In a historic ceremony held on August 3, 2023, at a local hotel in Karachi, the province of Sindh marked a significant milestone with the inauguration of its first-ever water policy. Syed Murad Ali Shah, the former Chief Minister of Sindh, presided over the ceremony, which brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, including agricultural officials, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academicians, progressive farmers, water-related engineers, and experts. This policy, approved by the Sindh Cabinet on July 22, 2023, is said to be a game-changer in the history of Sindh’s irrigation, dating back to British colonial rule.
Before introducing this comprehensive water policy, the Sindh Irrigation System operated under two separate laws: the Sindh Irrigation Law of 1879 and the Sindh Water Management Ordinance of 2002, which applied to specific regional canals. The newly introduced Sindh Water Policy aims to revolutionise water resources management in the province by enhancing water quality, optimising water utilisation, and addressing the pressing issues related to water scarcity. Let’s critically examine this groundbreaking policy’s key provisions and potential impacts on Sindh.
The Sindh Water Policy comprises eight chapters, ranging from Water Governance to the distribution of inter-provincial water resources. However, one notable omission is the lack of an executive summary, which could make the policy more accessible to executives and policymakers. Additionally, while agriculture consumes a staggering 95% of the water, the photos on the cover page of the policy focus on domestic water use, canals, and the Indus Delta, not representing the crucial agricultural sector.
The policy proposes a merger of the Sindh Irrigation Department and SIDA into the “Sindh Water Resources Management Department.” This transformation, coupled with the recommendation to convert SIDA into a “Directorate of Reforms,” aims to enhance canal management within the broader framework of water resource governance in Sindh. The policy introduces a sixteen-member “Sindh Water Resources Council” to oversee water resource management in Sindh. Chaired by the Chief Minister of Sindh with the Minister of Irrigation as co-chair, the council includes ministers from various departments, secretaries from relevant departments, and experts from educational institutions. Unfortunately, it lacks representation from the agriculture sector, which consumes the lion’s share of water, and women are not included in the council. A thirteen-member committee is proposed to implement the Sindh Water Policy, led by the Chairman of the Planning and Development Board. Regrettably, this committee also fails to include farmers’ and women’s representation.
A comprehensive policy evaluation reveals numerous issues, including grammatical errors, incoherent sentences, informal language, repetitive phrasing, and typographical errors. These issues, such as “2018-29” instead of “2018-19” on page 2 and inconsistent references to “sugar cane,” detract from the document’s professionalism. Also, the policy does not cover the importance of addressing water use, conservation, and development in the riverine region, which accounts for about 5% of Sindh’s total area and supports extensive agriculture. However, it highlights water availability and conservation efforts in arid regions like Thar, Kohistan, and Kacho, as well as the significance of the Indus Delta in Plessis for development. The policy employs inappropriate terminology, including separating Kohistan from the Khirthar mountain range. Additionally, it refers to barrage areas as the “Indus Basin Canal Command” instead of the more appropriate “Sindh Canal Command Area.” This could potentially lead to confusion with broader geographic regions.
The claim that 65% of water evaporates in Sindh’s canals raises questions and suggests a need for measures to mitigate water loss, assuming the claim is accurate. Moreover, the policy inaccurately states the proportions of desert areas in Sindh. The assertion that wastewater from Larkana city flows into the Rice Canal, subsequently used in Naseerabad and Johi taluks, is factually incorrect. In reality, the Rice Canal’s water is utilised in Mehar and Khairpur Nathan Shah, not Johi Taluka. Terminology related to groundwater in policy document varies; in some places, it is subsoil water, while in others, it is written as groundwater, leading to inconsistency. Additionally, the document cites different figures, specifically 20% and 28%, when discussing the availability of fresh groundwater in Sindh.
Regarding farming in Thar, the policy suggests drawing lessons from the 2010 flood and the 2005 earthquake. However, it contains factual inaccuracies regarding the source of the 2005 earthquake’s effects and the relevance of river floods to Thar. The policy appropriately addresses the impact of runoff from Balochistan on Sindh, exemplified by last year’s monsoon rains. However, it fails to address the safe disposal and beneficial use of water originating from Balochistan. The policy recommends transforming the Irrigation Department into the Sindh Water Resources Management Department, encompassing a broader scope of responsibilities. Including experts from various fields is vital to effectively managing the multifaceted challenges related to water resources.
In conclusion, while introducing Sindh’s first water policy is a significant step forward, addressing the policy’s flaws, inaccuracies, and representational gaps is crucial for its successful implementation. With the necessary revisions and a commitment to rigorous review and proofreading, this policy can serve as a blueprint for sustainable water management in the region, benefiting both agriculture and the environment of Sindh.