LAHORE - With three earth-fill dams, 19 barrages, 12 link canals, 43 irrigation canals extending over a length of 58,500 kilometres and nearly 1,00,000 watercourses, Pakistan has a huge irrigation system. In spite of all this, the available water supplies fall much short of country’s crop-water requirements. To overcome the problem, Pakistan must increase the available supply of irrigation water, raise its use efficiency and ensure equitable distribution.

Water experts, farmers, academicians and government officials expressed these views while addressing a provincial water conference held here on Tuesday in connection with World Water Day which will be observed later this week. Speakers also emphasized upon the Punjab government to come up with an inclusive provincial water policy so as to cope with current and upcoming water-related challenges.

The Indus Consortium in collaboration with Oxfam organized the event aiming to present policy draft on Punjab irrigation water prepared through consultations with local communities, water experts, government line departments and broader civil society. Two short documentaries were also screened in the event highlighting the plight of tail-end farmers in Punjab and Sindh provinces. The conference enabled all stakeholders to give their input to design a set of recommendations for policymakers. Policy brief presented in the conference states that decayed irrigation infrastructure is the main cause of farmers’ plight. Punjab govt needs to carry out the institutional reforms in the right direction and bring clarity in objectives they want to achieve. Also, govt needs to uphold the rule of law in water distribution. There’s a vast gap to be filled between official and actual share-lists of water distribution. Increased participation of farmers in the decision making and management of Punjab’s canal irrigation system is also advocated by the policy brief.

Saadia Sohail Rana, PTI’s MPA, said that by denying farmers proper rates for wheat, rice, cotton and sugarcane, the government was destroying the agricultural sector in Pakistan.  Khawar Nazeer, general manager (technical) of Punjab Irrigation and Drainage Authority (PIDA), said that PIDA was working day-in day-out to solve the problems of tail end farmers.  Dr Rai Niaz Ahmad, Vice Chancellor of Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi, said that there was potential and expertise in educational institutions such as universities, and that expertise could be utilized for improving water governance.

Mushtaq Gaadi, water expert and academician, said: “The way forward to cope with this crisis and get prepared for future risks, it is imperative adopting dialogic and democratic approach so that the representatives of all old and new actors should be able to participate, confronts and forge consensus.”

World renowned water expert Dr. Shahid Ahmad said that Indus basin irrigation system was the largest irrigation system of the world currently having complex problems. How the Department of Irrigation will implement the reforms, when these are going to affect their bureaucracy and opportunities for rent seeking,” Dr Shahid inquired.  Manzoor Hussain, president of tail-end farmers of Rangpur canal (district Muzaffargarh), Afzal Toor, deputy general manager PIDA, Iqbal Haider, Indus Consortium’s Executive Director, Jamshaid Fareed, Fiza Qureshi and Bushra Khalid also spoke.