earth and an Indus sutra
in Pakistan has brought sectarian tensions in Sindh, Punjab abd
Balochistan to the surface. BHAVNA VIJ reports
headache peeping around the corner for General Pervez Musharraf,
and it has nothing to do with Kashmir, the US or nuclear weapons.
It’s something as basic and unsolved as drought. An Oxfam team which
has visited Pakistan had warned that the crisis could deteriorate,
plunging the regions of Sindh, Baluchistan and Punjab into a civil
war, not very different from what had happened in Ethiopia and Somalia
a few years ago.
administration did not seem to hear the warning bells till people
came out into the streets. Riots and street-level violence soon
became common: earlier this month, two persons were killed when
police opened fire on people protesting against water shortage in
Sindh. Hundreds of others who tried to block the National Highway
were arrested. The protestors were led by the Jeay Sindh Quami Mohaz
(JSQM) and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM).
Sindh is one
of the worst affected regions. According to reports in the Pakistani
media, about 1.4 million acres of agricultural land in Guddu barrage
and 3.2 million acres in Sukkur barrage has been damaged. Orchards
all over the province and mangrove forests in lower Sindh have been
ruined. This was mainly because of drying up of the Indus river.
been received inadequate rainfall since 1998 and as a result 200
nullahs, bringing water into Indus from Kashmir had dried. The fish
in the river perished on a large scale, depriving the fishermen
of their means of livelihood. The Sindhi nationalist leaders got
together to form the ‘Dariya Bachao Committee’ (save the river)
to focus on the problem.
shook the government was when the agitation threatened to become
provincial — ‘‘Sindh versus Punjab.’’ Sindhis alleged that Punjab
was conspiring to turn Sindh into a desert by denying their share
of water in the Indus, and that a 1991 agreement on water sharing
was violated. The preception in Sindh was that Punjab was diverting
water through its three canals.
couldn’t ignore the situation any longer. Especially when Punjab
too suffered drastic cuts in water supply. Jhelum and Chenab also
had very little water. The result was country’s three main reservoirs
— Tarbela, Mangala and Chashma — were left with alarmingly low levels
The media in
Pakistan had been highlighting the problem which isn’t too different
from what’s happening in parts of Rajasthan, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh
and Gujarat. In addition to food shortage, the next thing feared
was a severe power crisis which could affect the industries in Pakistan.
The newspapers there had been warning of increased unemployment
and a socio-economic chaos.
situation has been made worse by problem of silting and indiscriminate
felling of trees. Ecologists in Pakistan have been predicting worse.
With the winter crops in Punjab and Sindh receiving 60 per cent
less rainfall, it is estimated that food production will go down
by 35 per cent, forcing food-grain import. Crops that require a
lot of water are being either abandoned or replaced by other crops
like beetroot and sugarcane. Sowing of cotton has been delayed.
the Sindh Agricultural Forum, the water crisis was so acute that
production of Kharif crops had gone down by 30-40 per cent and of
Rabi crop between 65 to 70 per cent. Nearly two million people were
adversely affected. The military administration of the country had
come in for strong criticism for its failure to handle the problem.
In the opinion of experts, the shortage was likely to continue for
another decade, if not tackled properly.
that there were certain basic flaws in the way government approached
the problem, columnist Colonel (retd) Ghulam Sarwar writing in The
Nation said that successive governments had accorded low priority
to to this pivotal sector of the country’s economy. From the third
five year plan to the eighth, the money accorded to the water sector
had dwindled from 46 per cent to barely nine per cent of the country’s
But one outcome
of the water crisis that India may be watching with keen interest
is a possible standoff between Pakistan and occupied Kashmir. Demands
that Pakistan should pay royalty to PoK for power from the Mangla
dam had been increasing. And a new situation which had developed
was that people of Mirpur were resisting plans for widening of the
Mangla reservoir. Their reasons were not very different from those
opposing the Narmada dam in India.
Mirpuri families were displaced in the 1960s when the construction
of Mangla dam started. They did not want a repeat of the situation