May 17 - 23, 2010

Allah has gifted Pakistan with abundant water resources, with water flowing down the Himalayas and Karakoram heights, from the world's largest glacier (Siachen), a free and unique bounty of nature for this land of alluvial plains.

As a result of this natural resource, today we have the world's best and the largest contiguous irrigation system that currently irrigates over 36 million hectares of land.

Irrigation plays a central role in Pakistan's economy. Irrigated land supplies more than 90 per cent of agricultural production and most of the country food, which accounts for 23 per cent of GDP and 48 per cent of the employed labor force.

It is also the source of raw materials for major domestic industries, particularly the cotton products, which account for 85 per cent of the value of exports. Agriculture sector is the major uses of water and its consumption will continue to dominate water requirements.

Water shortfalls may be seasonal, temporary or cyclical, and as such can be overcome in due course when nature becomes more benevolent. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Pakistan where water resources have been under severe stress for a long time. The downturn continues and the country is now on the brink of water scarcity availability in 2005 stood at a mere 1,100 cubic metres per capita. A country is classified as water-stressed when annual supply dips below 1,700 cubic metres per person, and is said to face water scarcity below the 1,000 cubic metres per person mark.

The situation wasn't always so dire in Pakistan: per capita water supply stood at a robust 5,500 cubic metres in 1951. It has since plummeted by almost 80 per cent and, according to WWF Pakistan, could drop to as little as 700 cubic metres per capita by 2020.

Demand has so dramatically outstripped supply for a number of reasons. These include an ever-burgeoning population, the absence of integrated water management, irrational use and lack of awareness of the need to conserve. Wasteful farming techniques, leakages in the irrigation network, climate change and the over-exploitation or pollution of natural aquifers and other water bodies also rank among the major culprits. At the same time, little attention has been paid to rain harvesting and the storage of seasonal flood waters.

At the time of independence, we had about 67 MAF water available for diversion. This amount increased to about 85 MAF by 1960. The recent statistical data shows that the River Indus and its tributaries provide about 147 MAF during flood season, out of which nearly 106 MAF is diverted into canals and is available for irrigating 15.6 million hectares of land.

Irrigation in the country depends on both surface and underground water resources. The quantum of water entering the rivers aggregates to about 145 MAF per year. Of this about 110 MAF is transferred to canals for irrigation annually (80 per cents) and remaining 35 MAF flows down into the sea because of lack of storing facilities. The quantum of water entering irrigation water courses from the canals amounts to 98 MAF per annum.

Water obtained from about 705,000 public and private tube wells for irrigation purposes has been estimated at 45 MAF annually. Thus, the total quantum of water entering the water courses both from canals and tube wells aggregates to 122 MAF annually. Of the 145 MAF water entering the canals each year, about 28 MAF is lost in transit due to a number of factors. Thus, only 73 MAF water reaches the field. The irrigation system in the Indus Valley River System has been practiced through centuries and it still is the prime source of Pakistan's water resources.

Later on in 19th century barrages and head works were constructed for supply of water to the agricultural lands. Now the irrigation system comprises of three reservoirs (Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma), 19 barrages or head works, 14 link canals, 48 number of command canals covering about 90,000 villages/chaks, more than 12,000 distributaries and about 107,000 water courses.

The length of the canals is about 62,000 km with communal watercourses, farm channels and field ditches covering another 1,600,000 km. The canal system up to distributary level is being maintained by the government through the irrigation department, whereas the operation and maintenance of watercourse is the responsibility of farmers. In the Indus Basin irrigation System, river water is directed by barrages and head works into main canals and subsequently into branch canals, distributaries and minors. In surface water we have three hydrologic units. First one is IndusBasinRiver.

INDUS BASIN RIVER: At the time of independence, we had about 67MAF water available for diversion; this amount increased to about 85 MAF by 1960. In 1960, Pakistan signed a water treaty "Indus water treaty" with India, which brought major changes in the sources of water for Pakistan. In that treaty the right of three eastern rivers i.e. Beas, Sutlej and Ravi was given to India. Now the Indus river basin constitutes of the mountain Indus plain, Karachi plains and desert areas of Sindh. Its principle rivers and tributaries are Indus, Shyok, Gilgit, Astor, Siran, Kabul joined by Jhelum, Chenab and Sutlej. It covers an area of 516,600 sq. km. Its sources of water are snowing, glacier melting and rainfalls. From this annually 141.67 MAF of water is being received.

CLOSED BASIN KHARAN DESERT: It consists of areas of mountain basins of Quetta and basins of tributaries draining in to Kharan desert. Its main rivers are Pishin Lora, Baddo Rakhshan, Mashkhel and many other streams. It covers an area of 120,100 sq. km. Its main sources of water are rainfall and nominal snow. From there we get approximately 4.5 MAF of water.

MAKRAN COASTAL BASIN: Makran coastal basin constitutes of streams of Malir, Hub, Porali, Kud, Hingol, Nai, Mashhai, Dasht, Nihing and Kech. It covers an area of 122,400 sq. km and its main source of water is rainfall.

The Indus plains constitute about 34 million hectares (over 85 million acres) of cultivable land. The recharge or absorption to the ground is around 72 MAF, out of which about 48 MAF is in the command of Indus basin irrigation system. Ground water is also found in some rain-fed lands and inter-mountain valleys at depths varying from 100 to 200 feet.

We receive an average of 141 MAF of water from western rivers. Eastern rivers contribute 8 MAF of water. About 4 MAF of water is received from outside Indus plains. Water available above rim stations is 5 MAF whereas rainfalls below rim also contribute about 14 MAF of water. Also about 66 MAF ground water is available to us. In other words a total of 240 MAF of water is available to us from the present sources.

The irrigation system comprises of three reservoirs (Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma), 19 barrages or head works, 14 link canals, 48 command canals covering about 90,000 villages/chaks, more than 12,000 distributaries and about 107,000 water courses.

The length of the canals is about 62,000 km with communal watercourses, farm channels and field ditches covering another, 1,600,000 km. The canal system up to distributary level is being maintained by the government through the irrigation department, whereas the operation and maintenance of watercourse is the responsibility of farmers.

UTILISATION OF WATER: The basic utilisation is for irrigation and then used for power generation, drinking and also provided to some industries.

IRRIGATION: Out of 240 MAF, 172 MAF water is utilised for irrigation purposes. In this the canal diversions is 105 MAF; rainwater is 6 MAF; ground water is 48 MAF.

POWER GENERATION: Water released by the hydropower plants returns to the river system. The reservoirs are operated on priority bases only for irrigation. Recent increase in thermal generation has reduced the potential conflicts between water releases from reservoirs for hydropower generation and irrigation. Now most of the annual storage is utilised for irrigation and not for hydropower, but conflicts do arise at times.

DRINKING: Most of the rural and urban water is supplied from ground water through tube wells and hand pumps except few cities like Karachi and Islamabad. Total urban and rural (domestic and commercial) requirements are estimated 10-15 per cent of the surface water, out of which 80 per cent returns to the system, however with degraded quality. Net consumption is normally about 2 per cent of the total water available.

INDUSTRY: Water is also utilised in industries basically for cooling purposes and also in manufacturing processes. This utility is less than 1 per cent.

SHORTAGE OF WATER: As we all know that now a days our country is facing severe shortage of water. There are two main reasons, one natural due to prolong drought---which is beyond the control of a man, and the other due to the gross negligence in the development and mismanagement of water resources.

The average annual inflow of the Indus and its tributaries is 41MAF, of which 97 per cent is used in agriculture and the remaining 3 per cent for domestic and industrial purposes. Out of 141 MAF, around 106 MAF is annually diverted in to one of the largest but in-efficient irrigation system. The remaining 36 MAF goes into the sea unused. In the years when the rainfall is normal or above, the country generally does not face any water shortage, where as in below average rainfall period it does.

Agriculture is our backbone and the water flowing in the channels to the crops is its blood line-and if there is no or less water then we should be prepared for facing problems economically as well as socially.

Agriculture has remained a major source of shouldering the already crippled economy. It has a vital role to play particularly in terms of food security and employment of the ever-burgeoning population of the country. The adverse effects of water shortage on agriculture would have a spiraling effect on the prevailing level of poverty. Less water means less agricultural yields and to fulfill the food requirements of the nation, we will be dependent on other countries.

Orchards bring home a healthy amount of foreign exchange, which can be affected due to water shortage, less production of main crops, which are wheat, cotton, sugar cane and rice. The industries related to them will suffer adversely due to drought. More dependency on ground water for irrigation brings down the water table. Less agricultural outputs will compel people to head towards urban areas for jobs, which will increase the unemployment further.

Pakistan population has surpassed over 180 million. On the other hand the growth rate of agriculture is decreasing due to water shortages. To keep up the pace of agricultural growth comparable to population growth, we must bring additional lands under cultivation. We need an estimated 215 MAF by year 2013.

This water shortage has been threatening the structure of the country. The national water strategy must be based on two essential elements covering: water developments and water management.

The water development strategy is largely based on construction of new storage reservoirs where as the water management strategy will help in reducing the present losses.


CHASHA DAM: It would be located 200 miles upstream of Terbela on river Indus. Its gross storage capacity would be 7.3 MAF and live storage 5.7 MAF. Its power generation capacity would be 3360 megawatt.

KALABAGH DAM: Kalabagh dam site is located 132 miles downstream of Terbela. Its gross storage would be 6.1 MAF. It would have a power generation capacity of 3600 megawatt.

THAL RESERVOIR: It would be located on the right bank of Chashma Jhelum link canal, along the western bank of river Jhelum. Its reservoir would have gross capacity of 2.3 MAF.

RAISED MANGLA DAM: The dam would be further raised by 40 ft and thus increasing its gross capacity to 9.5 MAF. In addition, its power generation capacity would be increased by 15 per cent.

MIRANI DAM: The dam is located on Dasht River about 48 km of Turbat town in Mekran division. Its main objective is to provide water for irrigation. Its gross storage is 0.30 MAF.

GOMALZAM DAM: It is located at Khajori Kach on Gomal River in South Waziristan, about 75 miles from Dera Ismail Khan. Its main objective will be to irrigate 132000 acres of land, power generation of 17.4 mw and flood control.


Managing water resources is the need of time, and we in Pakistan already short of water, must chalk out a strategy. This endeavor can be made to save around 1.3 MAF of water from existing losses. Presently the losses occur due to seepage, infiltration and leakages etc. Seepage results in water logging and these losses can be reduced or eliminated by lining the canals, in addition, people should be educated to conserve water by cooperation. Further more government should make laws on water conservation, like many western countries. The second largest contribution to the total water available comes from the groundwater sources. This source has been exploited and very well used by public and private tube wells. This source can be exploited and judiciously used for irrigation purposes. Authorities should take control in such areas to save them from depleting. Efforts should be made to convert the present rotation based irrigation system to demand oriented system. The modern irrigation techniques trickling, sprinkling etc. have potential to improve water distribution and its utilization.

Authorities should take appropriate steps to curb the illegal extraction of water and ensure its equitable distribution. Presently irrigation department has failed to stop the illegal theft and extraction. Thus irrigation distribution system needs to be privatised through water user associations.

Water nowadays is supplied to farmers at a very negligible cost and that is why they do not treat water as a precious resource. Therefore there is a need to increase the water prices to make irrigators realise the importance of this asset. Farmer's organizations, water user association, and private sector should be involved in construction, operation, and maintenance of the irrigation system. Such associations are conceived as a mechanism for creating a cooperative frame work for improvement of watercourses.

It is said that future conflicts will be rooted in disputes over water. Take the case of Pakistan and India. Tensions related to water-sharing are nothing new in the subcontinent but they received fresh impetus with the construction of Baglihar Dam in Indian-held Kashmir. In recent year, Pakistan demanded compensation for reduced water supplies, which apparently hurt agricultural productivity in this country.

Untreated industrial and domestic effluent is being discharged into water bodies and pesticides from farms are finding their way into streams and groundwater. Water quality is as important as its quantity because it affects the health of the nation, the productivity of its workforce and the arability of its land.

Policymakers must rise from their slumber and grasp the linkages between the adequate availability of clean water and social and economic development.

The problems faced by the water sector in the country are many, acute and serious and it is also known that we can generate about 83 MAF of more water. Therefore, building of more reservoirs and an effective management strategy are the needs of time. Also implementation of the recommendations will enable the country to meet the challenges, and achieve the objectives of integrated, efficient, environmentally and financially sustainable development and management of limited water resources.