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Water Crisis and Water Management in Pakistan

1- Introduction

Water plays a vital role in a country's economy. Water has been critical to the
making of human history. The earliest agricultural communities emerged where
crops could be cultivated with dependable rainfall and perennial rivers. Simple
irrigation canals permitted greater crop production and longer growing seasons in
dry areas. Some of the problems faced by the world population are as below.
• More than a billion people lack access to clean drinking water, these
include people from the sub continent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh)
• Two and half billion people of the world don’t have proper sanitation
• Preventable water related diseases kill a lot of people around the world
every day
• Many people from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh drink contaminated
• Many developing populations throughout the world are intensifying the
pressure on limited water supply

Water is a main source of life and unfortunately, that source is becoming extinct
in some parts of the world, not that these parts do not have water. Water plays a
vital role in a country's economy. Although about 88 per cent of water is used in
the agriculture sector, the industry, commerce and public health are also greatly
affected by the quantity and quality of the available water. “Water is an essential
element for our survival.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP 1990), integrated

water resources management is based on the perception of water as an integral
part of an ecosystem, a natural resource, and a social and economic good.

2- Pakistan: An overview

“The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the second largest South Asian nation, has a
total population of 146 million and a land mass of 79.61 million hectares (ha), of
which 70 million ha is arid and semi-arid (including 11 million ha of deserts). The
country has a great variety of landscapes ranging from the high mountain ranges
of the Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush (HKH region) with interspersed
valleys, and the vast rich irrigated Indus plain to the impressively rugged rocky
plateaus of Pothwar, Punjab and South West Balochistan. In common with other
developing countries, its socio-economic indicators are not encouraging and the
incidence of sickness and disease relating to poor hygiene and the use of unsafe
water is high” (PCRWCR, page 2). Fig 1 shows a general map of Pakistan
showing its main cities and main rivers.

Fig 1: A map of Pakistan showing its main rivers Indus, Chenab, Sutlej and Ravi

S.A jungeo (page 3) states that Pakistan mainly employs on the agriculture
sector, Pakistan’s agriculture, which accounts for about one-quarter of GDP and
one-half of employment, depends heavily on irrigation. Irrigated agriculture
accounts for about four-fifths of the total cropped area of 51 million acres and the
bulk of value-added in agriculture. It is by far the dominant user of available
water supply, accounting for 98 percent of direct flows and the bulk of re-flows.

“Unfortunately, while Pakistan is blessed with adequate surface and groundwater

resources, rapid population growth, urbanization and unsustainable water
consumption practices have placed immense stress on the quality as well as the
quantity of water resources in the country. Deterioration in water quality and
contamination of lakes, rivers and groundwater aquifers has resulted in increased
waterborne diseases and other health impacts” (wwf, page4).

In the same report S.A (page 4) Junjeo states that Pakistani people are facing
most of the problems mentioned in the introduction. People of big cities are
facing limited water supply. Some parts of Pakistan are facing contaminated

water supply, which are causing water related diseases. The relationships
between the provinces are at an all time low just because of the mismanagement
of the water resources.

“The irrigation sector is not getting the water for the crops at the right time which
is affecting their income. There is some tension between the industrial and the
agricultural sector as both blames each other for the wastage of water” (Kamal.
A, page 3). There is pressure on the government by these two sectors to build
more water reservoirs and catchments area for water storage.

3- Water Resources

“Pakistan’s water resources include rainfall, surface water and groundwater.

Rainfall is low and irregular. Annual rainfall ranges from less than 100 mm in the
south to about 1,500 mm in the north on the southern slopes of the Himalayas. It
generally decreases from the Himalayas towards the south, with the lowest
rainfall occurring in southern Punjab and upper Sindh. About 70 per cent of the
annual rainfall occurs from July to September (the monsoon period). This causes
the loss of most of the run-off to the sea without any economic benefit to the
country” (Rillera, paragraph 6).

The contribution of rain to crops in the irrigated areas (16 million ha) of the Indus
basin has been estimated to be 9.24 billion m3 or 7.55 million acre/feet. In non-
irrigated areas, rainfall is utilized for rain-fed agriculture and meeting the drinking
water needs of the population and livestock. The contribution of rain to crops in
the non-irrigated areas has been estimated at 7.34 billion m3 (6 million acre/feet)
(data from WWF Pakistan).

The surface water resources depend on the Indus River and the five major
tributaries, the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, on its eastern side.
“Since the Indus Basin Treaty between India and Pakistan in 1960, the
availability of water to Pakistan has become limited to the three western rivers of
Indus, Jhelum and Chenab, which provide about 173 billion m3 of water
annually” (Prof Dr K M khan, page 1).

“The stress on water resources of the country is from multiple sources. Rapid
urbanization, increased industrial activity and dependence of the agricultural
sector on chemicals and fertilizers have led to water pollution. Deterioration in
water quality and contamination of lakes, rivers and groundwater aquifers has
resulted in increased water borne diseases and negative impacts on human
health” (S.A junjeo page 5).

There are some big dams and catchments areas in Pakistan which are providing
over 70% of the total water and electricity to the country. Some of those dams
are as below.

Fig 2: Mangla dam


Fig 3: Rawal Lake


Fig 4: Tarbela dam

4- The current situation

“The issue of increasing water scarcity and mismanagement has been of great
concern to the government, private organization, non-government organizations,
and people themselves in Pakistan. The intensity of problem is becoming severe
as the population is increasing, resources are shrinking or mismanaged,
especially in the arid regions of Pakistan. Usually in arid regions, the human
settlement pattern also makes it difficult for governments to provide water to
everybody especially for human consumption purpose” (Khalid page 2).

According to the report by wapda, Pakistan will face a deficit of 12 million tons in
total grain production in the year 2012-13 which is 31% of projected target. Such
a large scale deficit cannot be bridged simply by improving farming practices and
technology. The irrigation supplies scenario, by the year 2012-13, would be
critical, and it will become increasingly disastrous year-by-year thereafter. Hence
there is urgent need of more storage dams.

Limited water resources availability, inappropriate actions of remedies including

high cost to develop new resources makes the situation difficult in the arid

regions especially when tackled by the government. The competition among
different uses is also increasing in these regions.

The problem is further aggravated by poor implementation and maintenance of

this precious resource especially when addressed by public sector alone under
the conventional approaches on purely technical basis.

According to the report by Kamal (page 3) the waters of the Indus River and its
tributaries feed the largest integrated irrigation network in the world, Pakistan’s
irrigation system. It includes three major storage reservoirs, namely Tarbela,
Chasma, and Mangla, 19 barrages (gated diversion wiers), 12 inter-river canals,
43 independent irrigation canal commands, and over 107,000 watercourses. The
combined length of canals is 61,000 kilometers. In addition, watercourses, farm
channels, and field ditches cover another 1.6 million kilometers. The system
draws an average of 106 million acre feet of surface water annually for irrigation
and is supplemented by annual groundwater pumping of about 43 million acre
feet. Fig 2 shows the Indus River and its tributaries.

Fig 2: Indus River and its tributaries


5- The Problem

According to the kalabagh dam project report by WAPDA (water and power
authority) (page 3)it is clearly stated that with increasing population and depleting
water resources, Pakistan is fast heading towards a situation of water shortage
and threat of famine. Per capita surface water availability for irrigation was 5260
cubic meters per year in 1951. It has reduced to 1100 cubic meters per capita in
2006. The minimum water requirement to avoid being a water short country is
1,000 cubic meters per capita per year. As such in the year 2012, Pakistan will
have reached the stage of acute water shortage, where people flight for every
drop of water. Fresh storages, therefore, have to be created by building dams to
replenish the lost capacity and save Pakistan’s agricultural economy from total
disaster, and produce food grains for rapidly increasing population. Another point
raised in the report is the mismanagement and misuse of water (data from the
kalabagh dam report).

“Mismanagement in the production and delivery of this valuable resource has

compounded the problem. Many public investments in irrigation and drainage
were inappropriately designed, expensively implemented, and are being poorly
operated and maintained. Expenditures on operations and maintenance are
woefully inadequate and user fees are low or non-existent, especially for the
drainage infrastructure. As a result, despite huge public investments in irrigation
and drainage, the resulting infrastructure is in a state of disrepair” (S.A junjeo,
page 4).

From an overview of the report by “Dr khalid mehmood “ it is stated that by

operating a vast, inefficient and interconnected irrigation system, interwoven with
an inefficient, inadequate and discontinuous drainage system, has led to
unreliable and inequitable water distribution and the gradual rising of the water
table and associated salinity. Large amount of water is being used by the
manufacturing industry of Pakistan, which instead of being recycled after use is
released into the drainage system. The issues and problems, which are being
raised by the mismanagement, are as follows.

• Shortages of water due to inadequate storage facility

• Mismanagement of water distribution, operation and maintenance of the
irrigation network
• Low productivity per unit of water
• Non-adoption of efficient conservation technologies
• Low irrigation efficiency
• Water quality deterioration (inefficient disposal and handling)
• Over-pumping and groundwater mining
• Mixing of fresh and saline aquifers with saltwater up-coning

• Lack of legislation on groundwater utilization
• Water logging and salinity including disposal of saline drainage effluents
• Pollution and degradation of wetlands
• Sedimentation of storage reservoirs
• Lack of research on ice and snow hydrology
• Non-participation of beneficiaries in project identification, development and
• management
• A lack of coordination among research and development agencies
• A lack of public awareness and education about water conservation

“Due to lack of maintenance and awareness in the communities, water losses in

the existing water supply system are in excess of 40 %. The individual waste
water disposal system are often in poor condition with overflow discharged into
open canals and drainage network causing contamination of surrounding ground
water aquifers” (Azim, page 5).

6- The Approach

Yes building more reservoirs and catchments area will overcome this problem,
which Pakistan is currently facing, but until those reservoirs are built, something
has to be done to solve the problem. There are many ways to solve this problem
like de sedimentation of the canal system. In this report, more concentration will
be on the following issues.

• A lack of public awareness and education about water conservation

• Mismanagement of water distribution, operation and maintenance of the
irrigation network
• A lack of coordination among research and development agencies
• Water quality deterioration (inefficient disposal and handling)
• Over-pumping and groundwater mining

6.1- A lack of public awareness and education about water conversation

“The main problem being faced by the Pakistani people are that they have taken
water for granted. Population is playing a major role in that as well. As the
population grows the demand for water increases as well. On paper, it looks nice
and easy to introduce public awareness about water conservation, but in reality,
it is far more difficult than that. To increase public awareness among the people a
program must be developed” (Rosemann, 2005, page 4)

This program should outline the key aspects like

• Water is a precious source which the country is running out off
• What can be done to save water

• increase awareness about effects of water wastage

This is just the start if proper education is given to the people about the water
conservation than the government can save a lot of water.

6.2 Mismanagement of water distribution and maintenance of the irrigation


Mismanagement of water can raise many problems as discussed earlier. “Lack

of trust among the states especially between Punjab and Sindh is at
the heart of the water management issues in Pakistan. These issues
are mainly caused by the mismanagement as both states blame each
other for mishandling of water for irrigation purposes” (PILDA, page
18). The federal government can overcome these issues if it intervenes.

“Another main problem that is caused by this is the water losses through the
unsatisfactory irrigation network. In some parts of the country, the government is
changing mud canals into brick canals. Fig 4 shows two canals, a mud canal and
brick canal. It also shows that this is a good way to save water, which otherwise
seeps in the earth and mixes with underground water table. If this process of
maintaining, the irrigation system can be carried out in the whole country than the
government can save a lot of water” (davis and cornwell page 263).

Fig 4: a mud canal vs. a brick canal


6.3- A lack of coordination among research and development agencies

The development agencies and the research groups have no coordination. There
are many technologies being developed at research level but due to lack of
coordination, those technologies never developed at a commercial stage. “If the
government wants to save water at a large scale than these agencies must work
together to produce and develop new water conservation technologies” (wwf,
page 7).

6.4- Water quality deterioration (inefficient disposal and handling)

Both the government and the industrial sector are to blame for this. “The
industrial sector in Pakistan never treated its waster and just released it directly
into the mainstream. These caused environmental problems as the water
became contaminated. The other problem was the disposal of water on land,
which caused salinity due to the chemicals present. The contaminated water was
unable to use for drinking or irrigation purposes” (Rillera, paragraph 3). The
government was to blame here as well as it turned a blind eye towards the
industrial sector.

6.5- Over-pumping and groundwater mining

To overcome the water crisis the farmers have put tube wells to compensate for
the water shortages. More than half of the tube wells in Pakistan are in Punjab.
Tube wells are lowering water tables and depleting aquifers, making it impossible
or costlier for others to pump water. Salinity is also a big problem that is caused
by ground water mining. Fig 5 shows the ground water mining.

Fig 5: ground water mining


7- The Solution

Everyone in Pakistan thinks that building new reservoirs is the only solution for
the water crisis in Pakistan. Almost every government that comes into power
says the same thing that Pakistan needs new dams. Water management is
becoming a big political issue in Pakistan. There is tension between the states as
mentioned earlier over the water issue. The solution, which is being suggested in
this report, is not to build new reservoirs but to work with the current infra
structure, which Pakistan currently got.

“In long run, reservoirs are necessary but until those reservoirs are built, a
solution is needed for the water crisis” (report 1 15310-pak). This crisis can be
overcome with the proper management of the factors mentioned in the approach
as all the factors mentioned above are interrelated.

According to junjeo, some of the issues can be overcome and a lot of water can
be saved if proper awareness programs are available for the public, industrial,
and the agricultural sector by the government sector. The government has to
treat every sector differently. For industrial sectors, they have to emphasize more
on the water recycling and water treatment. For agricultural sector, they have to
increase awareness about the advantages and disadvantages of over-pumping
ground water.

Proper management of the research and development agencies by the

government can create and develop new water conservation technologies. This
could be implemented in the water market like new water treatment and recycling
techniques for the industrial sector. New ways of water monitoring for the
agricultural sector. “The government regarding the disposal of wastewater should
introduce new laws. These laws should be forced on the industrial sector as the
untreated water causes health hazards and by forcing recycling, the industrial
sector can save a lot of water” (Azim, no date, page 2).

NRM tools which can help achieve this solution

This solution can be achieved by the proper implementation of natural resource

management tool like integration, regional catchment strategy and Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment.


“A lack of integration among local, government and civil institutions can mainly
lead to bigger problems. The approach discussed in this report cannot be
properly implemented until there is integration between the bodies responsible
for the problem. With proper integration, the problem can be solved to a certain
extent until new reservoirs are built” Daniel no date page 3). The integration

among the government, local bodies and the water authorities can lead to a
better water management plan. The factors discusses in approach can be
executed better by implementing integration.

Regional catchment strategy

A very important NRM tool which can help to solve this problem. To implement
this, the water authorities must work together with the local government to devise
out a plan to implement this. According to Kamal a very good example for
regional catchment strategy is the Rawal Lake which supplies water to
Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Totally managed by the local municipal corporation of
Rawalpindi and Islamabad this lake boosts excellent water supply for both cities.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

Third tool to be used can be the most important if implemented correctly. By

using this tool it can be concluded that what are the hazards of a particular water
project before the implementation. It can go right or can go horribly wrong.

At the end, it all comes back to the government, private, industrial and the
agricultural sector working together to overcome the water shortage. The people
should be made aware of the hazards of wasting water.

8- Conclusion

This report deals with water crisis in Pakistan. It describes Pakistan’s water
resources, what state they are now. It describes the current situation, which
Pakistan is facing now. It also describes the problems, which are rising from
these conditions. This report gives a new approach and solution to these
problems from a different view. Instead of telling to build new reservoirs, it is
suggested in this report that some of these problems can be overcome by
implementing proper water management. This report describes how these
approaches can be implemented and a solution can be obtained with the help of
NRM tools discussed.


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