Water Scarcity in Pakistan Issues and Options

Pakistan is the world’s sixth-most populous country. Nonetheless, geographical location and weather patterns do not support continuous year-round water supplies. Available water supplies are under high stress to meet human, agricultural, and industrial demands. The condition has worsened over the years as the water profile of the world has gone from ample water to water tension since independence. Therefore, our current water resources, the demands for these resources, water availability issues and the implications of water problems need to be reviewed critically

1. Pakistan gets most of its water from river flows, rainfall/snow and ground aquifers. The availability of this water has undergone significant changes over the years as discussed in following paragraphs.

(a) River System. The main source of surface water for Pakistan is the river Indus with its contributing tributaries Kabul, Jehlum, Chenab Ravi, Sutlej and Beas. Unfortunately, all the rivers above originate in hostile land outside of Pakistan. Seasonal snow, rain and melting ice are the main contributors to the flow of water in the Indus River.

Since 1923 to 2015, the average water supply is 144 million Acre Feet (MAF) per annum. Of this, 139 MAF is from the west, whereas only 5 MAF is from the eastern. However, the flows of western rivers with a maximum flow of 186 MAF during floods and a minimum flow of 97 MAF during dry years are highly varied. During different years, the large variability in the water flow of rivers makes water management rather complex. The wet and dry years affect not only the rivers but also the recharge of groundwater aquifers.

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(b) Rainfall and Snow. On average the annual rainfall is 290.7 mm over 50 years. The rainfall, though, is not consistent over Pakistan’s landmass. It varies in parts of Balochistan and Sindh, from less than 100 mm to more than 1,500 mm in wet mountains. During July-Sep, approximately 60 per cent of rainfall is received. Snowfall at Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) exceeds 5,000 mm for altitudes above 5,000 m. GB contains the largest area (22,000 square km) of perennial glaciers outside the polar regions. Seasonal snow and glaciers are significant sources of fresh water.

(c) Groundwater. Groundwater resources or water table in Pakistan varies greatly due to topographical and seasonal factors. Different ways like shallow wells, tube wells, and the Karez system are used to exploit the groundwater. The groundwater is very useful where canals are not available and rainfall is less, particularly in semi-arid and arid areas. Most of the groundwater resources of Pakistan exist in the Indus Plain, extending from Himalayan foothills to Arabian Sea[footnoteRef:1], and are stored in alluvial deposits. The plain is nearly 1,600 km long and covers an area of 21 million hectares (Mha) and is blessed with extensive unfettered aquifers, which are fast becoming an additional source of irrigation water. The aquifer was built over the past 90 years due to the natural precipitation, river flow, and the ongoing flow of canals, distributaries, and watercourses from the conveyance system. This aquifer with a capacity of approximately 55 MAF is accessed by over one million tubewells to a degree of nearly 50 MAF. In Balochistan, groundwater extracted is the main source of irrigation water. This is because nearly all the rivers and natural streams in nature are seasonal. The water table in the basin is unremittingly falling due to increased abstraction. [1: https://www.scribd.com/document/182947963/Vol7No3-4-2-Water-Resources-Situation-MAkramKahlown-pdf]

Water Reservoirs’ Capacities

2. There are only three simple reservoirs in Pakistan, namely Mangla Dam, Terbela Dam and Chashma Barrage Reservoir. There are also smaller reservoirs such as Warsak, Baran dam centre, Khanpur, Tanda, Rawal, Simly, Bakht khan Hamal lake, Mancher lake, Kinjhar lake and Chotiari lake.

(a) Terbela Dam. The largest soil and stun filled dam in the world was designed at Terbela on the Indus River in 1976 with a gross capacity of 11,62 MAF and a live storage capacity of 9,68 MAF. With the passage of time, 24.6 percent of the capacity was lost due to silting and now it has a 7,295 MAF live room. In addition to serving the Dam’s primary purpose, since commissioning, Tarbela Power Station has provided 341,139 trillion KWh of cheap hydropower. During 1998~99 a total annual generation of 16,463 trillion KWh was reported. Annual generation in 2007~08 was 14,959 trillion KWh, while the station shared a peak load of 3702 MW during the year, representing 23,057% of the total WAPDA System

(b) Mangla Dam. Mangla reservoir is Pakistan’s second major water reservoir. It was built on river Jhelum in 1967 with a gross capacity of 5.882 MAF and 5.41 MAF live capacity. It also has lost 13.2 percent of its storage due to siltation and can currently store 4.636 MAF of water. Between 1961 and 1967, the dam was built across the Jhelum River, 108 km south-east of the Islamabad in the Azad Kashmir district of Mirpur. It also contains a power station in the Mangla Dam. In addition to the main dam, it was necessary to build a dyke called Sukian-17,000 feet in length and a small dam called Jari Dam to block the Jari Nala about 11 miles away from the new town of Mirpur[footnoteRef:2]. [2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mangla_Dam]

(c) Chashma Barrage. Chashma Dam is located on the Indus River and was built in 1972 with a 0.870 MAF gross storage and 0.717 MAF live storage. It also pulverized its capability by 39.3 per cent and is left with 0.435 MAF storage capacity. The station’s fixed capacity is 184 MW, with eight Kaplan bulb turbine units each having a capacity of 23 MW. Chashma Barrage is used for irrigation, flood control, and generating electricity.

3. Although development of irrigated regions, urbanization and industrialization is rising water usage, supply is changing due to groundwater silting, over-exploitation of ground water and climate change, shifts in rainfall patterns, loss of glaciers and Indian river depletion. Pakistan’s water availability per capita per year declined from 5,600 cubic meters (CUM) in 1947 to approximately 1,000 CUM meters in 2016..

(a) Agricultural Water Demand. Pakistan requires to double its annual food production every 15 years to meet its  food requirements. On the surface this target may not look as demanding as sufficient fertile and productive land and freshwater resources are available in the country. Unfortunately the country has to import large quantities of food commodities every year despite the availability of these basic resources. The country should feed 30 million additional mouths by 2025, with the present population of around 220 million people growing nearly 2.1 percent annually.

(b) Irrigation. We are all aware of the serious water shortages in our region. Two main reasons remain, one inevitable because of prolonged drought that is beyond man’s jurisdiction and the other for failure to develop and maladminister water resources. The Indus and its tributaries have an average annual inflow of 41.67 MAF , 97% of which is in cultivation use, and the remaining 3% is in domestic and industrial use. Of 141.67 MAF, approximately 106 MAF are diverted into one of the largest but most ineffective irrigation systems every year. The remainder of the 36 MAF is lost in the sea. More than 50 percent of 106 MAF, redirected into a broad irrigation network, will be wasted before entering the network of crop root zone[footnoteRef:3]. [3: https://www.coursehero.com/file/p22k24d/c-Drinking-Most-of-the-rural-and-urban-water-is-supplied-from-ground-water/]

(b) Power generation. The water from the hydropower plants goes back to the river system. The reservoirs are used only for irrigation on priority basis. The recent increase in thermal generation has reduced possible conflicts between the hydropower output and agricultural water releases from reservoirs. Most annual storage is used now for irrigation rather than hydro power, but sometimes conflicts arise.

(c) Drinking. Most of the urban and rural water is provided by tube wells and hand pumps from groundwater. The cumulative urban and rural requirements are measured at 10-15%, out of which 80% remain, but with reduced consistency. The estimated total requirements are urban and rural. Normally, net consumption accounts for around 2% of all available water.

(d) Industry. In industry, water is also mainly used for cooling purposes and also for production processes. This level is less than 1%. However, the demand for water for industrialisation is growing every day. It is not possible to recycle the water used in industry. This also leads to Pakistan’s water shortages. This is all due to a lack of administration and supervision.

Current and Future Water Requirements of Pakistan (2000-2025)

(a) Population Growth and Water Scarcity. Population growth and availability of water per capita from IS. The figure is currently around 1100 m3 per person, with a decrease of over 60% over 70 years. In the Indus Basin, average channel water is approx. 104 MAF provided. About 38 MAFs during the Rabi season are available. In some Rabi seasons the water scarcity was more than 40%. This water shortage affected not just the rabbi season crops (area and productivity) but also cotton cultivation, especially in the Sindh Province, since the crop is planted much earlier than in Punjab.

Water Related Challenges for Pakistan

5. (a) Agricultural Economy. Agriculture is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s economy and its blood line lies in the water flowing from the canals to crops. Pakistan should be prepared to face both economically and socially in the event of no or less water. Becoming an important source of GDP and job creation for the already fragile economy, agriculture would have a spiraling effect on prevalent poverty levels, due to the negative impacts of water shorter agriculture would have. Our food security, livestock, rural survival, fruit exports, and related agricultural industries will be affected adversely and even more people will fall below poverty line.

(b) Loss in Water Distribution Channels. Pakistan’s Irrigation System is one of the world’s largest irrigation system covering more than 36 million acres. Weak irrigation supply output and municipal water storage networks lead to huge water loss.

(c) Deterioration in Water Quality. Underground and surface water are contaminated by indiscriminate dumping of untreated industrial sewage, chemical waste and excessive use of pesticides.. Contamination of water resources will continue unchecked in the absence of legislative measures and the lack of policies. Estimates indicate that the pollution at the Ravi River is costing over 5,000 tons of fish every year due to waste disposal from the town of Lahore. The delicate nature of our water supply and extent of the underlying problem is also demonstrated by repeated episodes of fish death in the rawal dam water reservoir for twin cities. Pakistan is currently rated 10 among countries with population not having safe drinking water, worldwide

(d) Population Explosion. The population is growing and our limited water resources are in high demand. The decrease in water availability per capita over the years is also due to the increase in population as water supply is decreased.

(e) Lack of Aqua Culture. We do not value the limited water supplies nor do we protect them unlike developed nations. Wasting water is the norm and is increasing at all levels of society. Furthermore, there have been relegations to the concept of eco system with water bodies, forests, plantations and so on for massive housing and concrete structures.

(f) Changing Climate. The general weather pattern in Pakistan has changed over time, with less rainfall in the eastern belt than in the past. Droughts in recent years have increased. In four of 10 years, the dry years are observed. During 1997-2000 the precipitation was exceptionally low as during this period the precipitation was less than 50% of the normal level in most parts of the country, resulting in a lower agricultural production. Pakistan is eighth (High Risk) in terms of its susceptibility to climate change according to the Global Climate Hazard Index (2016).

(g) Variation in Water Availability. In the moonsoon season, optimum water is accessible as snow and melting ice contribute to water surging along with the heavy rainfall. However water levels are not enough to sustain crops in other seasons . Therefore, adequate water storage and management capacity challenges arise.

(h) Hydel Power Generation. Pakistan generates nearly 28% of its electricity from hydel sources whereas nearly 66.7% is generated from gas/oil, 3% from nuclear and only 0.6% from coal. The low water availability in winters lowers hydel power generation and results in increased shortfall. As the energy costs are rising and Pakistan has started facing the worst electricity shortages, the need to generate economical and clean electric power through hydro-electric projects is being emphasized[footnoteRef:4]. [4: https://studylib.net/doc/11647499/]

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Water Scarcity in Pakistan Issues and Options. (2022, May 16). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/water-scarcity-in-pakistan-issues-and-options/

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