SOME FACTS ABOUT INDUS RIVER
DR SM ALAM
Apr 5 - 11, 2010
The Indus River, which is the lifeblood of Pakistan's agriculture, rises in the Himalayas in west of the Tibetan plateau in the vicinity of a lake named Mansarovar at an altitude of about 17,000 feet. It follows a precipitous course through Tibet and then the river runs a course through the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir and then enters Northern Areas (Gilgit-Baltistan), flowing through the North in a southerly direction along the entire length of the country, to merge into the Arabian Sea near port city of Karachi in Sindh.
The total length of the river is 3,180 kilometers (1,976 miles) and is Pakistan's longest river starting from Northern areas to Karachi. The river has a total drainage area exceeding 450,000 square miles of which 1,75,000 square miles lie in the Himalayan mountains and foothills. The river's estimated annual flow stands at around 207 cubic kilometers, making it the twenty-first largest river in the world in terms of annual flow. Beginning at the heights of the world with glaciers, the river feeds the ecosystem of temperate forests, plains and arid countryside. Together with the rivers Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej, Jhelum, Beas and two tributaries from the North West Frontier and Afghanistan, the Indus forms the Sapta Sindhu (Seven Rivers) delta of Pakistan.
The river provides the key water resources for the economy of Pakistan especially the breadbasket to the Punjab, which accounts for most of the nation's agricultural production, and Sindh. The word Punjab is a Persian words panj meaning Five, and ?b meaning water, giving the literal meaning of the land of the five rivers. The five rivers after which Punjab is named are Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and the Sutlej. The river also supports many heavy industries and provides the main supply of potable water in Pakistan.
Indus River is an important source of livelihood for millions of people. It mainly supplies water for drinking purposes in towns and agricultural activity of countryside along its entire route.
The Indus is one of the few rivers in the world that exhibit a tidal bore. The Indus system is largely fed by the snows and glaciers of the Himalayas, Karakoram and the Hindu Kush ranges of Tibet, the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the Northern Areas of Pakistan. The flow of the river is also determined by the seasons - it diminishes greatly in the winter, while flooding its banks in the monsoon months from July to September. The Indus River feeds the Indus submarine fan, which is the second largest sediment body on the Earth at around 5 million cubic kilometres of material eroded from the mountains.
The Indus is the most important supplier of water resources to the Punjab and Sindh plains. It forms the backbone of agriculture and food production in Pakistan. The river is especially critical as rainfall is meagre in the lower Indus valley. Modern irrigation was introduced by the British East India Company in 1850 - the construction of modern canals accompanied with the restoration of old canals. The British supervised the construction of one of the most complex irrigation networks in the world. The irrigation network has proved to be a lifeblood for the agricultural productivity in Pakistan.
After the independence of Pakistan, a water control treaty signed between India and Pakistan in 1960 guaranteed that Pakistan would receive water from the Indus River and its two western tributaries, the Jhelum River & the Chenab River independent of upstream control by India. The Indus Basin Project consisted primarily of the construction of two main dams: the Mangla Dam built on the Jhelum River and the Tarbela Dam constructed on the Indus River, together with their subsidiary dams. The Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority undertook the construction of the Chashma-Jhelum link canal linking the waters of the Indus and Jhelum rivers extending water supplies to the regions of Bahawalpur and Multan.
Pakistan constructed the Tarbela Dam ,standing 2743 metres (9,000 ft) long and 143 metres (470 ft) high, with an 80 kilometre (50 miles) long reservoir. The Kotri Barrage near Hyderabad is 915 metres (3,000 ft) long and provides additional supplies of water for Karachi. The extensive linking of tributaries with the Indus has helped spread water resources to the valley of Peshawar, in the North-West Frontier Province. The extensive irrigation and dam projects provide the basis for Pakistan's large production of major and minor crops such as cotton, sugarcane, rice and wheat, vegetables, fruits, fish, forestry and livestock. The river commands over 16 mha area and encompasses the major tributaries ,three reservoirs, 23 barrages, 12 link canals and over 106,000 water courses. Total length of the canals is about 63,000 km.
According to the irrigation demands of the country the total requirement of water was estimated to be 260 MAF while the Indus supplies only 140MAF available annually, out of which currently about 110 MAF was being diverted into the huge canal system. The addition of salts and silts are very common on the river beds. Such conditions are deteriorating the crops productivity. Irrigated lands supply more than 90 percent of the agricultural production and most of the country food, which accounts for about 22 percent of GDP and 45 percent of the workforce and substantial foreign exchange earnings. The dams also generate electricity for heavy industries and urban areas.
The Indus is a strategically vital resource for Pakistan's economy and society. After the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, the use of the waters of the Indus and its five eastern tributaries became a major issue between India and Pakistan. The irrigation canals of the Sutlej valley and the Bari Doab were split with the canals lying primarily in Pakistan and the headwork dams in India disrupting supply in some parts of Pakistan. The concern is over India building large dams over various Punjab rivers that could undercut the supply flowing to Pakistan, as well as the possibility that India could divert rivers. Holding diplomatic talks brokered by the World Bank, India and Pakistan signed the Indus Waters Treaty in 1960. The treaty gave India control of the three eastern most rivers of the Punjab, the Sutlej, the Beas and the Ravi, while Pakistan gained control of the three western rivers, the Jhelum, the Chenab and the Indus. Presently, the flow of water in Indus River is not uniform and smooth. This scenario is creating the disturbance in the regular supply of water to the various uses throughout the country.
There are concerns that extensive deforestation, industrial pollution and global warming are affecting the vegetation and wildlife of the Indus delta, while affecting agricultural production as well. There are also concerns that the Indus River may be shifting its course westwards although the progression spans centuries. On numerous occasions, sediment clogging owing to poor maintenance of canals has affected agricultural production and vegetation. In addition, extreme heat has caused water to evaporate, leaving salt deposits that render lands useless for cultivation.
Storage reservoirs produce the bulk of food consumed by millions of Pakistanis nationwide as well as providing hydroelectricity to the national electric grid.