Conflict management on water sharing and storage
After a protracted struggle by small provinces against the construction of mega dams on Indus river, the stage is now set for final decision making by the federal government on the most controversial of all the damned dams- the Kala Bagh dam. Technical Committee Report, expected to be released in August 2005, has already been rendered inconsequential by the recent press conferences of the Secretary Irrigation Punjab and the Chairman WAPDA; who have rejected all the claims and arguments of Sindh on sharing and storage of Indus water. The CBMs on “storage reservoirs” have been resumed with a whole lot of subjective rhetoric, which lacks any objective assessment of water availability and foolproof guarantees about judicious water sharing. This article, therefore, presents a representation of Sindh Water Case, with special reference to the critical issues of water apportionment, escapade to sea, and construction of storage dams.
Water distribution and sharing
water for only 13 years from 1977 to 1990, as a baseline data for arriving at the 1991 Accord. During this period, as stated earlier, the water apportionment was made on ad-hoc basis every year. It has nothing to do with the historic use since 1945, because at that time, there was virtually no formal share for Balochistan’s pat feeder canal command area as it was then a part of Sindh province.
With the allocation of 2.24 MAF approved by the ECNEC for LBOD and 0.87 MAF allowed by the President of Pakistan for Karachi city, the present sanctioned annual allocation of provinces as per 1991 Accord is as follows: Punjab 55.94 MAF, Sindh 48.76 MAF, NWFP 8.78 MAF and Balochistan 3.87 MAF. Due to denial of share from Mangla dam and increased apportionment to Punjab, NWFP and Balochistan during shortage years, the average annual use of Sindh in recent years stands only at 43.67 MAF, against its allocated share of 48.76 MAF; while Punjab has managed to take its full share and it also utilizes an additional 45-50 MAF of fresh ground water mined through about 0.6 million shallow tube wells. Punjab is also blessed with a better down pour. Sindh, on the contrary, lacks any significant fresh groundwater and rainfall resources; and, hence, must get its due share of irrigation water for sustainable agriculture and rural livelihood systems.
Sindh agriculture is indispensable
Punjab Water Council and other pro-dam lobbies have often asserted that Sindh Agriculture is an inefficient producer, whereas Punjab alone can feed Pakistan if allowed a lion’s share of Indus river water This assertion is a mere fallacy because, even at present, Sindh contributes over 35 % of rice, 30 % of sugarcane, 20 % of cotton and 15 % wheat production in Pakistan. About 80% of cultivable area in Sindh can be classified as having very high, high and/or moderate potential for agricultural production; while only 20 percent of the area has low potential for general cropping. Given its due share of water to increase area cropped more than once and to cultivate additional 1.5 million hectares of fertile land, Sindh has the potential to produce 40% each of rice and sugarcane, 30 % each of cotton and wheat and an additional 30 % of fresh fruits and vegetables in Pakistan. Thus, Sindh agriculture can contribute significantly to the objectives of increasing productivity, maintaining quality and variety in exports and economic efficiency as dictated by the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. Sindh agriculture can amply cater to the needs of poorer sections of population in coarse rice and medium fiber cotton; ensure autarky in wheat, sugar, pulses, fruits and vegetables; earn valuable foreign exchange from coarse rice, fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, fisheries and livestock products; and save foreign exchange by substituting for import of crude vegetable oil, wheat, sugar, meat, lentil, spices and vegetables from India and other countries. It would be utterly foolish to rely on India for import of essential food items, while the same can be produced with comparative advantage in Sindh province.
The craze for full control over irrigation water is based on productivity gains realized by Punjab during Green Revolution era (1967-83), where-in it was estimated that 40% each of additional productivity of HYVs of rice and wheat was contributed by higher water and fertilizer doses. The reality now is that Punjab has grown out of that phase, on account of over-application of canal and tubewell water, chemical fertilizers and pesticides since 1980s. Punjab actually uses 50% more water per acre of the CCA, when compared to Sindh. This is causing it an increasing water logging and salinity problem and necessitating huge investments in drainage projects. Punjab agriculture can now compete only by producing quality products such as long fiber fine cotton, aromatic long grain rice, cut rose and processed farm commodities for exports, in addition to wheat. As against this, the marginal productivity of an additional irrigated acre is much higher in Sindh for coarse rice, sugarcane, red rose, melons, sunflower, coconut and oil palm, beetle leaf, mangoes, banana, guava, tomatoes, chillies and onion crops. Sindh, therefore, qualifies for its share granted in Water Accord 1991, even on grounds of economic efficiency.
Escapade to sea
Historical escapades below Kotri have been 80 MAF prior to the construction of upstream barrages and dams. From 1975-1995, these flows gradually reduced to the average level of 35 MAF annually. Afterwards, the belligerent denial of sanctioned water to Sindh has drastically reduced the environmental flows downstream Kotri, so much so that the actual flow was only 0.72 MAF in 2001-02 and virtually none in 2002-03. The IUCN team of experts recently worked out the annual requirements for outflow to sea for environmental sustenance to be 27 MAF (equivalent to 300,000 cusecs). The World Commission on Dams and Development recommends at least 10 percent of basin flows as environmental water for the river deltaic eco-systems. This works out to be about 15 MAF for the Indus river delta. Under present circumstances, even the allocation of 10 MAF given by the 1991 Water Accord is likely to be available only in 17 out of 72 years. The pro-dam lobbies wrongly estimate that still some 35 MAF is going to sea. They also unfortunately happen to believe that downstream escapade to sea is a mere waste; and, that it is “water for frogs and worthless forests”. Environmental and agricultural scientists know, however, that the following colossal damages have already occurred due to dwindling escapade to sea:
i) Sea water intrusion has resulted in the damage of about 1.5 million acres of fertile land in 159 dehs of 8 Tehsils of the deltaic districts - Thatta and Badin and Katcha (riverbank) area of Sindh, spread over 2 million acres, has been rendered barren, with consequent loss of productivity of food grains, cash crops, fodder, pulses and spices and traditional oilseeds.
ii) Mangrove forests, which once grew on 700,000 acres, now cover only 125,000 acres causing an eminent threat to the ports of Karachi and Bin Qasim. Having found an alternative in Gawadar, the pro-dam lobby is conspicuously indifferent to the future of these two ports.
iii) The fish production in the drying creeks and Indus river has declined, while Palla fish catch is nominal. Coastal wetlands and Ramsar sites have been degraded with consequent losses in biodiversity and environmental quality.
iv) Depletion in flow of sweet river water and rich silt (which has gone down from 400 million tons to only 100 million tons annually), has led to what is called a ‘Hyper-Saline Condition” in coastal belt that kills life in all forms; thereby adversely affecting coastal livelihoods and increasing the poverty incidence.
v) Indus river bed has shrunk and become gradually narrow and could be highly disastrous during super flood years, which occur once every decade.
3. Construction of new reservoirs
Controversy over water availability is at the heart of conflict over the construction of new dams for upstream water storage. Sindh experts estimate that every 4 out of 5 years, the yearly system flows are around 123.59 MAF. Annual average water availability from 1922-23 to 2002-03 has been 138 MAF. The WAPDA officials, however, estimate an unbelievable figure of 152 MAF as average annual flows. The following factors must, therefore, be considered seriously to estimate average annual availability of water:
(i) At present, Pakistan has no treaty with Afghanistan for apportionment of water from Kabul River which contributes an average of 20.42 MAF to the Indus main river. Potential short term uses by Afghanistan are about 8 MAF. Adjusting for these uses, the water availability from western rivers will become 130 MAF instead of 138 MAF; and, in 4 out of 5 years 116 MAF instead of 124 MAF. These uses by Afghanistan can increase in the long run, causing further reduction of water in the Indus basin.
(ii) With speedy construction of dams and barrages by India, the hypothetical contribution of 8 MAF by the three eastern rivers which were sold unilaterally by Punjab technocrats and dictatorial government of Field Marshall Ayub Khan in 1960, while Sindh was under the bondage of One Unit, cannot be simply assumed as permanently available for any realistic projection.
(iii) The expectation that the on-going National Program of Improvement of Watercourses (NPIW) would save significant quantum of water for filling in 2-3 mega dams over the long term, is nothing but a myth as is evident from past experience of several on-farm water management projects. Being a crash program, the NPIW has no in-built mechanism to ensure good quality works, proper O & M and sustainability through farmer participation.
(iv) The assumption that the provinces shall continue saving 12 MAF of allocated water annually is also a fallacy, because there is an increasing use of water in Punjab, Balochistan and NWFP (including above rim station utilization).
Sindh technocrats have, therefore, been pleading that there is simply no surplus storable water available, if all requirements and commitments are duly met. The WAPDA and other pro-dam lobbies have not been able to give reliable information on future average annual availability of water flows in the system. Under the scenario of sufficient water availability in only 1 out of 5 years, there is no way that the two mega dams (Kala Bagh and Basha) costing about USD 25 billion or more could be rated as feasible in financial terms. The proposed mega dams cannot stand the test of real economic feasibility when using sensitivity elements such as regional equity, lower riparian rights, welfare and distributive justice, food security of Pakistan, and opportunity cost of poverty, environmental degradation and quality of drinking water.
4. The mistrust factor
Controversy over construction of new dams is partially also a result of mistrust which is deep rooted in the past one and a half century of broken agreements and promises by Punjab province. Some glimpses of operation of existing reservoirs are highlighted hereunder to establish the case in point:
· Dams should be filled when the water is surplus. But Mangla dam is forcibly filled in April and May when there is shortage in Sindh and heavy requirement for Kharif crop.
· After the Indus Water Treaty 1960, allowing exclusive use of 33 MAF of eastern rivers to India instead of their historic utilization of only 8 MAF, the withdrawals of Trimmu, Islam and Panjnad barrages on Indus have been placed at the same priority with that of Guddu, Sukkur and Kotri; resulting in drastic reduction of water at the lower stream barrages.
· GTC is being constructed with a head discharge of 8,500 cusecs whereas maximum discharge allowed in Water Accord’s ten daily allocations by the CCI, in spite of valid objections by Sindh province, is 5,900 cusecs only. There is no guarantee that the GTC would not be converted into a regular irrigation canal just like its predecessors- the CJ and the TP link canals, and used for irrigation of Punjab fields even during shortage years.
· The so called Historic Use Formula of 1994, which was neither agreed by Sindh nor approved by the CCI, is belligerently being followed for Indus water apportionment since then. Ironically, it is in vogue even after its annulment by the IRSA under directives of Chief Executive Secretariat.
· Downstream Kotri escapade to sea has been continuously denied, and apportioned by Punjab in some years, despite protests by Sindh.
· No flood canals and small dams have been constructed in Sindh province, despite pre-proposals for about a dozen such projects.
Under the circumstances, the mistrust between Sindh and Punjab has grown out of proportion. Every passing day, the provoking statements of pro-dam lobbies are fanning this fire. It appears now that a unilateral announcement of constructing Kala Bagh dam will be made shortly by the prime minister - Mr. Shaukat Aziz; who, like his predecessors in power, desires to construct a mega project from the windfall dollar reserves; whereas there are several high priority areas in Pakistan such as social development, investment in vocational education and employment generation, cutting edge research and technology, use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes, and Thar coalfield development which qualify for critical investment and which may have a high economic internal rate of return vis-à-vis the Kala Bagh Dam.
5. Barriers to consensus
From the review of books and materials on Sindh Water Case, one may easily conclude that there is no absolute rejection for the construction of a large carry over storage dam per se. Opposition to the two mega dams emanates from their proposed site, non-availability of water to fill the new dams in four out of five years, intended construction of irrigation canals by Punjab on new dams, low potential and high cost of power generation from proposed dams vis-à-vis exploitation of Thar coal reserves of Sindh, indifference to opportunity cost and feasible alternate uses of huge investments even in the irrigation and drainage sector, track record of violation of water apportionment agreements and accords by Punjab province and lack of legal and regulatory framework to ensure judicial apportionment and sharing of Indus waters in the long run. Government of Pakistan, the WAPDA and the pro-dam establishment of Punjab, have done nothing concrete to guarantee that water apportionment shall be done judiciously and on a sustainable basis; and, that the losses, if any, suffered by all Sindh stakeholders shall be duly compensated.
6. Required CBMs
The unusually hurried process of decision making on upstream irrigation projects, has also multiplied the doubts and unleashed active resistance in Sindh. Mangla dam with raised walls, Tarbella dam and construction of small feasible dams at different sites, can easily handle the water storage needs of Pakistan up to year 2030 A.D. Assuming that completion of a mega irrigation project such as the KBD may require about 10 years, Pakistan has a comfortable margin of 15 years or so for confidence building measures (CBMs) to arrive at a consensus on Indus water sharing and storage. With sincere efforts, skilled negotiation, credible guarantees for future water sharing, initiation of necessary irrigation and drainage projects in Sindh and appropriate compensation for deltaic affectees, such a consensus can most certainly be managed during a much shorter time period.
Alongside the CBMs, there is also a need to base all investment decision making on proper data base. The conflict over technicalities of water availability and appropriate carry over dam sites, can be managed through open exchange of information among all stakeholders. The current WAPDA policy of denial of factual information has been a major hurdle in attaining consensus on various irrigation and drainage projects. Reliable data is expected from the on-going work of technical committee and Downstream Kotri study. In addition, there is a need to complete financial and real economic feasibility studies on other proposed dam projects/ sites. Sindhi technocrats happen to support a carry over dam of 15 MAF at Skurdu. No site below the present Tarbella dam is acceptable because it would be possible for Punjab to take out irrigation canals from the stub channels that may secretly be provided by WAPDA in the design of such dams; as has been the case with Tarbella dam, from which a canal has been taken out after 25 years of its operation.
* Former Vice Chancellor, Sindh Agriculture University, Tando Jam, Pakitstan.