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Power outages creating problems for growers

Forty percent of Sindh’s agriculture depends on the drawing of water, from various sources, but power outages, are making the process difficult, causing much grief to growers, who are suffering heavy losses. “Not only the system of tube wells suffers from power outages, but the whole irrigation system, a gravity system in which water flows its natural course, was not working properly,” bemoaned General Secretary Sindh Abadgar Board Syed Mehmood Nawaz Shah on Friday

Forty percent of Sindh’s agriculture is afflicted by water shortages, as the irrigation system has collapsed and farmers have switched to drawing water from canals and under ground channels through unreliable sources, reported one grower.

Salinity Control and Reclamation Projects (SCARP) tube wells were installed in Sindh with the support of the World Bank, which drew water not only for irrigation purposes, but saline water was also drawn to maintain the underground water table. “New tube wells, however, are not being installed under the SCARP project,” Shah stated.

The SCARP project used to work under Wapda, but it is currently working under the Ministry of Irrigation and Power of the provincial government.

In the Punjab, meanwhile, 90 percent of the water drawing machines have switched over to diesel because of the power crisis, reported President Farmers Associates Pakistan Mohammad Tariq Bucha.

A total of 1.1 million tube wells are working in the Punjab, out of which, 900,000 tube wells draw water on diesel. A unit of electricity produced from diesel costs Rs60 while farmers are charged Rs28 to Rs38 per unit by Wapda, as the flat rate system was withdrawn and farmers are paying the price of electricity for industrial use.

Pakistan depends heavily on irrigation. Its irrigation system, which dates from the nineteenth century, is one of the largest contiguous systems in the world. “Despite the extensive irrigation, however, the country faces two ongoing problems—salinity and water logging-that have come to be known as Pakistan’s “twin menace.” Annually, they reduce production on millions of hectares of farmland, put large tracts of land out of production altogether, and jeopardize the system’s integrity,” said a report of the World Bank.

The problem of salinity is all the more serious because the groundwater in the Indus basin is saline, except where the fresh water of the Indus and its tributaries has refreshed it.

Attacking the twin menace is a massive undertaking, and the International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank’s assistance is only a small part of the effort. The IDA has made 27 irrigation loans or credit to Pakistan for a total of US$1.305 billion. Nine of these, or US$457 million, were principally for drainage to control salinization and water logging.

The World Bank report said that the problem was far from solved, and that Pakistan continued to lose almost as much irrigated land each year as it gained from investments.

Salinity Control and Reclamation Projects (SCARPs) were started in the country to leach the saline water out of the lands, which were financed with local resources and a variety of external financing, including IDA funds.

The provision of water grew progressively worse as the tube wells lost their efficacy with the fall of the water table and power supplies grew less and less reliable. A transitionary pilot project was now started, designed to resolve these problems by eliminating public tube wells in areas with plentiful fresh groundwater and enabling farmers to construct their own tube wells.

The use of the tube wells balanced things out in these areas, causing the water table to drop modestly to within the desirable range and the water quality improved.

And despite the irrigation and drainage costs, farmers were able to increase their productivity sufficiently to make gains: Average net farm income per hectare increased 16 percent in the project areas and 12 percent in the control areas.

Although the cost of drawing water has increased, the World Bank suggested that the rehabilitation of SCARP tube wells was not a viable alternative. Similar community-based measures of private tube wells are being proposed for Pakistan—an optimistic outlook for the future of the country’s essential irrigation system.

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