Quetta: A long-festering dispute over water sharing between provinces is threatening to intensify as farmers protest against chronic water shortages across the south-western province of Balochistan.
Balochistan provincial authorities have raised the matter with Council of Common Interests (CCI), the constitutional body mandated to resolve problems of power sharing between the provinces and the federation.
“Balochistan is located at the end of the country’s canal system and because of this, other provinces, especially Sindh, are exploiting our share of water, leaving us little for irrigation,” Muhammad Naseem Bazai, Balochistan’s representative on the Indus River System Authority (IRSA), told News Lens Pakistan
Balochistan’s gripe over exploitation of its water share by neighbouring Sindh by virtue of its control over IRSA and its location on the upper reaches of the Indus system goes a long way back.
Authorities in Quetta, the provincial capital, say Sindh has been appropriating Balochistan’s share for its own irrigation needs.
“On July 18, 2016, the Sindh province was getting 200,000 cusecs of water against its original requirement of 135,000 cusecs, with 100,000 cusecs of water going to waste as it flows below the Kotri Barrage into the Arabian Sea,” said Bazaai.
On the one hand, he said, Balochistan’s share in the thousands of cusecs of water used by Sindh is appropriated while on the other, it was allowing waste of 100,000 cusecs of water by letting it flow into the sea.
“It is cruel because due to shortage of water, thousands of acres of crops are damaged in Balochistan every year,” said Bazaai.
According to Bazaai, in 2014 Balochistan’s water share was 3.87 million acre feet. The shortage that year was 42 per cent of its share. In 2016, said Bazaai, the province is again facing a shortage of 42 per cent.
“Due to shortage of this 42 per cent canal water, 350,000 to 400,000 acres of cropland has turned arid.”
He said after repeated reminders to the Sindh government to implement the Indus River System Accord, 1991 and taking up the matter with IRSA without much success, addressing it through CCI was the only recourse left to Balochistan.
The main reason, he said, behind the “injustice” with Balochistan was that regulators and water control points were based in Sindh and the irrigation staff there diverted Balochistan’s share of water into their own canals.
Syed Mazhar Ali Shah, Sindh’s member in IRSA, told News Lens Pakistan on telephone from Karachi that there existed a water sharing issue but not as big as Bazaai said it was.
“There is only a shortage of three to four hundred cusecs in the Khirthar canal,” said Shah.
“Balochistan is getting its complete share in the rest of the canals.”
Shah said the plea from authorities in both Sindh and Balochistan to solve the issue would help and IRSA would do its best to resolve the matter.
“It is not good to register this case with the Council of Common Interests.”
He said it was not IRSA’s brief to ensure complete share of water to Balochistan but to ask the Sindh government to arrange for supply. He said IRSA’s chairman had sent several letters to the Secretary of Sindh to supply the complete share of water to canals in Baluchistan.
Jan Muhammad Buledi, Information Secretary for National Party, one of the political parties in the ruling coalition of three in Balochistan, said after the 1991 water sharing accord between provinces, Balochistan had never got its full share of water because of Sindh had appropriated it for its own use.
Buledi said Sindh refused to pay for the water it exploited from Balochistan. He said Sindh owed Balochistan billions of rupees for the water it had illegally used.
“The next conflict will be over water, so Sindh should take our grievances seriously,” said Buledi.
“The federal government should stress on Sindh and IRSA to uphold the agreement and give Baluchistan its due share. The 350,000 acres of crops damaged in Naseerabad division due to diversion of Balochistan canals water to Sindh has a direct impact on our economy and people’s livelihood.”
Imran Umrani, a landlord in Naseerabad and a leader of the Kaashtkar Movement, said due to shortage of canal water, almost 40 per cent of Naseerabad’s Kharif crops were damaged, with landlords accruing huge losses.
“The fact that the canals emanating from Sukkur Barrage in Sindh have full water supply that is reduced by half when it reaches Balochistan points to the mendacity of Sindh that wants to deprive land here of water,” said Umrani.
He said Balochistan was facing a severe shortage of food but the provincial government was doing little to take up the matter of water shortage with the federal government.