Dec 21, 2009

Sindh: Unending Water Dispute

Sample ImageThe dispute between Sindh and Punjab on water distribution from the Indus River system has dogged Pakistan’s politics and federation for decades and soured ties between the two provinces.

Below is an article published by: the Dawn Media Group 

Sindh invariably accuses Punjab of ‘stealing’ water from the other provinces’ share and blames the latter for the desertification of vast tracts of its own land which is causing grave damage. Obviously, Punjab rejects these charges and claims that it has many a time ‘gifted’ water from its share to Sindh in order to reduce the acrimony. Even the 1991 water accord which allocates the share of water to each province has failed to dissolve tensions between Sindh and Punjab.

Not a single season has passed without the two provinces sparring over the distribution of water since the accord was signed almost two decades ago. Therefore, the ongoing dispute on water-sharing for the remaining period of the current Rabi crops didn’t surprise many.

That the Indus River System Authority has failed to find a solution and is forced to put in place an ad hoc arrangement to protect the current wheat crop in Punjab needs to be seen in the context of its inability to correctly predict shortages and measure transmission and distribution losses. At the heart of the current dispute is the disappearance of 2.5 MAF of water from the system. Irsa insists that Punjab has utilised it, but the latter maintains that it has not drawn it yet. Who is being economical with the truth? We may never know.

The discord on water distribution is unlikely to be settled unless we have technology to forecast shortages and correctly measure losses. But before that the political leadership of the provinces must sit across the table to thoroughly discuss the issue which has evolved over the years into a political dispute.

The provincial leadership has recently demonstrated that it can take on very contentious issues (such as the inter-provincial distribution of federal tax revenues under the National Finance Commission) and show flexibility in stated positions to democratically settle disputes. The leadership should go with the flow and seek an end to water distribution disputes.