For Pakistan’s Sindh, drying up of second largest reservoir both a blessing and curse

A local fills a water bucket near the Chotiari water reservoir in Sindh's Sanghar district, Pakistan, on September 19, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
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Updated 27 September 2021

For Pakistan’s Sindh, drying up of second largest reservoir both a blessing and curse

  • Chotiari reservoir, which irrigates 290,000 acres of land in Sanghar and Umerkot districts, is touching “almost dead level”
  • Some landlords say reduction in water level is blessing as water from reservoir has caused waterlogging and soil salinity in surroundings

SANGHAR: The Chotiari water reservoir, the second largest water storage facility in Pakistan’s Sindh province, is facing acute shortages and touched an “almost dead level” due to low monsoon rains this year, a senior Sindh irrigation official said on Friday.

While the development has been widely seen as a threat to the availability of drinking and irrigation water in the southern province, experts as well as some farmers described it as a blessing, saying the artificial lake had caused major waterlogging and soil salinity in its surroundings and thus destroyed agricultural land.

The Chotiari reservoir is situated on the edge of Pakistan’s Achhro Thar, or white desert, in Sanghar district bordering India. Historically, the Chotiari was a complex of deep lakes and riverine Makhi forests. It was turned into a reservoir in 2002.

A view of the gates of the Chotiari water reservoir in Sindh's Sanghar district, Pakistan, on September 19, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Lake Manchar, the largest natural freshwater lake in Pakistan, which is in Sindh’s Dadu and Jamshoro districts, has remained empty for over two decades, making the Chotiari reservoir, with a storage capacity of 0.71 million acre feet, a major source of drinking and irrigation water in the region.

Today, the water body is nearing an “almost dead level,” said Mansoor Memon, the Chotiari reservoir project director from the Sindh Irrigation Department. 

If upper parts of the country did not receive enough rains in the ongoing monsoon season, he warned, water shortage in command areas of the reservoir could increase by up to 30 percent.

Already, the cultivation of kharif crops — planted February onwards and harvested till September — in the Chotiari reservoir command area has been reduced to half by the season ending September-end. And if rain patterns remain the same, the upcoming rabi, or spring harvest, will also see dangerously low crop yields, raising fears of food insecurity given that wheat is a major rabi crop.

An empty boat at the Chotiari water reservoir in Sindh's Sanghar district, Pakistan, on September 19, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

“Prior to monsoon rains, it [water level in the reservoir] had reduced to 5 feet, touching almost dead-level,” Memon told Arab News, saying it was currently at 8 feet.

“If rainfall occurs as per forecast, we will touch the 15-feet level by November, which we call comfort level,” the official explained, saying if there were not enough rains and water continued to be supplied to the reservoir at existing levels from the Indus river, “we would face 30 percent water shortage in command areas in just the rabi season.”

The reservoir is filled through the Nara canal, the longest canal in Pakistan, which runs for about 364 kilometers, and irrigates 290,000 acres of land in the Sanghar and Umerkot desert districts. It fills up during the kharif season that falls between April and September.

However, fresh satellite and classified images obtained from the Sindh Agriculture University Tandojam (SAUT) show that 83 percent of the reservoir is empty.

Landlord Abdul Khaliq Junejo poses with his sesame crop in the surrounding area of the Chotiari water reservoir in Sindh's Sanghar district, Pakistan, on September 17, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

“On the basis of classified images, we can say that on September 09, 2021, 93 percent of the Chotiari reservoir area was empty,” Prof Dr. Altaf Ali Siyal, an SAUT director for research, innovation and commercialization, told Arab News.

“With the arrival of water in the River Indus because of the monsoon, the situation improved slightly on September 18, 2021 and Chotiari was 83 percent empty. In the command area, Chotiari water is useful especially during rabi that starts from October or so,” he said, predicting severe water shortage in the reservoir’s lower Nara Canal command area in the upcoming rabi season.

Hajji Muhammad Shafi Palli, a 55-year-old grower from Umerkot district’s Kunri area, said he had cultivated cotton, pearl millet and sesame in the outgoing Kharif season, but his yield was half of the usual average produce.

His 40 acres (16 hectares) of agriculture land is fed through the Chotiari reservoir tributaries, covering around 150 kilometers. Palli and other growers in the area have already received an advisory from authorities for the upcoming rabi season starting October, with warnings to limit cropping area depending on water availability in the Chotiari reservoir and the volume of rain in the River Indus catchment area.

“After advisory, I fear that I may have to limit wheat production to four acres (1.6 hectares) as compared to my last year’s 20 acres of cultivation area,” Palli told Arab News. “Similarly, I would have to reduce other crops like mustard.”

But some are happy the reservoir is drying up.

Abdul Khaliq Junejo, 60, who owns 25 acres of agricultural land adjacent to the Chotiari reservoir, said a reduction in its water level was a blessing since water from the reservoir had been causing major waterlogging in its surroundings.

A boat is anchored in front of the Bakar Lake Resort at the Chotiari water reservoir in Sindh's Sanghar district, Pakistan, on September 19, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Indeed, a 2019 study by the University of Nevada, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and Pakistan’s Mehran University of Engineering and Technology in Jamshoro said the Chotiari reservoir had caused major water logging, soil salinity and negative vegetation in the adjacent areas of the structure.

“I was able to cultivate a sesame crop this year after a gap of three years as the water level went low,” Junejo said.

According to Junejo and other growers, at the time of the reservoir’s construction, authorities promised to ensure the extraction of seepage water through tube wells and pumping stations, but these promises are yet to be fulfilled.

“Not a single tube well is working and there is no arrangement of seepage water management,” Junejo said. “As a result, there is hardly one crop all year, which has resulted in mass unemployment. Most locals have been forced to stop cultivating their own lands and migrate to other areas to work on others’ lands.”

Chotiari reservoir project director Memon acknowledged the complaints.

“Reduction of water in the Chotiari reservoir also means a blessing in disguise for the surrounding areas,” he said. “There is a scheme of 100 tube wells for the associated work of Chotiari reservoir seepage water extraction, but all tube wells are not functional because of electricity-related issues.”

Pakistani policewoman, lauded for rescuing woman from blasphemy mob, says ‘it was my duty’

Updated 27 February 2024

Pakistani policewoman, lauded for rescuing woman from blasphemy mob, says ‘it was my duty’

  • The woman was surrounded in a Lahore restaurant by men who wrongly claimed her shirt was adorned with verses from Holy Qur’an
  • Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in ultra-conservative Pakistan, where mobs have lynched people they deem to have insulted Islam 

LAHORE: A Pakistani policewoman, who has been recommended for a gallantry award for rescuing a woman from a blasphemy mob, said on Tuesday she went to the site of the incident to protect an innocent life as “it was my duty” and nothing more.

The woman, who has not been named by authorities for security reasons, was surrounded by men in a restaurant in the eastern city of Lahore for wearing an Arabic-inscribed dress. The crowd claimed the shirt was adorned with verses from the Holy Qur’an.

Videos shared online showed the woman being sheltered in a shop, before a senior woman police officer, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Shehrbano Naqvi, arrives at the scene and rescues her to safety.

ASP Naqvi of Punjab police has since been showered with praise by politicians, senior police officials and general public, and has been recommended by the provincial police chief for the highest gallantry award for law enforcement in Pakistan.

On Tuesday, the senior policewoman said while it was a great honor to be recommended for the Quaid-e-Azam Police Medal, she only did her duty by taking the woman out of harm’s way.

“This is of course a great honor, and something that everyone in the service looks forward to, to be recognized for their hard work,” Naqvi told Arab News.

“But really, it was just work, it was my duty. Nothing more. I didn’t go out there to make a name for myself, I went there to protect an innocent life, and defuse a situation that could have gotten very violent.”

Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and its noted personalities can provoke death at the hands of vigilantes. Politicians have been assassinated, lawyers murdered and students lynched over such accusations.

Naqvi recalled that the situation was quite tensed when the police arrived at the restaurant in Lahore’s Ichhra market, where the mob had surrounded the woman.

“We got an anonymous call around 1:30pm on Monday that a woman had been surrounded by a mob in Ichhra with rumors of something religiously offensive written on her dress,” she said.

“And this all was based on misinformation. They [mob] thought the dress had Qur’anic verses written on it but it was absolutely not the case. The narrative just came from certain segments of the religious community or certain people I would say.”

The dress had the word ‘Halwa,’ meaning dessert, written on it in the Arabic script, according to the senior policewoman.

When the mob started chanting death threats, Naqvi and other police personnel decided to briefly speak to the charged crowd and then whisked the woman to the Gulberg police station by covering her face with a piece of cloth.

The reason Naqvi was at the forefront when the incident unfolded was that she had encountered a similar situation before, in which a man made similar claims at the city’s Liberty Market during protests over former prime minister Imran Khan’s brief arrest on May 9.

“Whether a mob gathers for political, social or religious reasons, our duty is to follow certain SOPs (standard operating procedures). First of all, law and order must be maintained. Then there are secondary concerns after the accused’s safety. That nearby shops don’t get damaged in mob violence, that no bystander’s life is harmed,” Naqvi told Arab News.

“So, to do all that we have to initiate dialogue, go to the mob, talk to them, because they need a voice of reason. You also need to identify the instigators behind it all. Those who are the most vocal in the mob, remove them and then take the bystanders into confidence.”

Naqvi said the situation in Lahore could have worsened if it was allowed to simmer for some time amid a delayed response from the police, but fortunately, they were able to get to the spot on time and secure the woman and her husband.

Separately, Pir Afzal Qadri, secretary-general of the Majlis-Tahaffuz-e-Khatme Nabuwwat religious movement, visited the Gulberg police station on Tuesday and assured people that the incident was an outcome of a misunderstanding.

“Somebody read something wrong and then gathered a bunch of people, but I want to reiterate that nobody has the right to take the law into their own hands,” Qadri told Arab News.

He said he had helped calm down the mob on Monday as well: “This was wrong, unethical and illegal.”

Murad Ali Shah takes oath as chief minister of Pakistan’s Sindh province amid opposition protest

Updated 27 February 2024

Murad Ali Shah takes oath as chief minister of Pakistan’s Sindh province amid opposition protest

  • Shah has secured third consecutive term as chief minister of southern Pakistani province
  • Opposition parties observed a ‘black day’ against alleged vote-rigging as Shah took oath

KARACHI: Murad Ali Shah, the chief minister-elect of Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, on Tuesday took oath of his office for the third time as opposition parties observed a “black day” to protest alleged rigging of Feb. 8 national election in the province.

Shah, a Stanford University graduate who has worked as a professional engineer and banker, was first elected to the top provincial office in 2016, when his party removed veteran politician, Qaim Ali Shah, from the post after criticism over his way of administering the province.

In 2018, Shah was again elected as the chief minister after his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won majority in the province. He served on the post until August last year. In the Feb. 8 national election, the PPP once again bagged the highest 84 provincial seats and nominated Shah as the candidate for CM’s office.

On Monday, Shah, whose father Abdullah Shah also served as the chief minister of Sindh, was polled 112 votes in the 168-member Sindh Assembly, while his opponent, Ali Khurshidi, from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) secured 36 votes.

“Governor Sindh Kamran Tessori administered oath to Murad Ali Shah in an oath-taking ceremony at Governor House,” a spokesperson of the Sindh chief minister house said in a statement on Tuesday.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Sindh Assembly Speaker Owais Qadir Shah, Deputy Speaker Anthony Naveed and newly elected members of the PPP attended the oath-taking ceremony, according to the statement.

Born in the provincial capital of Karachi in August 1962, Shah acquired his early education from St. Patricks High School and a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the NED University of Engineering and Technology. He pursued dual Masters of Science degrees in Civil-Structural Engineering and Engineering Economic Systems from Stanford University in California.

Shah has an extensive experience of working in both public and private sectors in Pakistan, UK, Kuwait, and the US from 1986 to 2002. He worked as an engineer at multiple positions before becoming an investment banker at prestigious institutions like Citibank and the Gulf Investment Corporation.

In 2002, Shah ventured into politics and has since excelled in navigating the tricky arena, winning five provincial assembly elections and holding key provincial portfolios like revenue, irrigation, finance, energy and planning and development.

Shah’s oath-taking was held amid a protest by opposition parties, including the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), outside the Karachi Press Club. The protesters alleged their mandate had been stolen in the Feb. election.

“As we protest here, the thieves who stole our mandate took oath of the office,” GDA general-secretary Dr. Safdar Abbasi said, adding his group would soon announce its next line of action to reclaim its mandate.

“The masses will not accept the hybrid dictatorship,” JI’s Dr. Osama Razi told a few hundred protesters from the three opposition groups.

A day ago, jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party also announced observing a black day on Tuesday against what it called an “election fraud,” however, the party did not attend the demonstration outside the Karachi Press Club.

Pakistan hopes to clear final IMF review, considers additional financing of $6-8 billion

Updated 27 February 2024

Pakistan hopes to clear final IMF review, considers additional financing of $6-8 billion

  • Pakistan has increased energy prices to meet the global lender’s conditions under the short-term $3 billion loan
  • Pakistani officials say the final decision to avail another IMF program will be made by the next elected government

KARACHI: Expressing confidence to clear the final review of $3 billion short-term financing program of International Monetary Fund (IMF) after meeting key conditions including energy price hike, Pakistani authorities are weighing options to avail another $6-8 billion program, an official privy to the situation confirmed on Tuesday.
The South Asian nation, with a population of over 241 million, increased gas prices by up to 76 percent for domestic consumers in recent months before raising petroleum prices by 1-3 percent in February. The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) also notified Rs7.05 per unit hike in power prices under fuel charge adjustment (FCA) on Monday.
Pakistani authorities are confident that recent energy price adjustments to meet some of the key conditions of the global lender would help clear the second and last review of the $3 billion Stand By Arrangement (SBA) that ends in March 2024.
“With latest energy price hikes, Pakistan has met almost all the preconditions set by the IMF for end-December 2023 review including exchange rate stability, continuation of tight monetary policy and restricted circular debt flow,” an official of finance division on Tuesday told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
The official said the government was successful in restricting the circular debt flow below the fund’s stated target of Rs385 billion ($1.37 billion), though it went as high as Rs378 billion ($1.35 billion) by the end of last December.
Pakistan’s circular debt stock, outstanding payments and liabilities in the country’s energy sector, continues to swell despite taking painful measures by the government including tariff hikes that resulted in high inflation.
The circular debt within the energy sector escalated to a staggering Rs5.73 trillion (approximately $20.5 billion) by the end of last November, official data reveals. This figure encompassed a power sector debt of Rs2.7 trillion ($9.66 billion) alongside a gas sector indebtedness surpassing Rs3 trillion ($10.7 billion).
While the IMF has not yet announced dates to start negotiations with Pakistan for the second review since it was ostensibly waiting for the formation of the next government, a successful review of the program will enable the South Asian nation to receive another tranche of about $1.1 billion from the fund.
The Pakistani official said the country was exploring various options to put before the IMF to avail new long-term program in recent weeks.
“The options under consideration included the size and conditions for the new program,” he said adding: “Yes, the size could be anywhere between $6-8 billion including the climate financing factor, the RSF.”
The Resilience and Sustainability Facility (RSF) of the IMF offers affordable, long-term financing to countries committed to reforms aimed at mitigating risks to future balance of payments stability, including challenges posed by climate change and pandemic preparedness.
The official, however, clarified that nothing had been finalized yet, adding these options were still at a preliminary stage and would be suggested to the next government, if finalized.
“It will be the prerogative of the next elected government to negotiate the size, terms and condition of the next program with the fund or whether or not they want to go to the IMF,” he added.
Last year in November, Pakistan’s caretaker finance minister Dr. Shamshad Akhtar hinted the country would continue to seek financial facility from the IMF to keep its fragile economy afloat.
Pakistani economists underscored the need for a new IMF program while calling for immediate engagement with the fund.
“It is good to hear that the government is working to get another IMF program,” Dr. Sajid Amin, deputy executive director at Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), said.
“The real test, however, will be how quickly the new government takes up the challenge and engages with the fund.”
The present state of economy, particularly the low foreign exchange reserves and high external debt repayments, made it imperative for the country, Amin continued, to seek the IMF support for at least three more years.
“Unnecessary delays, as we witnessed in the PTI [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf] and PDM [Pakistan Democratic Movement] tenures, will hurt the economy,” he warned.
Arab News sought comments from both the IMF and the finance ministry for this story, but received no response.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia vow to boost investment in key sectors — commerce ministry

Updated 27 February 2024

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia vow to boost investment in key sectors — commerce ministry

  • Pakistan’s caretaker commerce minister held high-level talks in the kingdom to enhance bilateral economic ties
  • Saudi officials commit to strengthening trade relations and exploring new collaboration avenues with Pakistan

KARACHI: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have agreed to work toward increasing investment in key sectors, laying the groundwork for sustainable economic growth and prosperity, Pakistani commerce ministry said on Tuesday.
The statement comes after Caretaker Commerce Minister Gohar Ejaz returned to Islamabad after completing an official visit to the kingdom, where he engaged in high-level discussions to strengthen bilateral economic ties between the two nations.
During his visit, Ejaz met with key Saudi officials including Minister of Investment Khaled Al-Falih and Commerce Minister Majid Bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi in Riyadh.
“These meetings aimed to explore opportunities for collaboration and investment between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia,” the statement added.
Accompanied by a delegation of 20 Pakistani industrialists, Ejaz held productive discussions with Saudi ministers on various avenues for enhancing bilateral trade and investment.
The discussions emphasized the importance of increasing cooperation in sectors such as oil and gas, construction, food and agriculture.
The Pakistani commerce minister highlighted the need to elevate trade and investment relations between the two sides, underscoring the mutual benefits of closer economic cooperation.
The Saudi ministers expressed their commitment to strengthening trade relations with Pakistan, affirming their willingness to explore new avenues for collaboration, according to the commerce ministry.
During the visit, the Saudi-Pakistan Business Forum in Riyadh was held on 21 February, which was organized in collaboration with the Saudi Ministry of Commerce, General Authority of Foreign Trade and the Saudi Federation of Chambers.
The focus of the event was to connect Pakistan’s top tier business leadership with their Saudi counterparts.
Sectors that were well represented on both sides included petrochemicals, fertilizers and chemicals, food, IT, investments, textile and real estate, according to commerce ministry.

Pakistan Army, Saudi land forces conclude joint military training exercise in Multan

Updated 27 February 2024

Pakistan Army, Saudi land forces conclude joint military training exercise in Multan

  • The exercise continued from Jan. 15 to Feb. 26 with a view to foster joint employment techniques, exchange expertise
  • Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong defense ties and regularly engage in joint air, ground and sea military exercises

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Army and the Royal Saudi Land Forces (RSLF) this week concluded a joint military training exercise in the eastern city of Multan that was aimed at enhancing their military capabilities and exchanging expertise, the Pakistani military said on Tuesday.

The exercise continued from January 15 to February 26 with a view to foster joint employment techniques and benefiting from each other’s experiences, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the Pakistani military’s media wing.

“The training, which encompassed conventional as well as sub-conventional operations, culminated with field maneuver and battle inoculation exercise, employing air and ground forces,” the ISPR said in a statement.

The commander of Pakistan Army’s Multan Corps witnessed the exercise as the chief guest and expressed his satisfaction over mutual understanding and the training standards achieved, according to the ISPR.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong defense ties and bilateral security cooperation. The two nations regularly engage in joint air, ground, and sea military exercises, while several cadets from the Kingdom, along with counterparts from other Middle Eastern nations, annually visit Pakistan to undergo specialized military training.

The joint exercise that concluded in Multan further consolidated longstanding fraternal relations between Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the ISPR added.