Pakistan’s Water Problems: Do We Care Enough to Act?

Water pollution, discharge of effluents and unsafe drinking water are factors among others that pose a threat to human wellbeing and Pakistan’s ecosystem. While some do not have water to drink, others waste it in vast quantities. Witness the women carrying water on their heads for miles in the scorching heat on one hand, and crops under flood irrigation and the cars of the rich being hosed down in the cities, on the other.

Pakistan, A Water-Scarce Country

An arid country, Pakistan depends heavily on annual glacier melts and monsoon rains. Water from these sources flows down the rivers and out to the sea. En route, there are seepages into the ground, where water-bearing rocks or aquifers absorb and store this water. Most parts of the country receive scant rainfall and have little or no access to surface water. Pakistan Water Partnership (PWP) states that in Pakistan the total available surface water is about 153 million acre feet (MAF) and the total ground water reserves are approximately 24 MAF, of which a substantial part has been mined without allowing for natural recharge. Currently estimated at 160 million, the population of Pakistan is set to double in 2.5 decades. This means that the per capita availability of water will decrease. There is likely to be a net decrease, rather than an increase in the country’s water resources, due to a number of factors including population growth, climate change, and exploitation of water.

By international standards, Pakistan was already a water-scarce country in 1992 at 1700m3 available per capita, according to UNFPA/Ministry of Population Welfare. By 2003, Pakistan’s per capita availability of water declined to the extent that it was categorized as a water-stress country by the World Bank, surpassing Ethiopia and on par with African countries such as Libya and Algeria. Pakistan is now a water-scarce country at 1200 m3 per capita per year.

According to water specialist Simi Kamal, based on current projections, water availability (per capita) will be 855m3 by the year 2020. We have already used up everything that exists in our water cycle and we do not have additional sources of water to mobilize. When we say we are putting up another dam or reservoir, it doesn’t necessarily mean there will be additional water coming in; we are just re-appropriating what’s already in the system.

Hrdro Problems

Our water resource base continues to be degraded because of pollution, atrophy, veruse of surface water and over-exploitation of groundwater. Large tracts of land have been rendered uncultivable due to water logging and salinity, direct results of mismanaged irrigation. Unsafe drinking water is responsible for numerous diseases including dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, malaria and gastroenteritis. UNICEF estimates that 200,000 children in Pakistan die annually due to diarrhoeal diseases alone.

The Indus delta has been reduced to one partially active creek and there is no water flowing downstream of the Kotri Barrage for almost the entire year. Our mangrove forests, previously some of the largest in the world, have been reduced from 0.6 million acres to 0.25 million acres, said Simi Kamal and Jairath at the Asia Pacific Regional Consultation in Dhaka. The mix of sweet and sea water maintains a very critical balance in the coastlines. If that balance is destroyed, then the entire water system is affected and will, over time, be felt right up to the watersheds. Pakistan is dependent on a single river system and we cannot afford to take any more chances with the water/sediment/salt balance of the Indus Basin.

The Irrigation System of Pakistan

Pakistan has the largest contiguous irrigation system in the world. However, owing to the poor state of infrastructure, about two-thirds is lost due to poor transmission and seepage. This means that about 68 MAF is potentially usable water if the canal system is adequately repaired and maintained. Of the total sweet water availability of approximately 144 MAF, 97 percent is already used in agriculture. We have a situation where instead of improving farming methods to conserve water and increase productivity, agricultural landowners demand more water, only to maintain some of the lowest productivity rates in the world per unit of water and per unit of land.

All debates on water conservation, however, are cuffed by the constant refrain on dams and water sharing among provinces. Safeguards are needed.

The Solution?

The seeds of conflict on water in Pakistan, therefore, are sowed by nothing more than hydrology and this needs to be recognized. We cannot solve a very complex geographical, hydrological, economic and environmental problem through politicking. The discussion on water distribution, therefore, should be in relation to uses and users, not among political or administrative units. This means, a discussion in terms of head, middle and tail farmlands in irrigated areas; and in terms of water for survival, subsistence and pastoral livelihoods in non-irrigated areas. Rainfed and arid areas should also be a part of the debate on water equity and water use. In addition, uses of water other than agriculture – for domestic use, for industry, for urban areas, and for the environment – should all be incorporated for a robust water policy for Pakistan.

There is a need to recognize that just because certain water-related practices have gone on for centuries does not mean that they are allowed to continue in the face of a world in turmoil. We need to change the way we think about water, the way we use water and the way we dispose off wastewater.

A Collective Approach is Needed Individuals and corporate citizens must engage with decision-makers across the board regarding rational and responsible use of water. Industries, agricultural industries and corporations must move to pollution control, micro-irrigation, recycling and reuse of water on bigger scales. Once these can be demonstrated, only then can the gigantic problems of wastage through the irrigation system and through leakages in municipal water supply be taken up.
Our first hurdle is the unfortunate habit of laying everything at the door of “the government”. But what is this government? At the level of the home, you and I are the government; and at the level of a company or private enterprise, the heads are the government. The political process itself should hence be the will of the citizens. In the end, it is the amalgamation of policies, regulations, guidelines and actions that will help us solve water problems, which are likely to get more complicated due to climate change and environmental instability.

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Author Information

Simi Kamal is an internationally known geographer and water specialist, who chairs many private and non-profit organizations, and is widely recognized for her researchbased contributions to water and environmental conservation, building collaborative stakeholder platforms and citizens' action groups, as well as fundraising and campaigning. She has over 480 reports, papers, book chapters, articles and handbooks to her credit.

19 Responses to “Pakistan’s Water Problems: Do We Care Enough to Act?”

  1. zainab #

    In my personal opinion, me being a pakistani and a 9th grader, the water problems of pakistan is mainly due to less importance given to this facter…meanwhile I agree with some indians here that our country’s rulers are corrupt and only pay attention to their own well being,but in the water pollution and shortage sector it is the fault of our society that we waste things very nonchalantly and it is indeed playing a huge part in todays problems…this article was really informative and I was elated that someone actually paid attention to these problems.

    July 18, 2017 at 2:43 pm Reply
  2. Aisha #

    Thnx alot for this information, it will definitely help in my assignment

    May 5, 2012 at 11:28 pm Reply
  3. Asim #

    Sana if you are university student and your english is like this then Pakistan is already in disaster.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:50 pm Reply
  4. arsh kumar #

    any one tell me that what is the role of family to stop the corruption???

    March 19, 2012 at 10:50 pm Reply
  5. is there any solution gor pollution on dirt on increasing population and like in this article solution for water is given but how come its possible until government also help people if it will be like this the people will not be far away from heaven

    August 14, 2011 at 12:10 am Reply
  6. hi am nagina . iam a student of Laurelbank public school thank u so much for giving information

    July 29, 2011 at 2:24 pm Reply
  7. the present PPP govt especially The PM is so useless;he want credit for overhead bridges that are same like ones built 30 years ago… while he have not even noticed that none of the communities have clean drinking water..this proves they are not sincere to affairs because then the poor need other things too than autos and homes in sleazy streats without st lights even but noo clean drinking water or sports facilities … The townships built by MDA the PPP 1973 established Development Authorities has a Water Works and the public is forced to drink poisoned water containing bad smells ,cobalt, and sea weeds,the public is forced to use water pumps that have a hardly/30/40 foot bore only .

    June 27, 2011 at 9:04 pm Reply
  8. Thank you so much for the informative material regarding water deficiency in Pakistan

    September 29, 2010 at 1:46 pm Reply
  9. Solution of Pakistan Problems. Best way to Save Pakistan.

    August 29, 2010 at 11:19 am Reply
  10. hussain #

    Excellent material provided on water scarce. really the needed one helped me to do the assignment. thank u.

    July 29, 2010 at 10:48 pm Reply
  11. Rama #

    Till Pakistan’s priority will remain Kashmir and sponsoring terrorism to neighbours, obviously you can’t expect important things like water given priority.

    March 16, 2010 at 2:12 am Reply
  12. nabeelakhan #

    thanks for providing us knowlegde about the water situation in pakistan . i really need it for my assignment.

    February 20, 2010 at 7:26 pm Reply
  13. Name (required) #


    December 12, 2009 at 11:35 pm Reply
  14. Muhammad iqbal #

    Water problem can only be solved if we prioritize it in our national policy plus make this sector corruption free so that plans and projects can be executed/ implemented in letter and spirit. Just two componentrs: priority and honesty.

    November 26, 2009 at 11:58 pm Reply
  15. Mohammad Areeb Abdullah #

    Thankyou for highlighting this important issue in Pakistan and I hope you will make more reports. And if you want you can add this to your report, ‘INDIA IS STEALING WATER FROM PAKISTAN BY BUILDING DAMS AND RESERVIORS CONTINOUSLY AND THEY PROMISED THAT THEY WILL NOT DO IT AT THE TIME OF PARTITION.

    November 5, 2009 at 10:11 am Reply
  16. Thanks for your comments and for the useful statistics on the water situation in Pakistan.

    July 27, 2009 at 3:01 pm Reply

    we ned to act upon the alarms of upcoming water cisis for pakistn. and we should act serously on this current sanerio of water satiuation. reports also have warn us abut the feature wars on water between india and pakistan. so our negibour is quitly buidin 60 small dams on the rivers wich are suppose to pakistan auccardind to indus water trety.we requre 160 to 180 samll meadium dams for our water requirement . we are aHIGLY WATER STRESS NATION nad also we are moving toeards THE HIGLY WATER SACRED COUNTRY(World bank report,)
    we have 5000 cubic meter water avail able for every country in 1951 but we have only less than 1000cubic meter available for every citizen know in 2009 fro each citizen.we are the 3rd lowest water storing nation amoug the word 25 most papluos nations.

    May 29, 2009 at 12:44 pm Reply
  18. sana #

    hi i sana . i have read ur article .the information that u gave in this article is worthwhile. i have question in my mind that day by day water level is decresing so wat do u think that we are heading toward desaster??????????
    wat do u think thats our water scenario????????
    r we heading towards desaster????????? can u give me answer of this question???????? i m university student nd want 2 know about this?

    April 20, 2009 at 11:22 pm Reply
    • Lucia #

      I agree. Let’s not over complicate it. I think CSR is about minimizing your negative impacts on society, planet etc. and at the same time striving to maximize the good that you do (whilst still making a profit if you are a business!).

      December 6, 2012 at 1:47 am Reply

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