24.       Based on the Falkenmark Water Stress
Indicator levels, water availability in a country about 1700 cubic meters per
capita per year is the threshold, where water shortages occur only irregularly.1
UN also defines the water stress & scarcity levels based on this indicator.
Furthermore, an area is considered to be
water stressed if annual water supplies drop below 1,700 cubic meters per
person upto 1000 cubic meters. Water scarcity is when the supplies drop below
1000 cubic meters per person per year and below 500 cubic metres the nation
faces absolute scarcity.2
Though water stress is a global challenge it is even more acute in Asia &
more particularly South Asia.


Water Stress

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25.       In the 1950’s,
Pakistan was a water abundant state with an availability of more than 5,000
cubic meters of water per capita per year.3
With the increase in population & the consequent increase in requirements
of food production, energy demands, industrialisation, rapid urbanisation etc
& the limited renewability of water resources, the water levels have seen a
drastic decrease in availability of almost 400%. Presently Pakistani population
has an average availability of just over 1,000 cubic meters as against each
Indian who gets 1,730 cubic meters & the global average of 8,209 cubic
It is estimated that Pakistan is likely to reach water scarcity levels by 2025
which may happen as early as 2020 & reach absolute scarcity by 2050 or even


Water Resources : Pakistan


26.       Pakistan is primarily reliant on the
Indus rivers for its water requirements. The Indus system consists of six main
tributaries namely Indus, Chenab, Jhelum, Sutlej Beas & Ravi of which the
western rivers (Indus, Chenab & Jhelum) are completely reserved for use by
Pakistan. The Indus is further joined by other rivers namely Kabul, Swat &
Dasht from the West before it drains into the Arabian Sea. The river system is
sustained by glacier & snow melt & precipitation. It is severly
affected by climate changes which is likely to further increase with the
deteriorating climatic conditions. The availability is also not perennial but
rather seasonal, marred by variability in terms of glacier melt &
precipitation levels affecting the flow of Indus rivers varying from approx 180
MAF to 96 MAF. This causes conditions of floods & drought, while making
resource management quite complex.5 While
the availability is almost 75% in monsoons & 25% for the rest of the year,
the requirement is 60% during summers & 40% during winters, necessitating
the requirement of storing the water during surplus months for the lean months.


27.       The
waters of the Indus rivers are further diverted into canals to meet the
irrigation requirements of the other regions. Pakistan has one of the the
largest irrigation canal networks in the Indus River basin built during the
colonial era by the Britishers with the aim of developing the agrarian frontier
in West Punjab as a defensive measure. These canals further developed into
canal colonies as the waste land transformed into fertile lands but also made the region highly dependent on a continuous supply
of water, thus creating vested interests and stakes for the landholding class
in the process. While the canals originating from the dams
& barrages are perennial the river reliant canals are seasonal &
affected by the precipitation.6


28.       Below
the rim of the Himalayas lies one of the largest freshwater acquifers in the
world, which is also, in the world one of the most overexploited. Pakistan’s
subsurface groundwater resources amount to about 51 MAF, most of which lie in Punjab
& is the main source of drinking water in Pakistan. A substantial amount of
the available water diverted in the Indus basin canal system refills the
groundwater reservoir. Farmers depend on groundwater to supply about 40% of
their irrigation water demands. However over-exploitation over the years has
led to a drastic decrease in the availability of groundwater.7


29.       In
addition Pakistan has also built a number of barrages to supply water for
irrigation, industrial & domestic purposes. There are a total of 12
barrages which perennially sustain some of the canals, ensuring a regular flow primarily
for irrigation purposes.8


Causes for Water Crisis


30.       Water
Management.           The majority
of the blame for Pakistan’s existing water crisis lies with Pakistan itself,
for its wasteful & inefficient water management system. Though Pakistan has
a multiplicity of water related legislations & regulations their
implementation is marred by a ineffective internal administration managed by a
corrupt bureaucracy. The most important legislation governing water in the
country is the Canal and Drainage Act 1873, which provides the key legal
framework for water management in the agricultural sector. The act allocates
considerable administrative and judicial authority to irrigation department
officials with almost no provision for public accountability. Also the water
rights are linked to land rights & cannot be traded independently, skewing
the system in favour of the rich land owners & creating inequity in the
sharing of water resources with the rural population & farmers. Various
mechanisms such as Warabandi – a
colonial water distribution system, which mandates fixed time rotational
irrigation scheduling has not been able to ensure that the farmers get their
rightful share of water. The Water Tax
– Abiana has also not been revised
since the 1970s making the once profitable irrigation system run into losses.
The Provincial Irrigation & Drainage Authorities are failing in the
efficient management & operations of the system due to the losses being
incurred. 9 To
overcome this problem there is an increased exploitation in the mining of
groundwater resources especially in the Balochistan region leading to further
lowering of the ground water tables & drying of the aquifers. Pakistan
has adopted numerous policies & strategies over the past decade to address
the emerging water crisis. These include the Environment Policy
(2005), which includes a supplemental Water Supply & Management Policy, the
Drinking Water & Sanitation Policy (2009) & the National Climate Change
Policy (2011). Pakistan also developed the 2003 Pakistan Water Strategy,
defining blueprint for water resources in the country for the first quarter of
the twenty-first century. In 2005 a comprehensive National Water Policy was
also drafted, but has not yet been adopted.10
The implementation & translation of these schemes into concrete result
oriented aspects is the most crucial aspect & has become the focus of
domestic and international debate.


31.       Provincial
Management.   In addition to
equitable distribution of water
amongst the various sectors, Pakistan also needs to effectively manage the
water distribution amongst the various physical provinces. There is a large
imbalance in the distribution system between the Punjab & Sindh provinces &
the other backward provinces especially Balochistan. The Provincial Water
arbiters such as the Indus River System Authority have also failed to ensure
equitable distribution of water amongst the provinces. This is attributable to
the complex & disjointed institutional configurations which govern water
and development at the federal, provincial, and local levels. The water
management at the federal level lies within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of
Water and Power. However, each province has its own authorities that govern irrigation,
water development, and supply and sanitation. Data on water use are circulated every
ten days, from the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) to the provincial
irrigation departments to the watercourses in the fields then back to the central
offices and IRSA. The provinces are accused of muddling the data & data
sources and how these data are collected and shared is a source of mistrust and
controversy between the provinces.11


(a)        PoK.   Ironically despite being an upper riparian state Pakistan        Occupied Kashmir (PoK) suffers the most,
receiving only a negligible share of water for irrigation. While in Pakistan
almost 80% of the cultivable area is irrigated, only a marginal 13% of the
cultivable area is irrigated in PoK, despite the fact that agriculture accounts
for 84% of the livelihood in PoK. The population in this region has also
suffered dislocation on account of creation of the Mangla Dam built in 1967
& are yet to receive their compensation in the form of relocation. Even
their rightful share of water promised to them from the Mangla Dam has been
rejected by the Indus River System Authority (IRSA).12


(b)        Sindh – Punjab.       The dispute between Sindh &
Punjab has been in existence since as early as the 1850’s, since the British
colonial era. While canal development & irrigation channels were
constructed in Punjab, the same was denied to Sindh. This discriminatory
behaviour towards Sindh was is summed up by the statement by Michel Arthur
Aloys, “While Punjab is often described as the ‘fair child’ of the British, Sindh
has often been termed as a ‘step child'”.13
The construction of the Kalabagh Dam has created another conflict with Sindh
arguing that in the absence of surplus water, the dam would continue to fill,
resulting in reducing the flow of Indus towards Sindh & other lower
riparian states.


            (c)        Balochistan
– Sindh.         As has already
been brought out,            Balochistan
is primarily dependent on agriculture for sustenance of its economy &
livelihood. The supply of water from the Sukkur barrage during the month of
June-July, when rice transplantation is in swing & the water supply levels
go down to below 1400 cusecs as compared to the authorised 2200 cusecs is a
major reason of water shortage in Balochistan. Even the water distribution from
the Hub dam is inequitable in favour of Sindh by 63% to 37%, despite the fact
that the dam receives rainfall from the catchment area which lies 72% in
Balochistan & 28% in Sindh.14 Balochistan
has also been raising concerns regarding the excessive construction of
tubewells in Punjab, which is having an adverse impact on the flow of Indus
River. It has proposed that water extracted from tubewells be brought into a
common distribution pool. Even the construction of Kalabagh dam in Punjab &
the Righ Bank Outfall III Drain project being developed by WAPDA in Sindh are
being opposed by Balochistan.


(d)        Khyber-Pakhtunhwa.        The province is a water rich
province with a number of rivers running through it. However its main
contention in the Inter-Provincial water dispute is its opposition to the
Kalabagh dam in view of the human displacement & loss of fertile cultivable


(e)        Punjab.          Punjab is the most populous & economically rich
province in Pakistan & contributes a major share to the overall
agricultural produce in the country. It is also an upper riparian to most other
states. However within Punjab there is a dispute between South & North
Punjab where South Punjab once the most prominent agricultural economy has
suffered due to inequitable water distribution. The rural population in South
Punjab have access to only limited water resources, which creates a conflict
between North & South Punjab & Sindh.


32.       Agriculture
based Economy.      Pakistan is an
agriculture based economy which accounts for approximately 21 per cent of the
nation’s GDP, contributes approximately 60% of annual national foreign exchange
earnings & provides employment to approximately 47 per cent of the population.
The agricultural sector is also one of the most inefficient in its water
efficiency. It uses almost 97% of Pakistan’s water resources to support one of
the lowest productivities in the world per unit of water. This is primarily
attributable to the long canal irrigation system which irrigates 66% of the
total cultivable land in Pakistan of about 22.2 million hectare (mha) & has
an efficiency rate as low as 40%.15
While food security is an important aspect in a country where even most of the
provincial economies are largely agriculture dependent, the low efficiency rate
is impacting growth in other sectors such as industries by wasteful consumption
of one of the critical resources – Water.

1 Falkenmark
Water Stress Indicator, http://environ.chemeng.ntua.gr/WSM/Newsletters/Issue4/Indicators_Appendix.htm#Falkenmark,
accessed October 22 2017.

2 United Nations
Department of Economic & Social Affairs (UNDESA), International Decade for
Action ‘Water For Life’ 2005 – 2015, http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/scarcity.shtml
accessed October 22 2017.

3 United States
Institute of Peace, Understanding Pakistan’s Water Security Nexus (Washington:
Peaceworks, June 2013.

4 Col CP Shankar
(Retd), Asia’s Water Crisis & New Security Risk (New Delhi: Neha
Publishers, 2015) pp. 116.

5 United Nations
Development Programme, Development Advocate Pakistan (Islamabad:United Nations,

6 Medha Bisht,
Water Sector in Pakistan: Policy, Politics & Management. IDSA Monograph Series
No. 18, April 2013, pp. 13 – 14.

7 United States
Institute of Peace, Understanding Pakistan’s Water Security Nexus, n. 3.

8 Medha Bisht,
Water Sector in Pakistan: Policy, Politics & Management, n.6 pp 33 – 34.

9 United States
Institute of Peace, Understanding Pakistan’s Water Security Nexus, n. 3.

10 United States
Institute of Peace, Understanding Pakistan’s Water Security Nexus, n. 3.

11 Ibid.

12 Gitanjali
Bakshi & Sahiba Trivedi, “The Indus Equation”, Strategic Foresight Group,
June 2011.

13 Medha Bisht,
Water Sector in Pakistan: Policy, Politics & Management, n. 6 pp 50.

14 Muhammed Idris Rajput,
“Inter-Provincial Water Issues in Pakistan”, Draft Background Paper, Pakistan
Institute of Legislative Development & Transparency, January 2011.

15 Medha Bisht,
Water Sector in Pakistan: Policy, Politics & Management, n. 6 pp 33 – 34.


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