Technology is expected to play a major role in providing water to coastal communities and industries in the future.

Apr 17 - 23, 2000

In the face of miserable failures on the part of authorities responsible for water management, prayer for rains seems to be the last resort to slake the thirst of the people, farms, power generators and industry due to persistent water crisis.

Although the water problem is not new to the people as they raise hue and cry for water almost every year in the summer and the authorities are immune to their complaints.

It is generally claimed with a sense of pride that Pakistan has world's largest irrigation network yet our farmers always complain for water shortage. We have the distinction to have Tarbela dam, one of the largest water reservoirs but neither we can supply enough water for irrigation nor we generate electricity due to ever rising silt level at the reservoir. We have metropolitan city of Karachi where official figure of population is around 12 million while unofficial figure is far ahead of 15 million if katchi abadis are also taken into account. According to an official estimate, total requirement for Karachi is 700-800 million gallon per day (MGPD) but practically speaking the city is getting only 435 MGD. These figures are self-explanatory of the water problems faced by the people of Karachi. In order to take advantage of the situation, a tanker Mafia has mushroomed, which is minting money obviously in connivance with the administration and other officials responsible for water management. Apart from 5 official hydrants allowed by Karachi Water & Sewerage Board (KWSB) dozens of illegal hydrants alongside the Lyari River have emerged. These hydrants are supplying contaminated sub-soil water of the river, which carries the sewerage water of the city. When asked how these hydrants have been allowed to supply contaminated water spreading the deadly hepatitis in the city, one of the officials of KWSB said that these hydrants are beyond of board's jurisdiction. The tanker operators who are selling this contaminated water to the citizens have been asked to paint their tankers with red to indicate that the water is not potable, however they are least bothered and are busy in money minting. These water tankers are sold at a cost of Rs200 for the regular buyers while they charge Rs500-600 to the casual buyers.

According to a report, out of 114 hydrants, 86 hydrants are illegal trifling with the health and life of the citizens by supplying contaminated water to the citizens. This luxurious business is being run in connivance with the administration and the police and other related departments. The Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) has not given licence to any hydrants to supply water but they are doing business without any fear of law and the health of the general people.

The industrialists, which are generally termed as the moneyed people, are the worst targets of the tanker Mafia. Haji Yaqub Karim, former chairman of SITE Association of Industry, who runs a large industrial unit at the SITE industrial area, told PAGE that industrial units are forced to buy water tankers permanently to meet their requirement. Against the sanctioned amount of 8 MGD, the SITE industrial area is getting only 5 MGD while the rest of the requirement is met through tankers. He is buying water for Rs16000 per day for his unit alone. However the amount spend for water purchase is not borne by the industry ultimately it is passed on to the consumers.

The water problem in Karachi is also aggravated by the suspension of supply from Hub Dam. Karachi is supplied around 100 MGD from these sources.

Dry spell for the last three years persisting in the Province of Balochistan, the water level at Hub has gone low to such an extent that it is unable to supply a drop of water. Consequently, the entire load of water supply has been shifted to Indus source.


The water crisis has also caused a provincial tussle between Sindh and Punjab. The province of Sindh has claimed that its getting much less water of its needs which may severally hurt harvesting of cash crops like cotton, wheat and rice in the province.

The storage level at major reservoirs reduced to a minimum and below average flow in the Indus and the Jhelum, which is feared to hit Kharif crop this year.

In order to resolve the issue, it has been decided that the province of Sindh will get an additional 7000 cusecs of water per day during the cotton-sowing season.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf gave this directive to WAPDA and Ministry of Agriculture at a meeting held in Islamabad recently. The Ministry of Agriculture and WAPDA were also directed to prepare the National Water Management Policy as a long term measure to find a permanent solution to water shortages in the country.

The meeting also discussed in detail the water availability situation in the country, approved a number of long term and short term measures to solve the perennial water shortage problem of the country.

About 5000 cusecs of water would be supplied in Sindh from Tarbela while rest of the water would be made available from other sources. The additional water supply to Sindh will continue till the third week of April when the water level was expected to improve in the rivers.

A plan was also approved to increase elevation of Mangla Dam to reclaim the storage of the reservoir, which had been lost over the years to sedimentation and silting. WAPDA would also carry out a study for increasing elevation of Tarbela Dam so that its storage capacity could also be increased.

WAPDA has also been advised by the government to carry out a survey for construction of small dams at proper locations.

The National Water Management Programme, which would be prepared under the supervision of Minister for Agriculture Shafqat Ali Shah Jamote, would formulate suggestions for maximum utilization of water besides finding ways and means for recycling the effluents and saline water. It would also explore the possibilities of exploiting under ground water resources, storing rainwater, which often goes waste and look for every other source of water.

The meeting also decided to install Tele-metric system at all the barrages of the country for monitoring water releases to each province.

The Chief Executive Gen. Pervez Musharraf has also asked Chairman of WAPDA and the Indus River System Authority to explain as to what were the reasons of the current water shortage, which had assumed an alarming proportion.

It may be recalled that the government of Sindh had demanded that during the early Kharif season when cotton would be sown in the province it should be supplied an additional 10,000 cusecs of water a day.

The demand was however not acceptable to the province of Punjab and it agreed to supply only 3000 cusecs a day of water over and above the quantity of water presently being supplied to the province.


Efficient irrigation system is pre-requisite for agriculture production. It provides food security against the vagaries of monsoon and enables the cropping intensity to increase. Despite having a very good irrigation canal network in the world, Pakistan still suffers from waste of a huge amount of water in the irrigation process. To improve the irrigation system various measures such as canal remodelling and rehabilitation on-farm water management, small dam schemes, and installation of private tube-wells. SCRAP tubewells, hill torrents development management have been taken.

Main programme/projects to be completed for improvement of irrigation system include surface irrigation, drainage and reclamation programme. Survey, investigation, research, flood protection programme and on farm water management. These projects will be completed with the assistance of Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other donor agencies. Similarly to upgrade irrigation system provincial program for construction, extension, remodelling and rehabilitation of canal system and their length are also underway in the four provinces of Pakistan. With the completion of the programmes the cropped area will increase.


The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has sounded a note of warning that shortage of water is likely to emerge as the most pressing problem in Pakistan in the coming years. At present, 600 million people all over the world are deprived of clean water for drinking. In the next 25 years, this number is estimated to rise three billion. The concept of life without pure water is impossible. But this is raising its head as a great issue in Pakistan. ESCAP has indicated that freshwater withdrawals from rivers, lakes, reservoirs, underground aquifers and other sources have increased more in Asia during the past century than in other parts of the world. From 1950 to 1995, water use in Asia increased by almost 300 per cent. Agriculture accounts for the major part of water withdrawals, mainly for irrigation. In the more industrialized countries, agriculture accounts for up to 50 per cent of withdrawals but this figure rises to more than 90 per cent in all South Asian countries except Bhutan.

Global issue

The growing recognition that the world is beginning to feel the first pangs of a chronic and systematic water crisis which is global issue. It is identified that water diversions for irrigation have had devastating effects in Central Asia, with the Aral Sea shrinking to a fraction of its original size. According to that report the Huang He (Yellow River) did not run into the sea for more than 220 days in a year.

It is estimated that in the next two decades water use by humans will increase by about 40 per cent and that 17 per cent more water will be needed to grow the food for the growing populations. While the water demand for industry and energy will also grow rapidly. Increase in the demand for irrigation water is likely to be matched by increase of 20 per cent and 70 per cent in the demand for water for industry and municipal use.

Fresh water is becoming precious with every passing day. Only 2.5 per cent of the world's water are not salty and of that two third is locked up in the icecaps and glaciers. Of the rest, some is in areas too remote for human access. While the remaining 80 per cent, about three-quarters comes via monsoons and floods and cannot be captured for use by people. What is left is less than 0.08 of 1 per cent of the total water on the planet, the report observed.

Pakistan experience

The ever increasing shortage of water, shrinking water capacity of the existing water reservoirs and unabated population growth will inevitably lead to find some practical solutions for this perennial issue.

Currently, water levels at Tarbela and Mangla have touched a record low in the recent years, as the inflow of water in Indus and Jehlum continues to remain dismal with no sign of improvement.

The level at Tarbela was reached 1336.4 feet, the lowest since the summer of 1996 and barely 16-feet above the dead level of the reservoir. Four years ago, the water level had dropped to the dead band causing considerable damage to the turbines as silt had seeped through the filters. Low inflow of water in Tarbela has impaired the generation capability of the powerhouse, eroding to 1,371 MW from 2021 in April last year. The situation at Mangla is equally grim. The inflow in Jehlum has never dropped to the level of 1200 cusecs. The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that last year; the inflow of water in Mangla at this time was 22,000 cusecs. This year, it has been about 10,000 cusecs less than what it had been last year. Official monitoring water inflows and outflows are not encouraging and it is expected that the situation may improve in the second half of next month.

According to an study, construction of smaller dams at the strategic locations specially in the province of Sindh and other parts of the country can resolve the issue to a greater extent besides producing cheaper electricity. The much publicized Kala Bagh Dam where huge money running in billions was spend on its feasibility report has to be shelved due to strong opposition from political quarters. Yet another 21 feasibility reports of smaller dams at various locations in the country are readily available. These dams have been identified as Neelam Jhelum, Matiltan (Ushu) Allai Khwar, Khan Khwar, SummernGah, Batal Khwar, Daral Khwar, Ranolia, Golen Gol, New Bong Escape, Shishi, Malakand-III, Rajdhani, Main Line Lower UCC, Sai, Nomal, Jinnah, Taimsa C.J, Link (Tail), Guddu and Renalla. These dams if completed besides strengthening our irrigation system will produce around 5,556 megawatt of power.


Although feasibility studies for installation of desalination units alongside the coastal belt of Karachi have been completed yet the cost of desalination process is too high to afford especially in our country. According to an estimate Rs300 will be cost for producing 1000 gallons of water. Some multinational companies like Hub Power Project have installed Desalination units for cooling purposes of the project as well as for consumption of the staff. However the per capita income in Pakistan does not allow going for such an option. The feasibility report prepared by KWSB however suggests installation of small and medium desalination units to be installed from KPT to Clifton, Defense, Korangi Creek. The scheme has also been floated to donor agencies for funding. World Bank and OECF Japan are examining the project for inclusion in their financial plan either solo or as co-financiers. According to another view desalinating sea-water now costs far less than in the past and this technology is expected to play a major role in providing water to coastal communities and industries in the future. But it is energy intensive and only rarely can it be cheap enough for food crops.

There is no second opinion that Pakistan is an agriculture-based economy. Pakistan has not yet fully tapped its agriculture potentials. More lands have to be brought under cultivation to become self sufficient in food and also to earn foreign exchange through this natural resource. In order to meet this cherished goal, arrangements will have to be made to ensure adequate and timely supply of water to the farms. In order to improve our irrigation network, the present government has done a marvellous job recently carried out the much needed 'Bhal Safai' scheme. Which would hopefully help smooth supply of water to the remotest parts of the agriculture lands plus provide safety against breaches of canals and bunds. However in order to realize the best results out of the irrigation network an effective monitoring is also required to check corruption in supply of the precious water to the farmers. Like cities, the corruption has also started rooting into our rural life. According to an estimate illegal sale of irrigation water is running over Rs20 million during the cropping seasons. This sort of corruption not only deprived the deserving farmers of their genuine need of water but also results in artificial crisis of water. An anti-corruption force in the agriculture sector is also needed to save the precious water in our canals.


Water Availability Million Acre-Feet (MAF) at Canal Head during 1998-99


Rabi Total







15.18 47.11


2.85 1.02 3.87


0.54 0.70 1.24


72.39 35.84 108.23



Position of Bulk Water Supply & Demand

1985 to 2000

Total Supply