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December 2, 2020
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PAKISTAN: FROM A WATER STRESSED TO A WATER SCARCE COUNTRY

Pakistan is blessed with an infinite water source in form of snow-capped mountain ranges in its north. The Himlayas, Hindu Kush and Karakoram spreads over an area of 11,780 square kilometres and feed 1.12 million square kilometres of Indus basin, out of which almost 47% is located in Pakistan. Despite all of this, Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a water scarce country. Some scientists already believe that Pakistan has crossed the water scarcity line back in 2005; it became water stressed way back in the 1990’s. According to Pakistan Centre for Research on Water Resources (PCRWR), Pakistan will become water scarce by 2025 when the per capita water availability will get down to 1,000 cubic meters, which currently stands at 1,017 cubic meters.
Despite repeated warnings from water scientists both from inside and outside of the country, little or nothing has been done to address water scarcity in Pakistan. Pakistan is a water intensive country and stands at fourth number when it comes to the intensity of water use. Almost 95% of fresh water, which is one the most priced commodity in the country, is used in Agriculture. Yet our productivity figures are among the lowest in the world. Our Agriculture is still dependent on canal water with very high losses. Flood irrigation is the main technique for irrigating crops with a very small percentage of farmers adopting other more efficient methods of irrigation. Pakistan only has two large dams with a water storage capacity of 30 days which is very low as compared to 190 days in India and 900 days in the United States of America. Furthermore, Pakistan receives 145 million acre feet of annual rains out of which only 13.7 million acre feet is saved.
Most recently, there has been a heated debate on construction of new large dams in Pakistan. The Chief Justice Pakistan has been instrumental is stirring the debate and has even established a Dam fund to address the water scarcity issue in the Pakistan. However, policy makers both from inside and outside the country believe that it is almost next to impossible to construct dams from donations. The discussion on water scarcity in Pakistan has once again brought the issue the construction of Kalabagh dam, which still remains one of the most controversial political topics in the country. With the provinces, particularly Sindh having reservations on the construction of Kalabagh, it construction still remains a farfetched dream.
Political issues apart, Pakistan needs to address its water scarcity issue on war footings. Pakistan can keep blaming India for constructing dams on the water source that belongs to Pakistan, but is unable to construct its own dams to address the water scarcity issue. It has failed to promote efficient irrigation techniques like drip irrigation on a larger scale. It has failed to reduce water losses in its irrigation system. It has failed to create awareness among the masses to conserve water through easy home based techniques. Water scarcity coupled with climate change can potentially destroy Pakistan’s agriculture, which is considered as its life line. While construction of large dams like the Diamer-Basha and Mohmand dams can take years, Pakistan can start by taking small steps to address its water scarcity issue. Awareness raising among the citizens on water conservation, introduction and wide scale dissemination of efficient methods of irrigation and construction of small reservoirs (much cheaper to build) are some of small steps that Pakistan can take to address the water scarcity issue.

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