Pakistan’s looming water crisis

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In 1947 Pakistan was affluent in water. It had 5,000 cubic meters per capita renewable water that is now down to 1,000 cubic meters per capita Population boom, is a major contributing factor. But there are others. Out dated irrigation system being one. In a country where 90pc of water in used in irrigation of crops using maximum water are two other reasons. Sugar cane, rice and wheat all use extensive water.

Many water scarce countries have opted for better water management systems like sprinkler systems and drip irrigation system. Whereas we use the method of flooding the crops. Water leading to areas of irrigation from rivers lack lining, this in turn reportedly causes a loss of 40pc of water en route. Pakistan has also over decades worked at increasing her water reservoirs.

Pakistan is dependent for water from a single source: the Indus River basin. Indian building of hydroelectric power project at Sawalkot can only cause further water stress to Pakistan. The project of Sawalkot is on the Chenab River in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The article III of the Indus Water treaty, binds the Government of India not to hinder the flow of the western rivers, i.e. Indus, Jhelum and Chenab, to Pakistan, and India cannot store any water or construct any storage works, on the above cited rivers, having been given total rights since march 1973,of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, we get flood surplus of these rivers which is released in case of excessive rains, which helps in recharging our ground waters levels, but that too will cease after the second Ravi-Beas Link is made.

Today while we slumber, India has started works on, the following projects; Pakal Dul 1000MW, Kiru 600MW,Karwar 520 MW, Baglihar (eventual 900MW),Sawalkot 1200MW (two 600mw units), Salal 390 MW, Sewa-II 120 MW, and finally the Bursur project on the Marusudar river, which, is a major tributary of Chenab river, here the Foxland intends to build a massive water storage dam, which will control and regulate the flow to maintain levels of Pakal dul, Dul Hasti, Rattle, Baglihar, Sawalkot and Salal Hydro-projects, on the Chenab.” (Naveed Tajammal, March 6, 2012)

Climate change is another factor contributing to decline of water provision as glaciers of the Hindu Kush-Karakorum-Himalaya mountains are lost and do not flow into the Indus Water basin. This decline has to be balanced against an increase in water demand owing to hotter season. Water will evaporate quicker leading to increasing water demand by irrigation sector. This will be coupled with decreased levels of soil moisture.

Pakistan’s thermal sector is responsible for roughly 60 to 65pc of energy provision. Thermal energy depends largely on steams and their cooling. “As higher air temperatures decrease the efficiency of the thermal conversion process (Makky & Kalash, 2013), greater volumes of water will be required by this sector to maintain production levels.” (IISD Blog)

Diminished water levels can lead to greater difficulty in clean drinking water to the populace in quantity.

Water quality is yet another issue. According to a recent research more than 50m people across Pakistan are in danger of poisoning from contaminated water containing high levels of arsenic. The study was conducted on samples from 12,000 wells across the country.

The flow of water varies widely in summers and winters. 84pc in summer with a mere 16pc in winter. “According to the report, with a Kharif to Rabi ratio of two to one, the seasonal needs were about 66pc in summer and 34pc in winter, showing surpluses of 18pc in summer and shortages of 18pc in winter.” Local newspaper Feb, 6, 2017)

Also, due of a high degree of groundwater mining a high risk exists of the wells running dry.

The flow of surplus water in summers cause floods causing damage to our crops and as a result thereof to the economy.

Water is back bone of our economy. “The role of regional politics too cannot be denied in aggravating Pakistan’s water woes as the relationship dynamic with India determines the flow in the western rivers since the source lies in disputed territory Kashmir and as a corollary, has implications for internal politics vis-à-vis distribution of water within the provinces. With the once mighty Indus delta now reduced to a mere canal, there is more cause to worry as the inland flow of sea water can render cultivable land unfit for cultivation and hence, completely useless.” (Spearhead Research Special Report)

Unfortunately our policy makers have not focused on this looming disaster. Water scarcity can have severe economic and social backlash. We need immediately multifaceted water based policies dealing with a) conservation and storage of excess water in summers b) a smart updated irrigation policy for water carriage, new methods and lining the path from the river to area of use c) new dams, many small ones and d) a vigorous presence to deflect India’s steps at violation of Indus Treaty d) Upgrading the old and dated irrigation system that causes water wastage owing to seepage.

One hopes the policy makers’ wake up to the need of the hour!