In 1948, Indus Water Treaty was signed between India and Pakistan to regularise the distribution of water among them. The treaty was finalised after almost 9 years of negotiations between India and Pakistan brokered by the World Bank. The treaty allocated the rights of three eastern rivers to India. Despite the fact that the treaty was biased against Pakistan, India has been violating it for the past 20 years.
As per the agreement, the demand of the Punjab province for water, increased in part due to the allocation of three rivers to India, is being fulfilled by the Indus River which has subsequently led to a water scarcity in Sindh. Soon after the treaty the Sindhi nationalists protested and demanded an increase in their share of water, but they were quickly suppressed by the state.
The past months were quite eventful in terms of Sindh’s water problem, especially after the Pakistan People’s Party became part of the federal government and Sindh’s water shortage came under discussion in parliament. People of Sindh, considering that their regional party was now part of the federal government, were hoping for some relief, but it didn’t all go as planned.
The minister for Water Resources ordered an increase in Sindh’s share but even that is not enough to meet the needs of the province. The feudals from the upper Sindh and Punjab are encroaching upon the share of lower Sindhis. Punjab being the most-populated of all provinces, gobbles up the lion’s share of water resources, that too, unevenly with the northern Punjab getting a disproportionately large part of it.
This year the water level dropped to a record low in various canals across the whole of Sindh. Thatta-Sujawal bridge, the 3km long canal located right at the Indus, is now a dried river bed of white sand. Fields in lower, upper and central Sindh were severely affected by water scarcity, reducing the crop yield. As a result local farmers lost most of their produce. Hours of hard work on their fields amounted to nothing.
The water shortage has made cultivation difficult. Hundreds of thousands of acres of land has been rendered barren. The export crops such as Sugarcane, Cotton and other vegetables simply cannot not be cultivated . Fields of crops like cotton, which is an important export, became dried because of a lack of water. Lush orchards of Sindh have turned to barren and dry land.
“The water shortage has made our orchards go dry. The mango production is now 45% less than the previous year. The cotton in Sanghar district is cultivated on 300 thousand acres but this year we can’t even cultivate on 200 thousand acres,” says a farmer in Shahdadpur.
Karachi, the largest metropolitan area of Pakistan in terms of population, has been facing severe water shortages for two decades. The water that comes through taps at home is not fit for use. It has led to the spread of various water-borne diseases. The elite in the city get water delivered through private services but it is the working class majority of the city that suffers the most. The K-4 project which promised more drinking water to meet the city’s demand has long been delayed, due to the incompetence of provincial as well as the federal government.
Dadu canal, Rohri canal, Kotri barrage and other canals of Sindh are now completely dry. The water level at Kotri Barrage dropped to an alarming level of 60%, despite the 1991 agreement which says that there should be 15000 QC volume in the barrage. The upstream at Kotri barrage has 4000 QC and the downstream barely has 200 QC volume.
The drying of canals on the Indus has devastated poor fishermen (Mahigeer) who have been making a living through fishing in Indus rivers and its various canals. They are living hand to mouth, barely able to afford a second meal, most days.
Sindhis are still pleading for their rightful share in the country’s water resources. Increased provincial autonomy and empowering the senate might resolve the problem to some extent. But, I believe that water shortage is going to stay with us unless we consider re-negotiating with India on the Indus Treaty, and find a way around the problem that is acceptable for both countries.
By Abdul Rauf