Sindh are remote controlled by the Punjabi dominated establishment. In Pakistan, the provincial governments have practically no say. All decisions of any importance are made unilaterally and undemocratically at the central level.
It is abundantly clear that the Pakistani oligarchy treats Sindh nothing more than a colony of Punjab. Punjab is in the driving seat and makes all of the decisions. All of the decisions with respect to water have been made in this fashion as well, without any regard, whatsoever, to the interests of Sindh. Sindh has not even been adequately informed on most of these decisions let alone consulted and sought her approval for. Internationally recognized lower riparian rights that have been upheld in the courts and international compacts around the world have been callously flouted by Pakistan and Punjab vis-à-vis Sindh.
Progression of the
After the partition of India in 1947, "Committee B" was established to resolve the water issues related to partition by March 31, 1948, as the location of two canals in the Pakistani Punjab side had their headwork in Indian Punjab. In the final analysis, the Pakistani side agreed to the astonishment of everyone to pay for the right to use waters of the two canals. In 1948, an agreement was signed at Shimla to that effect. After loosing its own water to India, Punjab targeted Indus to siphon off its waters in violation of the existing agreements between Sindh and Punjab. Punjab constructed a link canal called as "BRBD link canal" without the consent and approval of Sindh in a clear violation of Sindh - Punjab Agreement of 1945. 1
In 1960, under the auspices of the World Bank, the Indus Basin Water Treaty (IBWT) was signed between India and Pakistan. The agreement gave three eastern rivers, i.e., Bias, Sutlaj, and Ravi to India and three western rivers, i.e., Chanab, Jehlam and Indus to Pakistan. India was, however, allowed to irrigate 1.3 million acres of land from the western rivers. In return, India paid monies to Pakistan for the exclusive rights on the rivers allotted to her and irrigation rights on the western rivers. Also, the World Bank gave monies for development of the water projects in Pakistan. Pakistan established WAPDA or the Water and Power Development Authority to be responsible for development of the water resources. It may be noted that by design no Sindhi was made a member of the negotiating team or the advisory board that was established with respect to IBWT. Dr. Saleh Qureshi, a Sindhi, was initially made a member of the negotiating team but was promptly removed when the One Unit was imposed before the serious negotiations began.1 After this treaty, Punjab was hell bent on diverting Indus waters for Punjab in violation of the 1945 Sindh-Punjab agreement and with total disregard for the lower riparian rights of Sindh.
Present State of the
Before partition, there was only one barrage, the Sukkur barrage, on the River Indus built in 1932. In the last 55 years, there are now 19 barrages and 43 canal systems with 48 off-takes on the Indus River System in Pakistan, creating world's largest contiguous man made system of 61,000 km of canals and 105,000 water courses, irrigating 35 million acres of land.. Three storage reservoirs were built, Mangla on River Jehlum and Tarbella and Chashma on River Indus, with total storage capacity of 20 MAF. 3 Additionally, 12 link canals were built to transfer water from western rivers to eastern rivers or the tributaries of the River Indus.4
Due to the above-mentioned political manipulation and unilateral decisions, all of these construction activities other than the two additional barrages in Sindh (i.e., Guddu Barrage and Kotri Barrage) were mostly for the benefit of Punjab. These construction activities were accomplished largely without the consent of Sindh in clear and substantial violations of the agreements between Sindh and Punjab. Most of the land that was brought under cultivation due to the barrages in Sindh was also doled out to non-Sindhi outsider military officers, bureaucrats, or their lackey settlers.
After many a commissions and interim arrangements, the Nawaz Sharif government of Pakistan, through undemocratic and autocratic means, forced the Indus Water Accord in 1991 for the Indus system waters. IRSA or the Indus River System Authority was established for this purpose. Total water available in the system was estimated to be 114.35 MAF below rim stations. It was allocated as 55.95 MAF for Punjab, 48.76 MAF for Sindh, 5.78 MAF for NWFP, and 3.87 MAF for Baluchistan. The accord provided for the distribution of any surpluses and the shortages as well. The agreement left water discharge to the sea unresolved subject to a study; however, it allocated 10 MAF in the interim for discharge to the sea. 4 Punjab continues to violate even this one-sided agreement with open connivance of WAPDA, IRSA, and the federal and Punjab governments. Sindh's share of water is being diverted to Punjab unabashed under one pretext or another. Any objection from Sindh is muzzled forcefully with no recourse left for Sindh to safeguard her due share of the Indus water. The result is that ever since the 1991 Water Accord, Sindh has never received its fair share of Indus water, the study for outflow to the sea has not been performed, and the water outflow to sea has never been as allocated.
Under its Vision 2025 program, Pakistan has planned numerous projects and approved them for construction without appropriate consultation or consent of Sindh as required under the agreements between Sindh and Punjab. These projects include Kalabagh dam, Basha dam, Sukurdu dam, Satpara dam, Dhok Pathan dam, Sanjwal dam, Akhori dam, Bhater dam, Rohtas dam, Yugo dam, Chiniot reservoir, Hingol dam, Naulang dam, Gajnai dam, Mol and Khadeji dam, Rohtas dam, Mirani dam, Sabakzai dam, Gomal Zam dam, Kalam dam, Kachhi canal, Chashma right bank canal, greater Thal canal, Rainee canal, Sehwan barrage, etc. As has been the practice in the past, most of these projects have been designed to benefit the Punjabi military establishment and their lackeys and not the common man in Pakistan.5
Total availability of water is not enough in the system to entertain the luxury of so many projects on the Indus River System. A simple water budget would entail that there is already a water deficit to meet the current demands let alone having water left for the above projects. The Indus water system budget is as follows:
water in 3 Western Rivers below Rim
1991 Accord water requirements below rim station
-114. 35 MAF
Interim release to the sea per 1991 Accord
System losses per WAPDA
Indian claim on the western rivers (Original WAPDA estimate)
Net Deficit (-)/Surplus (+)
It should be noted that WAPDA has revised the estimate of Indian claim on the western rivers to 4.79 MAF based on current cultivation practices in India. Therefore, the system deficit is 19.74 MAF and not 17.95 MAF. 6 At the present time, Sindh is being deprived of its due share of water in order to compensate this water deficit and on the top of that interim outflow of 10MAF to sea is also being diverted to Punjab.
It is interesting to note that yearly rainfall in Punjab is 20 - 40 inches and in Sindh only 4 -12 inches. Furthermore, usable groundwater available in Punjab is 2,500 MAF per year while in Sindh only 3 MAF per year. It is calculated that Punjab can cultivate its entire land without ever taking a drop of water from any rivers of the Indus system. 6 On the other hand, it would be impossible to do so in Sindh. This shows that Sindh is far more dependent on the river water than the Punjab, yet Punjab continues to illegally divert Sindh's fair share of Indus waters for the benefit of Punjab.
The water issue can thus be defined as the daylight heist, piracy, or illegal and unilateral diversion of Sindh's fair share of Indus system water for the benefit of Punjab, in violation of the existing agreements between Sindh and Punjab; and unabashed trampling of the lower riparian rights of Sindh in contravention of the laws and internationally accepted practices and policies. Also, umpteen projects have been instituted to further worsen this situation. Consequently, the deprivation of Sindh's due share of the Indus system water continues and there doesn't seem to be any relief in sight. Obviously, this has created a huge water shortage problem in Sindh, resulting in devastating economic, social, public health, environmental, and ecological impacts. If the situation is not reversed soon, it is not farfetched to see an impending ecological disaster in Sindh that would eventually create a famine like situation in Sindh the likes of which were seen in Ethiopia and Somalia in a not very distant past.
India and the World Bank are involved in the Indus Basin Water Treaty of 1960 with Pakistan. It is in the aftermath of this treaty that the water shortage in Sindh has become worse. Therefore, India and the international backers of the World Bank have a moral and perhaps legal responsibility to be cognizant of the water issue and intervene in this situation to avert an impending ecological disaster and famine in Sindh.
Impact on Sindh
There are severe problems emanating in Sindh in the aftermath of the water shortage created by Pakistani government and Punjab through WAPDA, IRSA, and military appointed Sindh administration. We will explore some of these in the following:
Katcho Area Devastation: This is about 2 million acres area along River Indus that is inundated when the Indus floods. Shortage of water deprives this area from river inundation. This area is rich in forests, grazing lands, poultry, animal husbandry, agriculture, and fishing. The Katcho includes 550,00 acres of sailaba agricultural areas of Sindh and 600,000 acres of riverine forests. About 100,000 people live here and derive direct sustenance from this area. In addition, about a million people benefit from this area in the timber trade, firewood supply, and as fishermen and boatmen. The economy of this area has been in a tailspin ever since the water shortage has been witnessed in the last several years. There has been a tremendous economic loss and as a result, unemployment, migration of people to other areas, and crime rate have grown exponentially.6
Deforestation and Desertification: Riverine forests along the River Indus are threatened due to reduced flow in the Indus, as the river water is the only source of regeneration and growth of these forests. Due to upstream water diversion and storage the intensity of floods has been adversely affected. Hardly 20% of the total area is flooded if at all. Out of 600,000 acres forest, an area of about 37,500 to 42,292 acres was regenerated in the years 1995-98. 7
A major damage to the natural habitat of many tree species was detected in the Sindh province through a study recently carried out by a provincial working group, in seven districts of Sindh from Ghotki to Hyderabad. The group found a total of 20,937 trees very badly damaged, which were determined to have been damaged due to drying and eventual dying. The loss of Shisham trees was 64 per cent, Mango trees 25 per cent, and Babul and other trees 11 per cent. According to the study, water shortage was the major reason for the loss of habitat.8
Total acreage of the riverine forests has already declined for several years due to water shortage and colonization to agriculture. There have been no major floods for a long time and with upstream water mismanagement they are less likely to occur in the future as well. If there is no inundation, the vegetation and wildlife in these forests is threatened. Due to the loss of surface moisture deforestation process will continue. The deforestation followed by soil degradation, salinity, and erosion will then lead to desertification rendering once fertile lands to barren deserts.
Mangrove Forest Destruction: Mangrove forests in the Indus Delta spread over 650,000 acres and are the sixth largest in the world. The water, nutrients and silt deposited by the Indus when it discharges into the sea, sustains the mangroves. These forests form an important component of the coastal ecosystem. The forests support many species and are a source of timber, fuel-wood (18,000 tons each year), fodder, wild life (porpoises, jackals, boars, reptiles, migratory fowl birds, and 3 dolphin species), herds of camels (16,000 at certain times), and 44 fish species.6 The mangroves act as windbreakers and prevent storms from reaching inland. They also are a major breeding area for shrimps and crabs that earn $68 million a year in foreign exchange. 9 Mangrove forests play a significant role in development of the fish that is caught near the Sindh coast. About half of the fish exported from Pakistan is netted on the Sindh coast, 242,000 tons in 1989. 6 The delta is an important flyover for migratory birds. During the winter, millions of waterfowl, including pelicans and flamingos, stop over in the delta for feeding and breeding. About 100,000 people are directly dependent upon mangroves in the delta. The number of people, including the fishermen, indirectly dependant on the mangroves may run in millions.
The mangrove forest area has reduced from 263,000 hectares in 1977, to 158,500 hectares in 1990, showing reduction of 38%. Even the remaining area is being progressively degraded. About fifty to sixty years back, 80-105 MAF of water was discharged to the delta depositing up to 400 million tons of silt. Due to dams and water diversion upstream, the water outflow has been reduced significantly. Only about 20 MAF outflow reached the delta from barrage releases before 1991 depositing only 36 million tons of silt per year. However, the 1991 Water Accord put an interim limit of 10 MAF outflow and even that limit has not been met. For nine to ten months of the year no freshwater flows out at all. The silt deposits are estimated to drop way below 30 million tons per year if the outflow remained 10 MAF or lower.9 It is estimated that at least 27 MAF water outflow to the sea is needed for the environmental sustenance of the delta. If water is not allowed to flow in sufficient quantity below Kotri barrage for most of the year, as is the practice now, the mangrove forests will be devastated due to loss of nutrients and silt from the fresh water outflow, increase of salinity in the soil-pore water due to seawater, and rising sea levels.10
Salt Water Intrusion: The Indus water discharge to the sea keeps the sea water at bay and does not let it intrude too much into the surface and subsurface water resources inland. With the current water shortage the situation is deploring. Salt-water intrusion has been witnessed inland up to 100 kilometers north of the sea. The Lar area of Sindh is adversely affected. The salt-water intrusion destroys water supplies and people are compelled to drink brackish water and thus exposed to various diseases. Throat swelling due to drinking brackish water is a common complaint witnessed in the coastal areas of Sindh. Furthermore, seawater renders fertile agricultural lands useless, resulting in loss of jobs and economic devastation. Hundreds of villages in the Badin and Thatta districts have been deserted and people have been forced to migrate to some other areas.11
Pakistan National Institute of Oceanography and National Science Foundation have established that salt water intrusion into the plains of lower Sindh is directly related to the decrease of flow in River Indus. Until adequate water is released to Indus downstream of Kotri, sea water intrusion combined with raised level of Arabian sea due to climatic changes will make Thatta, Badin, and southern parts of Hyderabad district waterlogged marshlands.6
Coastal Land Lost: Due to continuous increase in the Indus withdrawals in Punjab, the outflow to sea has reduced to a great deal. Consequently, the costal ecosystem has been damaged. The degeneration of the natural resources has deteriorated human settlements compelling plenty of people of the coast to migrate to other areas in search of water and food. Former Sindh Minister of Irrigation, Ali Mir Shah, provided results of a survey conducted by the government of Sindh that over1.2 million acres land were eroded or lost to the sea within Thatta and Badin districts, dislocating a quarter million people, and inflicting financial losses over Rs. 100 billion. The seawater had destroyed at least one-third of the land. 12 Recent estimates put the figure at 1.4 million acres of the land lost to the sea. 13 Further loss of land due to erosion and seawater is not out of the question as the water shortage continues unabated.
Indus Water Pollution: With the reduced flows in the River Indus, its natural assimilative capacity diminishes. It receives raw sewage, untreated industrial wastewater, and irrigation returns from the communities spread along the riverbanks. With population growth and reduced water flows, prospects for Indus to remain unpolluted are quite slim. Levels of oxygen depleting organic contaminants from sewage, toxic compounds from industrial discharges, and pesticides from irrigation returns are increasing in the Indus. Signs of this have already been observed. Water borne diseases are on the rise. Many fish and other aquatic species have declined in number and diversity. If the situation is not reversed further water degradation will occur and impact on the aquatic life, public health, and other uses of water will be very significant.
Lakes and Wetlands in Danger: Sindh is home to many natural lakes. Manchar, Kinjhar, Haleji, Hadero, Chotiari, and many more small lakes are spread all over Sindh. Most of these are fed by Indus. In 2001, the country designated eight new wetlands of international importance, bringing the total number to 16. Six of these, namely Keenjhar Lake, Drigh Lake, Haleji Lake, Indus Dolphin Reserve, Jubho Lagoon, Nurri Lagoon are in Sindh. The Haleji Lake has also been declared as the bird sanctuary. These lakes and wetlands are being degraded at an alarming rate in the Lower Indus Basin.14
The lakes in Sindh are an important source of the fish species and edible vegetables that grow in them and provide employment for many people living around these lakes. Also, these bodies of water are host to many species of birds (222 species listed by the bird watchers), flora, and fauna. With the destruction of these lakes and wetlands, many economic and aesthetic benefits drawn from them will be lost.6
If Indus continues to receive reduced flows, these lakes and wetlands could loose their inflow and slowly become polluted and smaller ones will even dry out and any life in them would die out as well. Some of these lakes and wetlands have already shown signs of being polluted. Manchar, the largest lake in Sindh, has become a dumping ground for discharge from salinity outfalls originating in Punjab. The Manchar ecosystem has thus begun to be destroyed. Fish and bird species of Manchar have not only reduced in numbers but also in diversity. In 1950, fish catch was 3,000 tons, but now only 150 tons. There were 400 fish and 726 bird species documented before 1960, but now only 7 fish and 100 bird species are left. Total bird population has reduced 40 %. Edible vegetables harvested in the lake have also reduced by 70%. Manchar is a source of drinking water and irrigation. The salinity level in Manchar has risen from a mere fraction in the past to 5,000 ppm at present. Consequently, its use for drinking water has caused public health problems. Also, crop production has been reduced and the lands are being destroyed due to saline water of the Manchar. Millions of people have been affected and thousands of Manchar fishermen have migrated to other areas. 15
Situation at Kinjhar and Haleji is not any better. The Kinjhar water level has dropped from 60-70 ft to 30-35 ft. It receives industrial wastewater from the Kotri industrial area, irrigation returns from the surrounding lands, and sewage and garbage from the communities in the vicinity and 15,000 weekly visitors. Many fish and vegetation species are dwindling in number and diversity in the lake is on the decline. As for the decline in fish catch from the lake, it was stated that in the past 1,000 to 2,000 maunds daily of fish used to be caught from Kinjhar Lake, but now the catch has come down to the level of only about 100 maunds daily. Moreover, it was significant to note that in the past, a single fish caught from the lake used to be of the weight of even four kilogram. On the contrary, the fish caught presently from the lake is hardly one fourth of a kilogram. 16
Rare and Endangered Species at Risk: The Indus Blind Dolphin or Bullahan, rare specie, was once present throughout the entire Indus river system and numbers were in hundreds of thousands. The numbers of the Indus Blind Dolphin have dwindled from 500 in 1993 to mere less than 200 in a short stretch of the Indus between Sukkur and Gudu barrages.
Shad or Pallo fish, Barramundi fish, Dangri fish, and shrimps are threatened to become extinct due to lack of water outflow to the sea and destruction of the mangrove forests. Mangrove forest is the breeding ground for the shrimps and inflow to the sea provides a channel for the Shad or Pallo and other migratory fish to swim upstream for spawning in the Indus. The annual catch of shrimps in Sindh was 27,541 tons, or 97% of national total, but now has been reduced to 92%. Other species like river turtle, frogs, birds, and wild bees have also been hampered. Migratory fish, such as Pallo and Barramundi, have registered a significant decline. The annual production of Pallo fish has declined from 5,000 tons in 1951 to just 500 tons in 1990s, besides marked reduction in its size.12 Similarly, the catch of Barramundi has declined from 2,000 tons per year in the 1980s to about 200 tons per annum in the 1990s.17 Pallo and Dangri catch was 600 tons in 1986, have been reduced to 200 tons now. Production of these species has significantly declined over the last few years due to the Indus water shortage. This situation clearly indicates the negative impacts of upstream diversions.10
Biodiversity at Risk: Due to impact of water shortage and accompanying pollution and deforestation, many wild animals, plants, aquatic species, birds and other forms of flora and fauna are affected and many of these may succumb to water scarcity and be annihilated. Therefore, the biodiversity in Sindh is at risk as biotic potential of many species is starting to be diminished and many of them may be lost for ever if the environmental devastation due to water shortage is not reversed or properly controlled.
Pakistan is a signatory of Rio Declaration. The Principle No. 4 of this declaration proclaims that ``In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.'' For the above reasons, Pakistan is not abiding, both in letter and sprit, by the commitments of this declaration pertaining to conservation of biodiversity, sustainable development, and environmental protection.10
Agriculture Problems: With the reduction in Indus water flows, most of the rural Sindh is in a grip of severe economic downturn. People are unable to cultivate their lands due to lack of water and have started to use ground water resources where feasible. As a result, the water table has been depressed up to twice as much as it used to be from the ground level. Tube wells of many landowners became inoperable and they had to spend more monies to deepen the wells. The situation is so bad that people are quitting cultivation altogether as it is not profitable anymore. It has been estimated that about 2.5 million acres of land is closed to being devastated after remaining uncultivated.13
Agriculture is the bread and butter for Sindh's economy, especially in the rural areas. This has directly or indirectly affected entire rural population of Sindh. Livelihood of millions of people has been affected due to this phenomenon. A recent study on the "Agriculture crisis in Sindh" done by the Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology, Karachi, draws a gloomy picture of Indus Valley agro-economy saying that the productivity of agriculture sector has really become almost stagnant. In year 2000, the wheat crop was to be sown over an area of 487,271 hectares, which could be done only over an area of 363,000 hectares. Central to this was uncertainty about per acre yield that had also decreased and the quality of wheat affected. The normal production rate of wheat in Sindh is estimated to be 30 to 35 maunds per acre. The experts maintain that the yield has now reduced to 18 to 20 maunds per acre. According to scientists, this is because of the lack of mineral rich sediments now being accumulated behind dams.18 Sindh's crop production has significantly declined when at the same time the crop production of Punjab has significantly improved. This has also confirmed the water diversion by Punjab from Sindh's share.
Inadequate Water for Drinking: Due to the water shortage and depressed quality of the surface water bodies and loss of groundwater due to salt-water intrusion and water table depression, the drinking water supplies have dwindled and degraded in quality in many parts of Sindh. Throughout Sindh, people have been up in the arms on this issue. Continuous shortage of safe water for drinking has created many public health and safety problems. Already incidence of diseases related to drinking polluted water has increased. Given the meager health sector spending by the government the worsening of this state of affairs is bound to create havoc in terms of public health and safety.
Social Problems: Due to the scarcity of water and resulting economic downturn, people of Sindh are finding it very hard to make the ends meet. Unemployment, poverty, crime rate, and other social problems are all on the rise. Poverty rate in Sindh is one of the worst in Pakistan, hovering at 40% people below poverty line. Out of shear desperation, people are committing suicides and the rate of suicides in Sindh has sharply risen in the last few years after the water shortage started.
Health Problems: Water borne diseases have registered an increase of 200% in the last two decades.3 The National Conservation Strategy (NCS) report indicates that about 40 per cent of deaths are related to water-borne diseases. About 25 to 30 per cent of all hospital admissions are connected to water-borne bacterial and parasitic conditions, with 60 per cent of infant deaths associated with the same infections. It cites, drinking and bathing in polluted water are the most common routes for the spread of diseases with symptoms like abdominal pain, hair loss, numbness in hands, loss of appetite, eye infections, irritation of skin and fever. Cases of cancer have also increased throughout Sindh. These health problems are due mainly to water receiving raw sewage and untreated industrial and irrigation wastewaters, and diminished river flows. 19
There have also been special sicknesses in the areas of Sindh where the water scarcity is the most severe. Many experts are attributing these sicknesses to the scarcity of water. These sicknesses include skin and eye diseases in the Kohistan area of Sindh and mental sickness in the Indus delta area. Also, as mentioned above, there has been a sharp increase in the suicide rate in Sindh. There are expert opinions that most of these cases are related to economic and social problems resulting from the scarcity of water.
Water Transportation Impossible: Indus was known for its boat traffic up, down, and across the river since the times immemorial. The river traffic was a significant source of commerce and transportation of goods and public. Due to the shortage of water in Indus, the water transportation has diminished to almost a standstill. In some reaches of the river it has become extinct, especially below the Kotri barrage. This deprives the public from a viable and economic mode of transportation and many jobs in boat manufacturing and water transportation have been lost.
Cultural Diversity Threatened: Mohanas are water folks or fisher folks. There are many tribes among them but they are thought to be the indigenous people of Sindh. The Mohanas are estimated to number in millions living on and around the river, the lakes, and the coastal areas. They are known to earn their livelihood from water since the times immemorial. Some of the tribes live on boats from birth to death and everything in their lives revolves around the water. Others live near water but earn livelihood from water as well. Due to recent water shortage, the lives of these folks have been enormously disturbed, forcing them to move away from and out of water and try to find alternative means of livelihood. It has been estimated that about 2.0 million Mohanas have been affected due to water shortage throughout Sindh.13 It is not only devastating for these folks to adjust to a new way of life or location but also a great loss to the cultural diversity that Sindh has been rightly proud of for thousands of years.
Cultural Deprivation: Water has great importance in the lives and belief system of the Sindhi people. The religion, literature, and many cultural and social aspects of their lives are intertwined with water; especially the Indus. Sindhis were known to be Darya Panthis or the river worshipers. Sadha Bello shrine in the middle of River Indus and the legends of Shahbaz Qalandar, Zindah Pir, and Uderolal are intimately related to Indus. Many instances in the Sindhi folklore are also related to water. The deity of Jhuleylal and the persona of Zindah Pir in Sindh subscribe to the belief that they live in the river and the Jhuleylal is even thought to travel sitting on a Pallo fish. Folk stories of Sohni Mehar, Noori Jam Tamachi, Ghatoos, Hurs of Mukhi, Shah Latif and Karar Lake, Mangho Pir and crocodiles, Laki Tirath, and some of the Samoi predictions are all related to water. Many festivities, religious rites, and social events are held at or around water. These facts point to a special psyche of Sindhis related to water. Depriving them of water is to deprive them from their core belief system and cultural values. No wonders then that people are having mental problems in the areas of severe water scarcity in Sindh.
Death of Indus
The Indus River stands destroyed and the Indus man stonewalled. The centuries old relationship of Indus water and Indus man mentioned in ancient Mesopotamian texts is in danger. These texts indicate the Meluha (Indus Valley Civilization) was one of the two seafaring civilizations in the neighborhood of India in the third millennium BC. They are described as an aquatic culture, where water and bathing played a central role. Enterprising Indus man exported local products to Mesopotamia, Egypt, Iran and Central Asia and brought back enormous wealth. All of sudden this glorious civilization disappeared. The demise of this earliest known civilization on the earth was due to shifting of the mighty Indus. The ecological changes forced agriculture, the mainstay of economy, to come to a standstill, compelling people to migrate to other parts of the subcontinent. The current condition of the Indus Valley has given birth to a sense of déjà vu and it seems history is repeating itself. The modern Indus is under tremendous pressure and its lower riparian migrating to other areas because of the destruction of the Indus due to the dams and canals like that of recently inaugurated Greater Thal Canal.18
Future of Pakistan
If the past 55 years are a guide the future of Pakistan does not appear to be very promising. Pakistan is entangled with India over Kashmir and has recently taken a 180-degree turnaround from backing of Taliban in Afghanistan to joining US in its fight against Taliban and other terrorists. The economy is sputtering at best. Poverty and unemployment are rampant. Pakistan's entire budget seems to be spent on the military. Very limited portion of the budget goes to the social sector. Democracy is not stable - or should we say nonexistent. No democratic institutions exist in the country, dictatorial rule prevails, and the judiciary is subdued to say the least. Crime rate was already high but with the recent terror attacks and kidnappings the situation seems to have worsened. Health delivery and education systems are broken down and in a state of disrepair. Possession of the weapons of mass destruction, traditional encouragement of the conservative political forces by the ruling oligarchy, and marginalization of the liberals and centrists do not bode well with the common man and the outside world. The point is that there are already so many political fissures in the Pakistani society that is rotten to the core. It would not take much to destabilize it.
Given so many problems, Sindh's anger and frustration with respect to water shortage can only exacerbate the situation. Also, given the political impasse between the representatives of Sindh and the military oligarchy, it is not far fetched to envision that the water issue could give an impetus to the centrifugal forces and galvanize the masses in Sindh. Sindh is already under tremendous repression from the center and Punjab and has a budding national movement. Water is a bread and butter issue and may become a source of discontent that may spiral out of control of the government and create a situation similar to 1971 in the then East Pakistan and now Bangladesh.
If a sincere effort is not taken to reverse the water shortage and resulting problems, it is more than likely that slowly but surely Sindh will be moving towards an ecological disaster and a famine like situation that could put it under an international spotlight. In the present state of environmental awakening and global acceptance of lower riparian rights, Pakistan's treatment of Sindh may be seen as a gross violation of the international norms. Pakistan being a nuclear country, cozy with religious fundamentalists, and with less than perfect human rights record, its efforts to cause an ecological disaster and famine in Sindh might make it a pariah in the world. It is likely then that the national aspirations of Sindh may also be viewed as legitimate issue of human rights and an expression of self-determination.
Consequently, everything points to the future of Pakistan to be problematic, unstable, and clouded at best. There doesn't seem to be any silver lining to be hopeful about it.
Based on the above discussion, following recommendations are in order:
MAF Million Acre Feet;
Maund 37.3242 kg;
ppm Parts Per Million;
ton (metric) 1,000 kg;
hectre 2.471 acres
Bibliography of Literature Cited