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Alarming Water Situation for Pakistan & No Light at End of the Tunnel

WAPDA talks about the alarming water scenario, development plans and future challenges for Pakistan. Threat to Pakistan's water security imminent. Immediate action by government needed.

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In a recent briefing to a delegation of PAF Air War College Karachi, which was visiting the WAPDA house on Monday, WAPDA’s General Manager Mr. Shahid Hameed revealed the fact that Pakistan’s per capita water availability (water available to each person in the country) has reduced from 6050 cubic meters in 1950 to an alarming 908 cubic meter per annum.

The Current Situation

He further informed the delegation that Pakistan’s storage capacity is only 10 percent of the water we get from the Indus river system, in comparison, the world average stands at 40 percent. Over time Pakistan has lost close to a quarter of its storage in dams because of sedimentation.

The Indus River only provides an average of 137 million acre-feet (MAF) with a storage capacity of 13.67 MAF, but other big rivers like Nile and Colorado have much higher storage capacity. The Nile, which has an average annual, flow of half that of Indus at 72 MAF has usable storage of 132 MAF i.e. 183%. Colorado has usable storage of 60 MAF that is 375% of the average annual flow. This means that they are managing their respective annual flows much better than Pakistan.

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According to a report, “Pakistan: Getting More from Water”, published by the World Bank in 2019, our irrigation systems use 80% of the water, while the produce only contributes 5% to the GDP. The yearly estimated cost of poor water management is 4% of the GDP or around $12 Billion.

William Young, author of the report said, “New dams can help improve water security but will not address the most pressing water problems that Pakistan faces.” He suggested that Pakistan needs to work on modernizing the irrigation systems and invest in urban wastewater management. He also emphasized the need to improve the provincial water policies and updating the legal framework concerning them.

The live water storage capacity of Pakistan used to be 16.26 MAF in 1976 but it has dropped to 13.68 MAF, which equals only 30 days carry overcapacity. On the other hand, India has a capacity of 170 days; Egypt has 700 days and America 900 days. The minimum required water storage capacity globally is 120 days, and Mr. Hameed said Pakistan should at least meet the minimum required target.

Future Goals and Challenges

Pointing towards the light at the end of the tunnel, he said that WAPDA is working on different projects like Mohmand Dam, Diamer Basha Dam, and Dasu Hydropower Project to name a few. On completion from 2025 to 2029, Mohmand Dam, Diamer Basha Dam, and Dasu Hydropower Project (Stage-I) will add a gross water storage capacity of 9.3 MAF and about 7500 MW. This plan will add some storage, but is not enough for the long run.

To go to the target of 120 days overcapacity, which is 4 times the capacity we have today we will have to reach over 55 MAF of storage. On the other hand, Wapda’s plans give us 9.3 MAF, leaving a huge gap to be covered. This means that much bigger projects must be realized soon.

Read More: Project to improve watercourses in Punjab exceeds target by 18 percent

In 2013, then Pakistan Agriculture Scientists Association Chairman Jamshed Iqbal Cheema said that water is lifeline for Pakistan and an even more important issue than Kashmir. Pakistan is not sufficiently working on ensuring its sustainability.

The Conservation and Efficiency Plan 2009 used by Western Australia is one of the outstanding examples of the water storage system. It has a thousand days of storage capacity and has systematically designed irrigation and industry-specific programs.

The Planning Commission in the last government, in its Vision 2025, set a number of ambitious targets, including goals of increasing storage capacity from the current 30 days to 90 days and an increase in efficiency of usage in agriculture by 20%. The management of the water resources will require careful planning, rapid investments, a capable and delivery-oriented bureaucracy as well as the right institutional framework.

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