THE fear of a severe drought across the country looms large as the monsoon currents are forecast to weaken further over the next 2-3 weeks.
The feared drought, should it become a reality, will not only affect major summer crops – rice, cotton and sugarcane, but also hit output of wheat in winter as it is largely dependent on water from dams for irrigation.
Additionally, water shortages will reduce hydro-power generation at a time when the electricity supply gap is rising on the back of the government’s increasing financial troubles.
Arif Mahmood, chief of the Pakistan Meteorological Department in Islamabad, told Dawn on Thursday that the country had received 43 per cent below normal rain in July. Sindh was the worst hit region with a shortfall of 91 per cent. The shortfall in Punjab was recorded to be 29 per cent.
He sought to play down fears of a drought in the country, saying his department was ‘reviewing the weather outlook, and would issue an advisory (forecast) over the next few days.
“We’ve been only one month through the 3-month monsoon cycle and I don’t want to say anything right now. The situation may change.
But the outlook appears to be dismal so far,” he said, adding the entire region, especially India, had been hit adversely by weak monsoon this year.
The sudden propping up of el niño effect is blamed for the delayed start of monsoon in Pakistan and India as well as for the consequent far below-than-normal rains, spawning fears of a severe agricultural drought.
Only a few days back, a former director-general of PMD, Qamaruzzaman Chaudhry, had warned that the country was heading towards an acute water crisis. The country is fast heading towards an acute water crisis, he said. “This may lead to extreme irrigation water shortages, particularly for winter crops,” he said.
Qamaruzzaman said below-the-usual temperatures during April, May and part of June coupled with low rainfall were contributing to the alarming situation, and an analysis had indicated that Mangla and Tarbela dams might not be filled to their capacity even if there was a revival of the monsoon activity.
“The rain shortfall in July and the developing drought conditions in Punjab and the rest of the country are definitely going to damage summer crops and cut their output,” a senior official of the Punjab Agriculture (Extension) Department said.
“The exact extent of the damage will become clear only once the monsoon rainfall is over,” he said.
He said water shortages had resulted in reduction of 10 per cent area under paddy cultivation in Punjab and increase in reports of CLCV (cotton leaf curl virus) attack on cotton plants. Similarly, there were reports of disease attack on sugar cane.
“All the three major summer crops are facing serious threat of reduced output and increased incidence of disease because of water shortages.
The farmers are not using tube-wells to irrigate their crops because of high cost of diesel and electricity. Nor are they using enough fertilisers and pesticides to offset the impact of water shortages,” he said. He said early rains could still save the cane and cotton crops. But delayed rain or continuation of dry weather would adversely impact all the summer crops.
The official stressed the need for reviewing cropping patterns in the country as well as realigning the agriculture policies in view of climatic changes and reduced water availability.
“The consequences of our inaction could be serious for our economy as well as food security. It is high time we started work to adjust and realign our agriculture with the climatic changes,” he said.
He also accused the Met department of misguiding farmers and government by forecasting more than normal monsoon rains this year. An earlier Met department advisory had projected 15 per cent higher than normal rains during this season. “The Met department’s small mistake is going to cost the farmers and the economy heavily,” he contended.
Ibrahim Mughal, chairman of AgriForum Pakistan, feared substantial decrease in cotton and rice output because of water shortages. “The shortfall in the production of these two crops will hit our exports and widen trade deficit and impact adversely on our balance of payment situation,” he said.