Major sectors of water use in Pakistan are domestic, agriculture, environment, and industry. Domestic water is assigned as a higher priority, although the largest consumer of water is the agriculture sector. Drinking water, being a necessity of life, has been given more importance in Pakistan’s water strategy. There are numerous statistics relevant to these details, but here we will discuss the water issues of Pakistan and will see the solutions to be implemented to get rid of water scarcity. There are a lot of challenges and issues within the country as well as outside the country. Both types of issues need to be rectified as soon as possible.
Issues and Challenges
1. Water Availability and Scarcity
In the last few years, Pakistan has drastically changed into water scared country. Water scarcity is a horrible and frightening scenario anywhere. In Pakistan, it is happening already. Pakistan is at 14th number out of 17 countries that are at high risk of water availability. Other countries are hot and dry ones, e.g. Saudi Arabia. According to PIDE, more than 80% of the population of the country faces water scarcity at severe levels sometimes. It happens for at least one month a year. Pakistan’s groundwater water is also being used for overcoming the shortage of surface water for irrigation.
There are not water renewable resources enough. Pakistan is the 36th number in the world in water renewable resources. While India and Bangladesh are at 8th and 12th, respectively.
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2. Inter-provincial Disputes and Water Apportionment Accord
A water apportionment accord was signed in Karachi by chief ministers of four provinces. It was signed on 16 March 1991. This accord signed water shares to all provinces based on past, present, and future estimations. The conflicts between provinces have been active since pre-partition time. No country can progress at all if its states or provinces are looking down on one another. As we discussed, their conflicts have been since pre-partition, in the 1920s when the Sutlej valley and Sukkur barrage projects were under discussion, there were doubts. These doubts were regarding water availability.
Specifically, Punjab and Sindh have been facing such disputes since pre-partition. Balochistan and Sindh are also in the same category. Since Balochistan is a lower riparian of Sindh, it doesn’t get its due share of water. It is because of Balochistan’s insufficient infrastructure. The next question arises regarding the utilization of the due share of Balochistan. There is a limitation of this accord which is that any province cannot market its unutilized share of water. It can be rectified in the future maybe.
It is also worth noting that in the future, those regions will also be subjected to conflicts that have not gotten any due share in accord. As we know the population of Pakistan is continuously growing, so these kinds of conflicts are not far.
Water for nature is essential which is provided by environmental flows. The most essential e-flows in the IBIS are:
a) Indus delta below Kotri barrage to sustain habits and ecosystems
b) Three eastern rivers flowing to Pakistan with the right to flow for maintaining river ecosystems
The water Accord 1991 provides entitlements for e-flows below Kotri. A study conducted estimated minimum e-flows there. There is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently is that there should be priority allocations when water is not enough to fulfill the demand of the agriculture sector. Therefore, all provinces try not to allot high priority for minimum e-flows.
The minimum e-flows for eastern rivers to Pakistan were not allocated. Eventually, the river lost the right to flow 335 days a year. Moreover, water is available only on flood days. It has inflicted the river systems of Pakistan. Resultantly, eastern rivers have been dry beds in Pakistan.
Climate Change Impacts
Global warming and climate change have impacted water requirements for crops. It will inhibit the productivity of crops because of changes in crop boundaries. Moreover, it will reduce the length of the growing season. Therefore, the chances of reduced water availability during the dry years should be expected. Extreme weather will be severe and frequent which would have negative impacts on the sustainability of irrigation.
Nexus with Food and Energy Security
Energy and water are major factors that affect food security. As almost half of the water used for the consumptive requirement in the IBIS is from groundwater, energy is and would play an important role in maintaining and sustaining the profitability of agriculture. There has been a continual rise in the price of diesel fuel and the tariff of electricity because there is no subsidy on fuel.
One thing is the obvious efficient use of surface water will supplement the use of groundwater. The issue is how to maximize the efficiency of canal water use so that groundwater abstracted in the IBIS is reduced for maintaining an equilibrium in abstractions. Groundwater equality in upper Sindh, Southern KPK, and Southern Punjab is brackish. Therefore, long-term food security can be achieved only through conjunctive and efficient use of surface and groundwater.
Water Quantity and Quality Management
Both aspects of quality and quantity are important to manage. The storage of water available in the country is at a bare minimum, with a capacity to store Indus water equivalent to 30-50 days of river flows in wet and dry years. Similarly, the efficiency of water use is extremely low because of the almost negligible pricing of water. Quality is also a serious concern. Sewage and industrial effluents in urban areas are mixed. Furthermore, wastewater treatment water is also insufficient and insignificant. Pakistan has only a few treatment plants. Sewage, industrial, and agriculture effluents ultimately drain into freshwater system canals and Indus river tributaries and are ultimately used for raising fodders and vegetables in peri-urban areas.
Way Forward – Water Issues of Pakistan
1. Increase Public Awareness
Water has been highly politicized in Pakistan and there is an extreme deficit of trust among the provinces. This is due to a lack of access to information and statistical data. Popular prepares to need to be prepared along with stickers and posters for creating mass awareness. The use of social media and electronic media in creating awareness including civil society at large is essential. Without awareness, water management cannot proceed.
2. High-Efficiency Irrigation Systems
Current irrigation practices are inefficient and water productivity is lowest in the Indus basin irrigated agriculture. The laser technology development and furrow-bed irrigation have resulted in saving 30% of water and have led to an increase in productivity by 25% in the different districts of Punjab. Such a Model needs to be replicated in other cities.
Similarly, the drip irrigation farming systems- a type of high-value farming as a mix of creeper-type vegetables and high-density orchards-in areas outside the Indus basin where water is at a premium, should be adopted by farmers.
3. Investigation of Watershed Networks
Watershed management is an integral requirement to address water issues. It is essential in areas outside the Indus basin covering mountainous regions, Barani areas, and Balochistan. There is a need to initiate field investigations in order to establish programs for watershed management and link them with groundwater recharge as well as livelihood generation to encourage community participation.
Integrated land use practices including forest trees, shrubs, grasses, and arid fruit would provide surface cover and also produce fuelwood, pastures, and arid fruits (mulberry, falsa, pomegranate, fig, etc.).
4. Updating Academic Curricula
Books and curricula in Pakistan largely don’t have much relevance to the water and agriculture landscape of Pakistan. Its revision is something that needs urgently. Pakistan should introduce relevant courses at intermediate, graduate, and Masters levels relating to sustainable development. There is also a need to update the course materials which have relevance to the requirement of sustainable development in various regions.
5. More Research on Water Quality
Water demand has been increasing continuously because of overpopulation and other reasons. Its quality is a growing concern. Thus, we need to develop water standards for water quality for all sub-sectors of water use. Development of an inventory of water quality for groundwater and surface water to represent all the major ecosystems and environments ranging from wet mountains to the Indus basin, Barani lands, deserts, and the coast. There is a need to research how to use poor-quality groundwater for farming in areas where freshwater is unavailable from rainfall and surface water resources.
Finally, there is also a dearth of research on how to provide a cost-effective way of providing safe water of acceptable quality for humans, livestock, and freshwater fisheries. Some areas in the deserts, in the Indus delta, and some parts of KPK, Punjab, and Sindh have brackish quality groundwater. It can be rectified by a thorough analysis to identify loopholes and develop a proper address framework.
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