By Saleem Shaikh
THE scarcity of both irrigation and drinking water in many parts of Sindh has sparked protests and rallies by farmers, traders and the people whose day-to-day socio-economic lives and standing crops have been affected.
The water shortage has aggravated following closure of canals during the second week of December for de-silting and repair/maintenance work at barrages, canal heads, and regulators.
On November 23, the federal ministry for water and power had announced canal closure schedule for de-silting and repair from December 26, 2010 to January 31, 2011. The provincial irrigation department and relevant authorities were directed to strictly adhere to the schedule and make alternative arrangements for providing water for irrigation and drinking in their respective provinces.
But, alternative arrangements were not adequate in many areas of Jacobabad, Sukkur, Qambar-Shahdadkot, Hyderabad, Tando Allahyar, Tando Adam, Matiyari, Sanghar, Thatta, Badin and Umerkot districts. In these shortage-hit districts, the underground water has also turned brackish because of closure of the canals.
The Sukkur Barrage and its seven off-taking canals were shut in the first week of January for annual repair and maintenance. But, because of lack of coordination between the office of the barrage`s chief engineer and municipal administration, the city and its adjoining areas suffered acute water shortage.
In anticipation of shortage in the Sukkur region, the provincial government assigned the North Sindh Urban Services Corporation (NSUSC) to arrange supply of water to people of Sukkur, Rohri and adjoining areas through tube-wells in a week`s time.
The NSUSC is a public limited company working under the local government. But, a dispute broke out on January 5 over drilling of wells for alternative supply of drinking water when irrigation officials forcibly got the corporation`s drilling work halted and the machinery removed from the sites.
When NSUSC`s Sukkur director Abid Hussain asked as to why they had stopped their work, the irrigation officials told him to approach the Executive Engineer Sukkur Barrage Zareef Khero on this issue.
“But, Zareef Khero when contacted said he had no concern with it,” a NSUSC official said. Meanwhile, this scribe also tried to approach the relevant district government officials to find out their version, but they refused to comment.
A Sukkur town municipal official told this scribe that “against the daily requirement of 16 million gallons of water, the city is getting only nine million gallons.”
The residents complain that much of it is contaminated as it is supplied through leaked and damaged supply lines, which run parallel to the drainage pipelines.
People of different localities fetch expensive water from hand pumps installed in the low-lying areas of the city.
NSUSC Sukkur Assistant Director Manzoor Ahmed Bachkani said the situation was slowly improving in some parts of the city. “Now the closure of Sukkur Barrage is over and enough water is being supplied to the affected residents,” he remarked.
On December 20 last year, Chief Engineer Irrigation of the Kotri Barrage had notified for the information of landholders, cultivators, Hyderabad`s Water and Sanitation Authority (Wasa), civic agencies of adjoining districts and all concerned that the barrage canals would remain closed from December 25 to January 01 for normal inspection, maintenance and necessary repairs. During this period there would be no water flowing in any of the barrage`s off-taking canals namely Akram Wah (Lined Channel) Old Phuleli (Pinyari), New Phuleli (Phuleli), Kalri Baghar Feeder Upper, Wadhu Wah and Fasadi Wah.
But, the Hyderabad`s Water and Sanitation Agency and district government officials and the TMOs of Thatta, Badin and other districts failed to make arrangements for alternate supply.
The people of Hyderabad, Tando Mohammad Khan, Tando Allahyar, Matiari, Thatta and Badin districts have held officials of Taluka municipal administrations responsible for their water woes.
According to reports, more than 800,000 people are facing water shortage in the said districts.
Badin, a town of more than 200,000 people, is the worst hit in lower Sindh, facing water shortage for more than 45 days. Standing vegetable and Rabi crops in and around the area are also at the risk of being damaged.
Lar Abadgar Board`s Amin Memon said: “The locals never opposed de-silting and maintenance work at the Qazia Canal, which is the chief source of drinking water for the people of Badin city and its adjoining areas. But alterative arrangements for water supply should have been made by the TMA.”
Water scarcity had equally affected the people and farmers as seedlings of tomato and other vegetables were drying up due to zero availability of water in canals and distributaries. Besides, fish farmers have also suffered massive losses because of short supply of fresh water,” he pointed out.
Meanwhile, senior officials at the Kotri Barrage told this scribe on phone that water shortage situation downstream Kotri Barrage districts was unlikely to improve before mid-February as the repair/maintenance work would take another two or three weeks.