05 Apr


Water is the basic component of life. Life without water is impossible. Water is required for domestic, commercial and industrial use. Water is required for drinking, irrigation, energy and other purposes. There is also a strong link between Blue Gold (water), Red Gold (Energy) and Green Gold (Agriculture). Water is the backbone of agriculture and agriculture is the backbone of Pakistan's economy. Agriculture constitutes 20.9% of GDP and provides 43.5% of employment. It also provides us with exports and food. Water is the lifeblood of agriculture. About 1/3rd (22.6 million acres) of land remains untapped mainly because of non-development of water resources. God has blessed Pakistan with abundant water resources in the form of river flows, rainfalls and ground water resources. Unfortunately, in spite of having abundant water resources, Pakistan is still facing severe water crises. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) reports that Pakistan is swiftly approaching water scarcity, with per capita surface water availability dropping below 1000 cubic meters. Without proactive measures to conserve water, Pakistan may soon be classified as a water-scarce nation.

"If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water." Ismail Serageldin (World Bank)

Water resources of Pakistan

River flows

Pakistan has three major river basins: Indus Basin (142 MAF), Makaran Coastal Basin (3 MAF), and Kharan Closed Desert Basin (.8 MAF). Of the total available annual flow in Indus Basin (140 MAF), 106 MAF is directed into the irrigation system while the remaining 36 MAF goes downstream Kotri, where around Below Kotri, 10 million acre-feet (MAF) of water is utilized, while the remaining 26 MAF flows unused into the Indian Ocean.


Monsoon and Westerly currents are the two main sources of water from rainfall. Pakistan typically receives an average rainfall of approximately 12 inches.. Approximately 17 MAF are available from hill torrent flows.

Ground water resources

Ground water supplies around 45% of crop water requirements since it permits farmers to have greater control over water and its timely application to crops. Approximately 56 MAF are available from ground water resources. Thus, in total, Pakistan gets around 215 MAF of water from river (142 MAF), rainfall (17 MAF) and ground water (56 MAF) resources. Of the total, 170 million acre-feet (MAF) are allocated for irrigation/agriculture, with 100 MAF utilized at the farmgate, while 5.8 MAF are earmarked for municipal and sanitation purposes, and 2.2 MAF for industrial use., and around 36 MAF goes to Indian Ocean unused. Around 100 MAF can be saved if field loss and downstream-going unused water is saved.

Physical infrastructure of water

As far as the physical water infrastructure is concerned, there were 3 large dams (Terbela, Mangala, Chashma ), about 80 small and medium dams, 45 canals,18 barrages and 12 link canals in Pakistan by 2011. 

2 new dams are proposed (Kalabagh and Basha ).

Pakistan's international and national agreements on water distribution

Indus Water Treaty 1960 was signed by Pakistan and India with the World Bank as mediator. India was given exclusive use of Eastern rivers ( Ravi, Sutlej, Beas)and Pakistan was given the use of Western rivers (Indus, Jhelum, Chenab).However., India was allowed to build limited Pakistan was authorized to develop hydroelectric projects along its run-of-river waters, yet it was prohibited from constructing dams or altering the course of Pakistani waterways. Consequently, Pakistan relinquished its water rights as the downstream riparian.. World Bank also aided Pakistan in construction of Mangala and Terbela dams. On March 16, 1991, the four provinces of Pakistan came together to sign the Indus Water Appropriation Accord in Karachi. Allocation was 56 MAF to Punjab, 48 MAF to Sindh, 9 MAF(6+3) to NWFP and 4 MAF to Baluchistan. Future storages were 37% each to Punjab and Sindh, 14% to NWFP, and 12% to Baluchistan.

Pakistan: a water-stressed country

As per the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Pakistan has emerged as one of the most water-stressed nations, with per capita surface water availability falling below 1000 cubic meters. and is likely to be characterized as water-scarce country very soon if pragmatic steps have not been taken to preserve water. Pakistan's water stress primarily stems from climate change, inadequate water storage, inefficient water usage, and India's construction of dams on Pakistani waterways. Around 36 MAF goes into sea and more than 50% water is lost in field application.

Causes of water scarcity / shortage in Pakistan 

Climate Change

Pakistan is located in a tropical area. Due to the climate change, increase in temperature has resulted in an increase in melting of glaciers on Himalayas and Karakorum and evaporation of water which is resulting in decrease in water availability in Pakistan.

Indian hydro projects on Pakistani waters

Under the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty, India was allocated the Eastern waters (Ravi, Sutlej, Beas), while Pakistan was granted the Western waters (Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum). Currently, India is building a chain of new dams on Chenab and Jhelum (Pakistani waters) which is against the IWT(Indus water treaty) and can cause serious economic and water problems (reduced inflows in droughts, floods in Monsoons) in Pakistan. A list compiled by PICW (Permanent Indus Waters Commission ) reveals that India had completed 41 hydropower projects  12 are underway and 155 other to plan for the future. Projects underway include Baglihar 2, Ranja Ala-Dunadi, Uri-2, and Kishanganga. Where planned projects include Sialkot, Seli, Pakaldul, Bursar, Rattle, Kiru, Sonamarg Storage, Gangabal Storage, and Ujh Storage.

Pakistan has taken various projects to International Court of Arbitration (ICA) for justice and India has been barred from undertaking various projects by ICA. Conflict arises regarding the interpretation of IWT because:

  • It is highly technical,
  • It does not include climate change and global warming,
  • Pakistan lost its rights on eastern rivers as lower riparian and that
  • Pakistan is dependent solely on waters from Indus River Basin.


  1. Population growth: Population was 192 million and it is growing at 1.92%p.a. (2015 ). Demand of water is constantly increasing, while its supply is decreasing 
  2. Rapid urbanization and industrialization have led to an increase in demand for water.
  3. Lack of dams: Pakistan has only 30-day storage capacity which should be 1000-day for a country like Pakistan. Pakistan has only 3 major dams namely Terbela, Mangala, and Chashma.
  4. Water seepage: More than 50% of water is lost in field application due to seepage because of unlined and porous banks of canals.
  5. Traditional agricultural techniques also lead to excessive use of water.
  6. Water-intensive crops like sugarcane and rice are mostly cultivated in Pakistan.
  7. Inter provincial disputes: Conflict among provinces is the major hurdle in the construction of dams which is leading to water shortage.
  • KPK, Sindh, and Baluchistan object Kalabagh damn mainly due to lack of trust that exists among the provinces because of enemy image, false hopes, and broken promises.
  • Inter-provincial differences on the interpretation of Water Apportionment
  • Section 6 (construction of additional storages): Punjab feels strongly that section 6 supports the construction of Kalabagh dam. While Sindh feels that Punjab will withdrew excess water out of it. And KPK feels that dam will threaten the Nowshera city and agricultural land.
  • Section 7 (Minimum escapage to sea downstream Kotri): study to establish the minimum escapage needed downstream Kotri is still not conducted which is a source of conflict between Punjab and Sindh.
  • Section 14b (mode of sharing storages ) : Sindh blames Punjab for the theft of its water. In 1991 accord, Sindh got 1.2% more share and Punjab got 2.7% less share that their historical shares. Punjab contends that it got less share because it hoped to construct new storages. Since no new storages are built, it can take more water to get his full share.
  • Silting of existing reservoirs: Around 25% (6.27 MAF) storage capacity of all reservoirs is lost due to silting of reservoirs which is even more than the live capacity of Kalabagh Dam (6.1 MAF).
  • Water theft is also resulting is water shortage.
  • Lack of funds to build large and small dams

Threats resulting from water-related issues

Floods of 2005, 2010, 2014, 2022

  • Economic loss
  • Death, injuries
  • Diseases
  • Displacements


  • Less agricultural yield,
  • Food shortage,
  • Shortage of raw material for industry,
  • Unemployment and poverty
  • Lowered water table may cause problems for population
  • Inter-provincial competition may arise due to water shortage

Legislature to address water issues

  • PIDA ACTS 1997
  • WAPDA ACT 1586
  • IRSA ACT 1992

Recommend solutions

Cooperation is the only viable option as water is so important that nations cannot afford to fight over it.

  • Pakistan should high the importance of the issue on various international forums.
  • The effective role of Indus Waters Commissioners is the need of hour.
  • More large and small dams should be built. Akhori, Basha, Kalabagh, and Munda dams should be built quickly
  • Inter-provincial steps should be resolved at any cost through mutual give-and-take policy.
  1. Council of Common Interests should play its role in resolving the inter-provincial conflicts.
  2. National Assembly and Senate should take steps to discuss and develop consensus on water issues in Pakistan. These discussions may be open and include water experts and may be televised.
  3. Telemetry system should be improved and expanded.
  4. A sound 'conflict resolution mechanism should be introduced.
  5. Guarantees may be provided to provinces.
  6. New accord may be signed or the existing accord may be updated.
  • Other measures like reclamation of land from water logging and salinity, improvement of water courses and effective use of ground water should betaken.
  • People should be educated to Conserve water
  • Government should make laws for the conservation of water
  • Ground water should not be used carelessly and should not be wasted
  • Modern irrigation techniques like trickling and sprinkling should be used for improved water distribution and utilization
  • Water theft should be minimized if not stopped
  • New dams to be constructed must have provisions for silt flushing.
  • Lining of canals should be made.
  • Existing laws should be improved and new laws should be passed.
  • Forecasting system of floods and droughts should be made more effective.
  • There should be regulation of ground water pumping to check lowering of water table.


Water is linked to crises of climate change, energy and food supplies and prices and troubled financial markets. For Pakistan, water is the backbone of its agriculture and economy. Pakistan is facing increasing water stress, attributed to climate change, Indian hydro projects affecting Pakistani waters, and mismanagement of water resources. The looming water scarcity poses significant challenges for Pakistan, necessitating urgent and effective measures to ensure the efficient management and conservation of water resources.

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