South Asia is home to around quarter of the world’s population and also one of the most water stressed regions in the world. In South Asia, Pakistan is facing a distressing decrease in water resources and yet authorities in Pakistan are unable or unwilling to take precautionary measures. It is steadily fetching number of hurdles for Pakistan.
Pakistan relies heavily on the Indus River which originates from Tibetan Plateau and further breakdowns into many tributaries. It flows, starting from the Indian territory into the Pakistan’s. The Indus River had been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan as both seek control over it. Anticipating the severity of tensions, the World Bank mediated between two rival nations and finally a treaty was signed under the auspices of the World Bank in 1960. Under IWT (Indus Water Treaty) the control over three western rivers (Jhelum, Indus and Chenab) was given to Pakistan while three eastern rivers (Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej) to India.
During 1960 to 1975, Pakistan built its major dams notably Tarbela Dam on Indus River and Mangla Dam on Jhelum River. Projects of building new dams were initiated by several governments yet never completed. Kala Bagh Dam was the most prodigious project but unfortunately governments have never been able to achieve consensus of provinces. According to IMF, due to lack of sufficient water storage Pakistan touched the water stress level in 1990 and water scarcity level in 2005. Despite the frightful warnings, the concerned authorities displayed their ineptness and lethargy.
It is feared that the country would be facing a catastrophic water shortage by 2025, as population is growing exponentially resulting in an increase in the demand yet resources are being descending constantly. Average water potential of Pakistan is 236 Billion Cubic Meter (BCM) while usage is around 160 BCM. The projected demand of water by 2025 could be nearly 337.9 BCM so Pakistan will be encountering a water shortage of 102 BCM, IRSA warned. Amount of water available annually per capita is 1017 cubic meter which is clearly surpassing the stress level which is 1000. While it was 1500 in 2009, it evidently implies how rapidly Pakistan is drying up.
Factors that are goosing the Crisis: Urbanization is another element which is contributing immensely in this already looming water crisis. Pakistan’s population is growing at an extremely rapid pace making it the world’s 3rd fastest growing population. Growing population means growing demands. Pakistan failed miserably to provide basic necessities of life to its rural population. This gave impetus to the rural population to migrate towards cities for better opportunities and facilities.
In 1998, Pakistan’s 32% population was residing in urban areas while it is now standing at nearly 37%. Recent UN report suggests, it can climb up to 50% by 2025 as Pakistan’s urbanization is expanding at the rate of 3 percent, fastest in South Asia. It is to be kept in mind that South Asia is the world’s most densely populated region. This would not only be mounting the water crisis and other managerial problems but will affect the agricultural land which is the main constituent of the country’s GDP.
Pakistan is an agrarian economy as the agricultural products constitute 26% of GDP. The industries are also growing at a rapid pace. Both of these sectors require water in an enormous quantity. A recent IMF report revealed, Pakistan uses more water in cubic meters per unit of GDP as compared to any other country. That makes it the world’s most water stressed economy. Industries aren’t only consuming excessive water but also polluting the fresh water reservoirs by letting the poisonous industrial waste to mix into nearby reservoirs. It is endangering the health of a population and lives of millions of aquatic species. Concerned authorities must halt them immediately.
Pakistan is home to world’s largest irrigation system yet has less efficient yields in comparison to India and China. It is partially due to the fact that our irrigation system is outdated and desperately needs upgradation.
The tail-end farmers barely get adequate amount of water for crops which compels them to pump water from ground. This is causing groundwater levels to down as the pumping rate is so high that it scarcely gives it a chance to replenish. According to IMF, Pakistan has very low water cost thus it is unable to generate enough revenue to maintain and upgrade the canals.
Climate change is another threat which needs to be addressed. Pakistan is among the world’s most affected countries by climate change. Climate change has made the weather conditions in Pakistan extremely inconsistent and unpredictable. We ultimately observe extreme in monsoon, hot weather and cold. Summer season is stretching while winter is dwindling. The Indus River receives its water from glaciers and a recent survey alarmed that during last year, these glaciers received less snowfall than before.
Extreme hot weather in summers cause more water evaporation resulting in high intensity monsoon rainfalls. These rainfalls are causing landslides and erosion which ends up filling the dams with mud causing significant drop in their water storage capacity. Pakistan already possesses very few water reservoirs which can store water for only 30 days, relatively much lesser than India that can store water for up to 190 days. Due to less storage capacity Pakistan wastes water worth billions of dollars. According to an estimate, 145 million-acre feet flows through Pakistan while it saves only 13.7 million-acre feet. Remember that 1 million-acre feet water costs around 1 billion dollars.
Threat to political stability and diplomacy: Uneven distribution of water in Pakistan between provinces raised tensions. Allegedly, Punjab is receiving excessive water than its legal share while others enjoy less than their due share. Recently, Baloch Nationalist leader broke its coalition with the incumbent government accusing it of not fulfilling their demands which included the promise of building small dams in water stressed province Balochistan. Imran Khan’s govt guaranteed that demands will be fulfilled but now it seems that vigor of addressing water issues is evaporating.
Pakistan finds India as scapegoat for its surging water crisis as India has built Kishanganga in Kashmir on Jhelum river and Ratle Dam on Chenab river. Pakistan has raised its voice on several international forums but it seems that the international community is entertaining Indian perspective. India accuses Pakistan of wasting huge quantity of water and its ineptness to save this plentiful water.
Pakistan needs to take immediate and adequate measures to save the water it wastes. Meanwhile, international community needs to realize the severity of tensions over this matter between two nuclear armed nations and should step in to halt India from violating IWT. Amid all other challenges, it is a test for the government how they improve water management and make sure the availability of water for agriculture, domestic use and growing industries. Government has recently publicized the progress they made over construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam and Mohmand Dam.
Undoubtedly, that is positive development yet not enough. Drastic steps to be taken is the need of the hour. Otherwise it can disturb Pakistan’s interprovincial harmony and mount up as a national security challenge. People of Pakistan should strive to make each drop of water count.