By: Asad Hussain
Water is the most important element for the survival of living beings; without it life cannot sustain. Unfortunately, Pakistan has been facing severe blows and acute problems owing to the scarcity of water. According to a report by the Washington-based World Resources Institute, Pakistan will be the most water-stressed country in the South Asian region by 2040.
If history is any guide, one can easily recall that Pakistan inherited copious water resources at the time of its creation. In 1947, the per capita availability of water was 5,000 cubic metres but it has declined to merely 1,000 cubic metres in 2017 and is further expected to reach a dangerous level of 800 cubic metres soon, if pragmatic remedial measures are not taken at the earliest.
So, there is no blinking at the fact that the way forward cannot be chalked out for looming water crisis until problematic areas are appropriately addressed.
In the first place, being an agrarian country, Pakistan is mainly dependent on its agriculture to run its economy. However, the outmoded and antiquated techniques and methods of irrigation are one of the primary causes of wastage of water. Crops like rice, sugarcane and some others are known for extensive use of water. Given the acute shortage of water, Pakistan cannot afford to grow these crops. Instead, Pakistan must go for those crops which require less water so as to save this depleting yet precious natural resource.
There are numerous water-scarce states that have faced the same dilemma. Most of them have overcome this problem by improving their water management through the installation of sprinkler and drip irrigation systems. But, Pakistan still uses the method of flooding the crops. It causes nearly 40 percent loss of water.
Secondly, Pakistan is dependent on water entirely from a single source; the Indus Basin. The Indian manoeuvrings to build hydroelectric power projects at Sawalkot on river Chenab and constructing a number of other dams including Baglihar, Kishanganga and Rattle on rivers the waters of which belong to Pakistan under the Indus Waters Treaty.
Read More: Water Crisis in Pakistan
Since the Indus Waters Treaty expressly binds India to refrain from obstructing the flow of the river water, i.e. from Chenab, Indus and Jhelum, India cannot store any water or construct any storage work on these rivers. Indian manipulations with western rivers by diverting their flow and constructing dams are really distressing for Pakistan that is already struggling to manage its scarce water resources.
Thirdly and equally potential cause for the water crisis is that Pakistan seriously lags behind the world in building dams and reservoirs for storage of water for dry days. Pakistan’s mega dams at Mangla and Tarbela have grown old and their capacity to store water is also declining, mainly on account of silting. They are capable of holding water for only 30 days, compared to 1,000 days for Egypt and 220 days for India.
After a hiatus of nearly four decades since the construction of Tarbela, it was determined firmly, in 2006, to build another major, multi-purpose Diamer-Bhasha dam in Gilgit-Baltistan. However, unfortunately, the lethargic policy action and hasty politics by the government have caused an inordinate delay in the construction of this highly important dam.
But, building only one major reservoir would not be sufficient to confront the mounting water crisis. In fact, it would only reinforce the already available storage capacity that Pakistan had achieved decades ago. Therefore, the exigency of time suggests that the government must take robust measures to build a number of major dams in Pakistan.
In these circumstances, building the Kalabagh Dam is a pressing need. Every aspect of this dam has been explored by national and international experts over the years. Their reports speak volumes about the urgency of making this project which can yield cheap hydroelectricity and can have potential to resolve the water crisis.
The fourth cause is related to the rampant and treacherous change in climate which is yet another lurking danger to water provisions. The contribution of the Hindu Kush and Himalayan mountains to the Indus Basin has become ephemeral. In addition, irregular rain patterns are also responsible for not recharging the aquifers, leading to less availability of water. This issue can be resolved through making an apt and judicious use of water.
Last but not least, the government’s lethargic policies and indifference towards this alarming issue are further giving an air to the terrible water crisis. All the water-rich nations across the globe have kept groundwater as the last resort for dry days. However, in Pakistan groundwater is extracted by individuals and organizations without giving a single rupee in taxes.
About groundwater, a USAID study has unfolded that the extensive utilization of groundwater has pushed the water levels in Pakistan down by 12 metres during the last 50 years. The report highlighted the need for immediate action to improve storage capacity, governance and management of water institutions.
The government must chalk out a workable national strategy, covering the all-important areas of water development and water management. The water development strategy is entirely based upon building new storage reservoirs and dams whereas water management policy will help minimize the losses.
In the first place, constructing dams should be top priority under the proposed water development strategy. Therefore, building the Kalabagh Dam can change the fate of Pakistan in resolving the water issue. It has the capacity of storing 6.1 MAF. Its power-generation capacity is 3600MW. Thus, the incumbent government should take all stakeholders on board to settle the differences on the materialization of this multi-purpose dam.
Pursuing this further, building other mega projects such as Chashma Dam having a storage capacity of 7.3MAF and power-generation capacity of 3360MW, and raising Mangla, Mirani and Gomalzam can yield desired results.
It is high time the government formulated a doable strategy to minimizing water losses. Furthermore, efforts are needed to convert the ongoing rotation-based irrigation to demand-oriented system. Therefore, incorporating modern techniques of irrigation such as sprinkling and trickling can potentially improve water distribution and utilization.
Some facts about water shortage in Pakistan
Pakistan has the world’s fourth-highest rate of water use. Its water intensity rate — the amount of water, in cubic metres, used per unit of GDP — is the world’s highest. This suggests that no country’s economy is more water-intensive than Pakistan’s.
According to the IMF, Pakistan’s per capita annual water availability is 1,017 cubic metres — perilously close to the scarcity threshold of 1,000 cubic metres.
Pakistan ranks third in the world among countries facing acute water shortage.”
The “Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources” had reported in 2016 that Pakistan had touched the “water stress line” in 1990 and crossed the “water scarcity line” in 2005.
According to the “Indus River System Authority,” Pakistan receives around 145 million acre feet of water every year but can only save 13.7 million acre feet.
Pakistan needs 40 million acre feet of water but 29 million acre feet of its floodwater is wasted because of fewer dams.
The Tarbela Dam in Pakistan is the largest earth-filled dam in the world and is the second largest by the structural volume, whereas the Mirani Dam is the largest dam in the world in terms of volume for flood protection with a flood stock of 588,690 cubic hectometres.
Similarly, the Sabakzai Dam in Zhob (Balochistan) is the 7th largest with a flood stock of 23,638 cubic hectometer.
Countries with 100 and more dams
China (23,841), United States of America (9,265), India (5,100), Japan (3,118), Brazil (1,364), South Korea (1,338), Canada (1,169), South Africa (1,112), Spain (1,063), Albania (1,008), Turkey (974), France (709), United Kingdom (593) Mexico (570), Australia (567), Italy (541), Iran (520), Germany (371), Norway (335), Zimbabwe (254), Romania (244), Thailand (218), Portugal (217), Sweden (190), Bulgaria (181), Austria (175), Pakistan (164), Greece (162), Switzerland (162), Morocco (150), Algeria (144), Indonesia (135), Tunisia (126), Afghanistan (126), Czech Republic (118), Argentina (114) and Mali (112).