Who’s in charge of Darawat dam?

THE ongoing debate on the construction of dams makes the issue of Darawat dam ever more relevant. The Sindh government’s inability to get administrative control from Wapda four years after the project’s completion is a disturbing turn of events.

The dam is located in Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah’s home district. The Sindh irrigation department — a portfolio the chief minister holds — is not ready to acquire administrative control over the dam for two main reasons: lack of expertise and capacity to run operations and a non-existent irrigation system in its command area.

The development of an irrigation system is the Sindh irrigation department’s job, but irrigation officers seem reluctant to explain the reasons behind the delayed development of the command system.

Irrigation expert Ehsan Leghari points out that the command area is always developed along with the dam and that a reliable hydrological study to determine the actual quantum of water flows on a seasonal basis is also essential. “Unfortunately hydrological studies have been superficial since the 1970s and ’80s. Those being conducted are not as detailed as needed, which defeats the entire purpose of these water projects,” he observes Darawat dam is located in a spate irrigation area of this hilly terrain. Under spate irrigation, communities irrigate their land using water that flows from hills during the monsoon season. In Darawat’s case, Nai Baran (a stream) ensures flows after it emerges from the lower Kirthar mountain range in Balochistan’s Bella district.

Given the climate change-driven weather, Darawat dam was seen as an opportunity for the farming community to cultivate land

Over the years, climate change-induced rainfall pattern has made cultivation of crops difficult. In the last few years adequate rainfall has not been seen in the dam’s catchment area, which stretches over 3,151km.

Wapda engineers believe around 185mm of rainfall in 24 hours is needed to fully fill the dam. The land that is to be brought under cultivation in the spate area has not been largely surveyed by authorities.

Given the climate change-driven weather, Darawat dam — conceived under the PPP government — was seen as an opportunity for the farming community to cultivate land. This land was to be distributed among landless female peasantry of which around 25 acres each have been allotted to 25 women so far.

Storage level in the dam is currently at 103 metres, three feet less than its dead level of 106 metres. The dam is supposed to be able to store around 121,000 acre feet of water.

According to project officials, Wapda has completed its part of the job by building the main lined off-taking channel and four distributaries covering 46km. The irrigation department now needs to develop and then link watercourses with the 73 outlets also created by Wapda.

“In August 2016, storage of 108.2 metres was achieved against optimum storage of 112.5 metres. At the time those dependent on the rain-fed irrigation system cultivated an onion crop down- and up-stream on an area of roughly 6,000 acres,” claims an officer. Whilst the community was utilising water, the levels dropped to 104 metres, but the same rose to 106.5 metres due to rainfall.

“Ever since the completion of the dam, we have been waiting to hand over administrative control to the Sindh government, but have been unable to do so.

“We have been told by the civil administration that Chief Minister Shah wants the dam and its irrigation network to become functional. But we don’t see anything happening on ground by the irrigation department. Something as small as a decision agreed upon in a recent meeting has not been implemented,” confides a Wapda officer.

The officer refers to a June 26 meeting held in the Sindh irrigation secretary’s office. As per the minutes of the meeting, Aslam Ansari, special secretary (technical), concluded that a team from the Sindh irrigation department would be formed by July 31. Its task would be to take over the irrigation system. The team would then be attached with Wapda for capacity building.

Meanwhile, for Wapda, all operation and maintenance (O&M) responsibilities that it had expired after a period of three years that ended on Aug 31, 2017. Therefore, it is no longer responsible for O&M.

Apparently the Sindh chief minister has approved the summary for the takeover of the dam. The Sindh finance ministry has also approved the formation of an exclusive division for which the irrigation department has to obtain a certificate from Wapda. But it has yet to be done. Why it is not being done in the absence of any official explanation is anybody’s guess.

Mohammad Hussain Khan: Dawn.com