Drought imperils Pakistan's 'very
U.S. Water News Online
SINDH, Pakistan -- Dhani Baksh remembers when the Indus
River raged through Pakistan's southern province of Sindh -- the
lifeblood of fishermen and farmers.
But now, after two years of drought and record low snowfalls in
northern Pakistan, the once mighty Indus is a mere trickle in some
places. Fishing has been decimated, farmland is parched, and rioters
have smashed windows and overturned cars to protest water shortages
in Karachi, the country's largest city.
"It is the most serious water crisis in decades," declared
Mohammed Hussain Pahanwar, a leading irrigation engineer.
Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz is predicting Pakistan will lose
$1.2 billion in agricultural revenue, and agricultural experts and
political analysts are warning of troubled times ahead.
Entire villages have relocated from the Indus River's banks, where
fertile silt dumped by the river's floodwaters helped give birth to
an early civilization some 5,000 years ago.
At Kotri, 120 miles northeast of where the Indus flows into the
Arabian Sea, fisherman Baksh said that at 72 he's too old to leave.
Instead he hauls his rickety wooden boat out into the shallow river
water to pull in a meager haul -- a few small prawns.
Most of the farmland in Sindh, Pakistan's southernmost province,
is irrigated by a network of canals that are now mostly parched.
"The wheat production in Sindh has fallen by almost 40 percent,"
said Qamaruzzaman Shah, chairman of Pakistan Chamber of Agriculture.
The government is predicting wheat production will fall to 17.5
million tons this year, compared with last year's record 22 million
Agricultural specialists also predict a bad year for cotton, which
was planted late because of the water shortage. Rice and sugarcane
won't fare much better because they are thirsty crops.
The country's economy is heavily dependent on agriculture. The
drought means economic growth won't be as high as predicted, incomes
will shrink and the unemployment rate -- already around 50 percent --
Add to that the financial burden of importing wheat. Agricultural
authorities estimate Pakistan will have to buy 1.2 million tons of
wheat to make up the shortfall caused by drought. That will hurt the
country's meager foreign exchange reserves, which stand at about $1
The troubled financial implications of the drought are second only
to the political mess it is creating.
For much of the last week, demonstrators took to the streets daily
in Karachi, a city of 14 million people that is the country's
financial hub. Dozens of people have been arrested and entire
business districts shut down.
The water shortage has caused bitter bickering between provinces.
People in Sindh blame some of their water troubles on Punjab to the
northeast, Pakistan's most prosperous province.
The Sindh provincial government has accused Punjab of damming
rivers and reducing the water supply to the southern province in
violation of a water distribution agreement. People in Sindh also
accuse the Punjabi-dominated army of being biased against their
"The water crisis threatens the very unity of the country," said
Pahanwar, the irrigation expert.
In Sindh, the crisis has united political rivals and given
extremist Sindhi nationalists a weapon with which to mobilize public
support for their demand for greater autonomy or outright
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