The economics of irrigation
By DR ZAFAR ALTAF
has been a considerable discussion but no debate on
A debate is amongst
informed people while a discussion is amongst ignorant and
uninformed people and who have a different kind of
The current arguments are entirely based on this kind of
ignorance from people who are of the view that more is
The water institutions are guilty of gross misconduct in
asmuchas they have not used any intellectual powers to
deter- mine the basis of water required for the crops. Water
decisions are always made in the political sphere.
The use or the market place is not the determinant of water
projects. The romanticists want the desert to bloom but the
fact is that the use of water is hardly in the realm of
No desert is going to bloom by the recent political
efforts. The current foreign debt stands at $65.5 billion
and we pay only interest on that. With Kalabagh dam (KB)
this has to enhance by at least 20 billion dollars.
There will be no new lands coming under this purview as it
was in Tarbella dam. Then the GDP soared because new lands
came in to production.
The KB is merely a replacement dam and covers the loss of
water of Tarbella which again is a phenomenon that Wapda was
supposed to cover. Siltation was allowed when watershed
management was essential.
Wapda chairmen suffer from myopia. None of them see anything
beyond engineering solutions.
Engineering solutions are costly, inefficient and
Space does not allow me to explain the details but the last
government handed over the responsibility of new water
resources to me as Chairman of Pakistan Agricultural
The view then taken was that this was not a storage
situation but the case of using expensive water
Wapda has been desperately
ignorance in watershed management; the result the loss of
storage capacity in Mangla and Tarbella dams.
I am willing to go into any
discussion and debate at any forum with them - singly or
collectively. And what of irrigation agronomy - that is
water usage efficiently and according to plant requirements.
The effort has to be a three-way variable in which
soil-water and plant resources come into play.
The alternatives are there
but the skill and the will is not there. The organisation
that looks after such things if it is based on financial
wastage can hardly deliver.
The organisations' claims are politically determined and
therefore the policies are inflexible. Irrigation engineers
are ignorant of marginal principle, double counting of
benefits and the use of inappropriately low discount rates.
Engineers by definition are
unable to understand accounting principles what to speak of
economics and worse still the macro indicators of an
Ask any one of them the
difference between gross and net returns and you will see a
lot of blank faces.
These analytical differences aside the non-analytical errors
are also visible in their thinking and doings. The KB dam
has been under discussion since 1924 and I am the only one
that has the planning document.
The present engineers would
be put to shame before that document; since I am the only
one to compare the past with the present document.
Water demands are elastic and not inelastic as most of the
engineering class seems to think. Needs and requirements are
not absolute while demand a more reasoned approach.
The case for irrigation is made where the constraints of
climate force the nation to develop agriculture practices.
The mini-max situation has never been ascertained.
But if that be so then the
engineers have to explain why these resources were not taken
to Balochistan? The efficacy factors for use of water has
never been thought of and never implemented.
Aerobic rise is a production system where rice is grown in
well-drained, non-puddled and non-saturated soils.
In experiments, the yield had
also increased three times (from 26 to 73 maunds per acre).
It was used by the British to settle nomads and to do away
with hungry. But these social conditions are not required.
In North and South Waziristan this policy effectively could
be utilised for productive purposes; one of my friends has
done so in Kala Dhagga area of Waziristan.
Water is their requirement
and why not? KB will not help in the managing of floods. We
are not King Canute that we can take this water of Chenab
through KB dam-up gravity.
In Sindh the wheat crop that received eight irrigations had
a productivity of 26 maunds per acre while that of the
poorer farmer that received three irrigations the yield was
36 maunds per acre; so gauge for yourself what has happened.
In one of my odd moments with
the government I decided to give a workshop in Balochistan
on waterless irrigation. The Balochs came in hundreds.
When I gave them the wherewithal they agreed with the
concepts and the methods. Even now the fossil fuel and the
alternatives are ridiculous.
They will not work. The bio-fuel element is important and
since I had gone to Texas as a consultant (a case of reverse
consultancy) the options are available.
The mafia is what does not
allow the interventions that are needed. In Pakistan cynics
and perverts abound. If I start naming them there will be a
lot of embarrassed red faces.
If food security is an issue and KB dam has to be built then
the mafia be removed from the scene. They have played
politics for a long time.
They do not have the moral
grounds for seeking such interventions as would jeopardise
the political status of the country. Equity is impossible.
The rich and the powerful
seek all the likely benefits and the result is the inability
to meet income redistribution issues.
All this is vitiated by the cheat cost-benefit (C/B)
analysis in which costs are minimised and benefits are
maximised to an extent that the entire conceptual work is
diminished and reduced to a mental criminality.
I asked one of the Wapda
Chairmen as to what are the factors that you have taken
while preparing the planning document.
This was as if I was talking Greek. A planning document is
above all an efficiency document in which the factors of
efficiency are deliberated and enhanced.
Forget other things there are
no spatial or temporal impact assessments.
Do we then need Wapda? Should it subsist in its present
forms when there is Lesco, Mepco and all these regional
institutions? We were in the Punjab government and we
vehemently opposed the WB and its actions.
We are back to regional
organisations that were doing such a good job.
The WB countered by saying that the grid system will allow
spare electricity in the north to go to the south and vice
versa. Neither the North-South concept has held and nor the
Keep on taking dictations and
keep on making a jackass of ourselves. When we learn to
govern ourselves? Unashamed we go to wherever we want to
spread our wisdom or lack of wisdom. Oh, when will we apply