Pakistan News

De-silting of waterways

De-silting of waterways

AGRICULTURE has traditionally been a critical source of the country’s economic growth. It provides employment to nearly 44pc of the labour force, accounts for approximately 22pc of GDP and contributes directly or indirectly to 70pc of the export earnings.

It also feeds the industrial base by providing raw materials, and produces 90pc of the country’s food and fibre requirements.

With three earth-filled dams, 19 barrages, 12 link canals, 43 irrigation canals extending over 58,500 kilometres and nearly 100,000 water courses, Pakistan has a huge irrigation system.

Under a recently signed agreement, the Asian Development Bank will provide Pakistan a loan of $42.9m for upgrading water management and irrigation systems in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) to help the tribal communities increase their farmland productivity and incomes.

Meanwhile, the World Bank will finance the Sindh Irrigated Agriculture Productivity Enhancement Project at an estimated cost of Rs31.32bn to improve agricultural productivity of small- and medium-sized farmers.

The project envisages lining up to 30pc of the total length of watercourses, providing flood shelters to the farming community and farm animals, and introduce/expand the high efficiency irrigation system (HEIS) for growing high-value crops and kitchen farming.

The project is aimed at reducing the demand for water through three types of interventions: watercourse improvement, improved field irrigation technologies coupled with precision land levelling, and the adoption of HEIS and furrow irrigation.

Oxfam recently collaborated with the Indus consortium to organise a conference for preparing and presenting a policy draft on Punjab’s irrigation water. The exercise was done through consultation with local communities, water experts, government line departments, academicians and the broader civil society.

The policy brief presented in the conference highlighted that the decayed irrigation infrastructure — apart from poor management of Punjab’s canal irrigation and the inefficiency of the system — is the main cause of farmers’ plight. An expert from the Punjab Irrigation and Drainage Authority stated that the irrigation network in the province was based on contiguous gravitational flow and the supply is unreliable owing to a lack of storage facilities.

Due to an abundance of rivers, waterways, canals and ports, the country’s waterways need to be constantly de-silted; the deepening of the ports’ waterways and berths is also required. Over-silted rivers and canals cause widespread devastation every few years since most of them do not have adequate capacity to hold water, leading to overflowing.

Dredging the courses to deepen them will save hundreds of lives and also increase the water-holding capacity of barrages, canals and rivers.

But the 180km-long and 250-300 feet wide Pat Feeder Canal, constructed in 1974, has never been de-silted. Consequently, its original depth of 18-20 feet has been reduced to just 10 feet. Dredging is the only solution.

The international donor agencies are assisting the federal, Sindh and Punjab governments to improve the usage of irrigated water in agriculture, as well as in flood control and poverty alleviation. This will also help achieve increased supply of irrigation water, restore decaying irrigation infrastructure and ultimately lead to higher efficiency.

The Indian government is carrying out full-fledged dredging operations in the Jhelum river in Kashmir using the world’s best dredges to control floods.

Yet, unfortunately, there has been no mention of mechanical and high-tech dredging of canals and rivers in any of the policy and planning documents for restoring the irrigation system.

Dredging must be prescribed an essential element in achieving the multiple objectives of flood control, efficient irrigation system, enhanced productivity and storage capacity, food autarky and poverty alleviation.

The writer is a former minister of state and chairman of the Export Promotion Bureau [email protected]

Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, May 11th , 2015

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