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Water ‘most precious’ as the heat wave starts from today – Newspaper

• Groundwater recharge dams in the most arid areas of Sindh have already dried up
• Urban areas suffer from shortages due to prolonged discharges
• Improved flows in Indus are yet to reach Sindh

HYDERABAD: With temperatures already above 40 degrees, water availability will undoubtedly be the major issue facing some of the most vulnerable areas of Sindh once the heat wave expected to start from today (Tuesday) arrives.

Prolonged outages have already made life hell for people in urban areas, with frequent and unannounced power cuts leading to water shortages in areas served by Sukkur and Hyderabad electricity companies.

“We have asked the divisional commissioners of Hyderabad and Sukkur to contact Hesco and Sepco in this regard to ensure that load shedding is avoided,” Sindh Chief Secretary Asif Hyder Shah told Dawn.

However, the Water and Sanitation Authority (Wasa) blames distribution companies and loadshedding for their inability to ensure drinking water supply to Hyderabad residents, which requires around 130 million liters per day during peak summer.

“We are able to supply 70-75 million gallons per day, the rest is raw or settled water supply,” a Wasa official told Dawn, saying Hesco was deaf to their requests.

Apart from cities like Karachi and Hyderabad, most other areas in the province may not have major filtration plants that supply drinking water to people.

“Extreme weather conditions are forcing civil society organizations to hit the panic button,” said Ghulam Murtaza Arain of the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR).

He told Dawn that heatwave conditions increase the evaporation of water, which provides a favorable environment for bacterial growth everywhere.

“Civil agencies end up supplying untreated water to meet the increased demand for drinking water… but if we avoid chlorination and treatment, it will cause fecal contamination and cases of water-borne diseases could skyrocket,” he says.

PCRWR Chairman Ashraf Mohammad told Dawn that during heatwaves, evaporation from surface water in dams and canals increases, endangering overall water availability.

“Soil moisture is starting to deplete at a rapid pace and crops require successive irrigation cycles, which is becoming impossible,” he noted.

This is likely to jeopardize the availability of irrigation water for the agricultural sector and increase groundwater extraction from wells in the arid areas of Nagarparkar in Tharparkar, Kachho in Dadu and Kohistan in Jamshoro, where dams have already been depleted.

Recharge dams have been built in large numbers to strengthen groundwater aquifers in particularly arid areas, but although about 52 such dams are currently operational, the water stored there has already been absorbed. In Kohistan and Kaccho, 7,323 acre feet of water is currently available in six dams, which have a cumulative capacity of 37,658 acre feet. In the Nagarparkar area, eight dams now have water storage sufficient for 20 days to 90 days.

“In the context of Thar, recharge dams benefit both people and livestock,” said Ali Akbar, a development sector worker from Chhachhro. “Because the aquifer is not being recharged, the intense heat increases the salt concentration in the groundwater wells, in addition to putting severe pressure on the shallow groundwater,” he said.

The Indus River System Authority recently predicted that the Indus will have sufficient water flows downstream of Tarbela.

This means that water availability for Sindh may improve, but a shortage of around 34% was still reported across Sindh’s three barrages till May 18.

Improved water flows bode well for the agricultural sector, provided better management takes place. Currently, the Guddu barrage has the highest water deficit of 44%, followed by Kotri’s 43% on May 18, as the improved flows downstream of Tarbela are yet to reach Sindh.

Former Chairman of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council Yusuf Zafar points out that the heat wave could undermine the early sown cotton crop in Sindh. PCRWR’s Mr Ashraf said the heat could also affect sugarcane crops.

Mahmood Nawaz Shah, chairman of the Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB), opined that drought would mainly affect vegetable production, especially that of onions.

Published in Dawn, May 21, 2024