Pakistan has one of the largest irrigation systems in the world. This system thrives on River Indus and its tributaries. To boost Agriculture, as it is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, several river training works have been constructed to supply and distribute river waters in different parts of Pakistan.
In spite of the fact that with the completion of these works, the overall agricultural production has increased, but this has given rise to inter-provincial disputes over the sharing of water of the Indus River System between the upper and lower riparian stakeholders. These disputes date back to pre Indo-Pakistan partition days.
Several committees/commissions were constituted, in the past, to resolve these differences. But, unfortunately, they all failed to achieve a consensus of opinion, particularly, between the agriculturally rich provinces of Punjab and Sindh. Finally, in March 1991, the Chief Ministers of Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan signed the Water Apportionment Accord. Subsequently, the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) was constituted for regulating and monitoring the distribution of water in accordance with the Water Accord.
Lately, the dispute has once again flared up, between the Provinces, over the sharing of water, particularly in cases where the availability of water falls short of 117.35 million-acre feet (MAF) of water, as per Clause 2 of the Water Accord (Table 1). Sindh, in particular, has been insisting that the shortages should be shared by the Provinces in accordance with proportionate shares defined in Clause 2 of the Water Accord.
On the other hand, Punjab insists that the shortages should be shared on the basis of actual average system uses for the period 1977-82, as stated in Clause 14(b) of the Water Accord. To substantiate its claim, Punjab refers to the inter-province ministerial meeting held in May 1994. To add fuel to the fire, IRSA has exempted NWFP and Baluchistan from sharing the shortages, while both Sindh and Punjab are to share water as per historic uses.
The phrase “historic uses” is being interpreted to mean “the actual average system uses” as stated in Clause 14(b) of the Water Accord. Table 2 gives a summary of the so-called, “actual average system uses” during the period 1977-82. The fact of the matter is that this dispute has mainly arisen from the misinterpretation of Clauses 2 and 14(b) of the Water Accord.
Clause 2 of the Water Accord clearly implies that the volume of water that falls short of 117.35 MAF of water should be treated as shortage while that exceeding 117.35 MAF of water is treated as surplus. There is no mention in the Water Accord that both Balochistan and NWFP will be exempted from sharing shortages. On the contrary, Clause 14 (b) of the Water Accord clearly states that both the shortage as well as surplus will be shared on all Pakistan basis.
Neither IRSA nor any other authority has the mandate or power to make changes in the Water Accord. IRSA, in particular, is the custodian of the Water Accord. It must not temper with it. Any change in the Water Accord can only be brought through an amendment by the competent authority.
The statement that shortage and surplus will be shared on all Pakistan basis, by no means implies that the volume of available water will be shared as per percentage apportionment of each province. There is a big difference between what is available and what a shortage is. The truth of the matter can be explained with the help of an example.
Water sharing based on shortage of water
On the basis of actual average system use, during the period 1977-82, the average yearly use by Punjab and Sindh (as shown in Table 2) was 54.39 MAF (51.60%) and 43.67 MAF (41.43%), respectively, of the then available water (105.40 MAF).
Subsequent to Water Accord, in a zero shortage situation, the volume of available water is 117.35 MAF (as shown in Table 1), of which Punjab gets 55.94 MAF (47.67% of 117.35) and Sindh gets 48.76 MAF (41.55% of 117.35) of water. However, if the volume of available water is 112.35 MAF, the shortage will be equal to 5.0 MAF of water. It is this shortage that needs to be shared by different stakeholders.
Let us distribute this 5.0 MAF of water shortage according to average system uses, during the period 1977-82, as stated in Clause 14(b) of the Water Accord. Accordingly (as per Table 2), Punjab will account for 51.60% of 5.0 amounting to 2.58, and Sindh for 41.43% of 5.0 amounting to 2.07 MAF of water. Therefore, the share of water admissible to Punjab and Sindh will be calculated as:
Punjab: 55.94 - 2.58 = 53.36 MAF of water
Sindh: 48.76 - 2.07 = 46.69 MAF of water.
Water sharing based on availability of water
Once again, suppose that the volume of available water is 112.35 MAF. If this water is to be distributed according to average percentage-wise system uses, during the period 1977-82 (Table 2), the share of water admissible to Punjab and Sindh will, therefore, be calculated as:
Punjab: 51.60% of 112.35 = 57.97 MAF of water
Sindh: 41.43% of 112.35 = 46.55 MAF of water.
It may be emphasised that according to Clause 2 of the Water Accord, the share of Punjab, in a zero shortage situation (as shown Table 1), is equal to 55.94 MAF of water. However, the share of Punjab as calculated on the basis of 112.35 MAF of available water amounts to 57.97 MAF of water. This is 2.03 MAF more than Punjab’s share of water when there is no shortage. It can be shown that Punjab, according to this scheme, will continue to draw more water than its due share (at zero shortage), until the overall shortage in the country is more than 9.0 MAF of water.
Furthermore, as shown above, the share of Sindh, under similar conditions, will be 46.55 MAF, which is 2.21 MAF less than that at zero shortage. How can Punjab draw more water than its due share at the cost of other provinces, particularly NWFP and Baluchistan? The share of Sindh, on the other hand, whether calculated on the basis of availability (46.55 MAF) or shortage (46.69 MAF) of water is not significantly different from each other.
Let us for a moment consider the implications of the much-debated position taken by IRSA, which supposedly exempted NWFP and Baluchistan from sharing shortages of water, and advised Punjab and Sindh to share the shortages as per historic formula. Now suppose that the volume of available water is 112.35 MAF. This is 5.0 MAF short of 117.35 MAF of water, stipulated in Clause 2 of the Water Accord. The volume of available water (112.35 MAF) minus the combined share of NWFP and Baluchistan (8.78 MAF+ 3.78 MAF) amounting to 12.56 MAF of water, leaves 99.79 MAF, (112.35 – 12.56), of water to be shared between Punjab and Sindh.
According to the so called historic formula, which refers to the record of actual average system uses, during the period 1977-82, Punjab will use 1.245 times (54.39 MAF ¸ 43.67 MAF) more water than that by Sindh. By distributing the remaining water (99.79 MAF), it can be calculated that Punjab will get 55.34 MAF and Sindh 44.45 MAF of water. Interestingly, as stated previously, the share of Punjab calculated on the basis of sharing the shortages, on all Pakistan basis, for the same volume of available water (112.35 MAF) was 53.36 MAF, while that of Sindh it was 46.69 MAF. Once again, it may be noted that in this situation also Punjab ends up by getting 1.98 MAF of more water than its due share, while Sindh gets 2.23 MAF of less water! Obviously, Sindh is the sole sufferer of this arrangement as Punjab receives more water, while NWFP and Baluchistan are not affected by shortages in the availability of water.
It may be concluded that there is no legal or otherwise any justification in adopting the much-disputed 1994 inter-province ministerial decisions. There is nothing wrong with the Water Accord. It is in the national interest of Pakistan that the Water Accord must be implemented in letter and spirit. Water distribution in situations of shortages/surplus, must be based on sharing the shortages/surplus of water on all Pakistan basis. It must be understood, as explained in this note, that there is a big difference between what is available and what a shortage is.