Muhammad Nazim and Dr. Muqarrab Ali

Water scarcity is not a specified issue with Pakistan. It has become a worldwide phenomenon. In the face of the 71 percent Earth's surface covered with water, and the oceans holding about 96.5 percent of all Earth's water a line from ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ comes to my mind, “Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.” Water scarcity is being faced by most of the countries of the world including the United States, India, Sub-Saharan Africa, and even Bangladesh. The world is confronted with torrential rains accompanied by devastating floods on one side and heat waves and droughts on the other.

The Nature And Extent Of The Problem:

The case of Pakistan is no different. The overall scenario of Pakistan is that it is passing through extreme scarcity of water. The situation is going to be worst in the years ahead if appropriate steps are not taken. The relevant data shows that Pakistan is inching towards a severe water crisis. Reports by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as well as the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) has alerted that the country will reach absolute water scarcity by the year 2025. At present Pakistan is facing a shortage of around 33 Million Acre Feet (MAF) of water. According to a 2015 IMF report, the demand for water is projected to reach 274 MAF by 2025, while supply is expected to remain stagnant at 191 MAF, resulting in a demand- supply gap of approximately 83 MAF. According to one UNO report Pakistan is at the 7th position in the world facing the water crisis. According to this report, water scarcity in Pakistan could lead to serious political issues in the coming years.

At the moment about one-third population of Pakistan lacks access to safe drinking water which is leading to many water-borne diseases. The Falkenmark Water Stress Indicator (one of the more commonly used measures to calculate the volume of renewable water available per capita), sets 1,000 cubic meters per capita as the threshold where water shortage starts hurting economic growth. This figure was 5,650 cubic meter per capita in 1947 and has come down to 850 cubic meters in 2017 put us in the list of water-starved countries. This figure is going to come down to 500 cubic meters by the year 2025. It decreased gradually with increase in population for instance data of our Planning and Development Division, indicates the overall water availability decreased from 1,299 cubic meters per capita in 1996-97 to 1,101 cubic meter per capita in 2004-05. Given the growing population and industrialization, the situation is likely to get worse. The maximum pressure comes on the groundwater which is resulting in rapid lowering of water table. Our annual growth rate of tube wells is indicated around 7%. Our about 36% of groundwater is classified as highly saline that means unfit for irrigation. In urban areas, the primary source of water supply is from groundwater except for Karachi, and a part of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, where the surface water is also used that is from Rawal lake, Simly dam and Khanpur dam.

This indicates that the main reason for the scarcity of water is the increase in population and industrialization as the resources have not been augmented accordingly with the passage of time. The present population of around 220 million could cross 395 million by the year 2047 our 100th anniversary consequently putting enormous pressure on the demand for water. Whereas according to the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) we are throwing around 30 MAF water annually into the Arabian Sea which could be saved by increasing the inland reservoir capacity. According to one study, Pakistan at the moment is throwing worth $70 billion of water to the Sea every year. This water not only goes waste to the sea but before that brings a lot of devastation in the form of floods in the areas all along the rivers during the monsoon season.

As regards groundwater we nearly pump out 50 to 55 MAF of water daily while only 40 to 45 is recharged. It is the Shortage of surface water has put tremendous pressure on groundwater. The drawdown phenomena have resulted in lowering of water table. As regards our withdrawal of water by a source we draw 34% from groundwater and 66% from surface water. As regards consumption of water by sector, 94% is consumed by irrigation and livestock, 5% by Municipalities, and 1% by industries.

The Leading Cause Of The Problem:

The reason for the crisis is also that Pakistan’s about 80 percent area falls in the arid and semi-arid category. The problem is being aggravated due to erratic, unpredictable and uneven nature of rainfall. When there is a prolonged drought in the Thar and Cholistan regions of Pakistan, they face famine like situation. That means it has to depend mainly on the storage capacity of water in the high rainfall areas. The water has to be stored there during high rainfall season to be supplied to the low rainfall regions when required.

India’s construction of Baghliar and Kishin Ganga dams on Chenab and Jhelum rivers respectively are also obstructing the smooth flow of water to Pakistan.

The worst case scenario is that all the governments except president Ayyub era did not bother to pay due heed to the issue. They badly failed to visualize the future demands of the water and take appropriate measures accordingly. They did take specific steps, but these were extremely insufficient given the gravity of the issue. Tarbela and Mangla storage and power generating dams were the only mega projects constructed as a result of the Indus Basin water treaty of 1960 brokered by the World Bank between India and Pakistan. Mangla dam on river Jhelum was completed in 1967 and Tarbela on river Indus competed in 1976. The storage capacity of both the dams has now significantly decreased due to silting and sedimentation process. It is regrettable that no such big dam was built afterward. The construction of Kala Bagh dam fell prey to the political nonconsensus between the various provinces of Pakistan. Whereas we would have gone for such mega and undisputed dams in the Northern Ares of Pakistan like Diamer Bhasha dam, and Dasu dam.

Effect On The Economy:

The acute shortage of irrigation water particularly where the underground water is unfit for irrigation has severely affected the agriculture sector of Pakistan which accounts for 21 percent to our GDP as per Economic survey of Pakistan. The contribution of agriculture to our economy can be judged from the fact that 70 percent of our exports are from agricultural origin including the textiles as a value-added commodity. That means agriculture is the mainstay of our economy which depends on the availability of irrigation water.

There are other numerous reasons that have added to the scarcity of the water. These are the wastage and non-judicious use of available water resources. These include extensive use of non- cemented watercourses in the villages and non-lining of canals resulting loss of water due to seepage.


The water strategy must be based upon the following two essential components:

 Water Development – Building of more reservoirs/dams on emergent grounds to increase the water storage capacity, and conservation of the water by saving it from going into the Sea.

                         Water Management – Conserving & saving the existing water by making its judicious use

  •            Changing of crops pattern that is instead of rice and sugar-cane crops consuming a large quantity of water we should switch over to less water requirement crops like wheat, oilseed, pulses, and cotton. 

  •          Cementing of watercourses, the lining of canals, and proper leveling of fields can save a lot of water from being wasted in the agriculture sector.

  •                                                        Introduction of water saving technology like drip and sprinkling irrigation

  •       People should be educated to conserve water

  •          Pricing of water to check the undue use of water in the urban areas

  •      Desalinization of Sea water

About the Author:

Muhammad Nazim, Assistant Agronomist in the office Director Agriculture (Extension) Disvision Bahawalpur.

 Dr. Muqarrab Ali, Supervisor/ Assistant Professor Department of Agronomy, HOD, Department of AgroForestry, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, University of Agriculture Multan.