Ample supply of water availability during the upcoming Kharif crops (April-June) could help farmers in expanding the area under the summer-sown crops while also boosting yields.
Ample supply of water in early Kharif season means that sowing of important crops like cotton and rice on large area. As snow melting accelerates from June, water availability improves considerably in late Kharif season. However, owing to low storage capacity of reservoirs, water supplies in early Kharif season always plummets with no or little carryover from preceding Rabi season.
Kharif sowing starts from April-June and is harvested during October-December. Main Kharif crops include cotton, rice, sugarcane, maize, pulses such as moong, mash, bajra and jowar. Pakistan’s agricultural productivity is primarily dependent upon the timely availability of water, as almost 90 percent of crops are cultivated in the irrigated zone.
According to an official estimate made for the Kharif season 2020, as many as two million-acre feet of water will be available as carryover by end of Rabi 2019-2020 season on March 31. This quantity of water is about one-sixth of total storage capacity of large dams.
Better water situation is being foreseen for the forthcoming Kharif season compared to the previous one due to better hydro-meteorological scenarios. Both the water reservoirs of Tarbela and Mangla dams are expected to be filled to maximum level after meeting all irrigation requirements during Kharif season. As per initial estimate, five to fifteen million acre feet of water is estimated to escape below Kotri into the sea during Kharif season.
Water scarcity in early Kharif season has unfortunately been a bone of contention among the provinces, especially between Punjab and Sindh. Since sowing of Kharif crops starts earlier in Sindh, it coincides with impounding of water in Mangla Dam, thus the fight on water distribution was an annual feature.
Sindh argues that filling of Mangla Dam, which is built on Jhelum River, should not be initiated at the cost of lower riparian provinces.
On the other hand, Punjab contends that early storage of water in the Mangla Lake is indispensable due to the fact that healthy water inflows only last till late June in the Jhelum River. Thus, accelerated filling criteria have been the only viable solution for ensuring its filling up to the storage capacity.
Punjab adds that water stored in Mangla Dam plays vital role in meeting irrigation requirements in the next lean period of Rabi season when wheat is sown in the country.
Punjab also floated an idea a few years back to allow water supplies to Sindh in early Kharif period, provided greater compensatory flows from Tarbela Dam in later months for facilitating Mangla filling to maximum level. However, there was no taker of such barter system as Indus River System Authority (IRSA) could not take steps for ensuring working of any such mechanism.