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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Water shortage and inter-provincial tensions in Pakistan

Politicians stress that proper reimbursement is not paid due to the lack of thorough benefit-sharing strategies between regional states. Dams have thus conceivably escalated uncertainties between regional blocks and exacerbated regional fragmentation. Dam expansion has also been questioned at the community level.

If we evaluate Pakistan’s water situation, it is easy to instruct that water resources are depleting quickly. Water plays a very significant role in the survival of its economy as Pakistan is an agriculturally based economy. Problems associated with mistrust, corruption, and ineffectual water management exercises must also be deciphered to assist Pakistan in tackling its accumulating water insecurity. Changes in climate and many other facets contributed to the water shortage of Pakistan, which is the cause of tension between different provinces of Pakistan, and eventually, catastrophes may erupt.

The endorheic river basin and rivers flowing into the Arabian Sea are the two major river systems in Pakistan. It originates from a power asymmetry between downstream and upstream riparian, where there is a disposition for the latter to over-extract water in moments of scarcity. Each river system has different rivers with them, but River Indus System (IRS), which includes its tributaries, is deemed Pakistan’s lifeline. Now there is a water shortage on the one hand, and on the other hand, the population is increasing, which means they need more food; ultimately, more water is needed for industries and domestic usage.

Read more: KP govt promises 3 more dams to counter water shortage

Understanding the matter better

Due to water shortage, provinces are fighting to get more water for their industries, domestic use, and agriculture. In addition, the way water is divided among the provinces is problematic. Punjab gets the majority of water as its population constitutes 56% of Pakistan’s population compared to other provinces like Sindh, Baluchistan, and KP. The population of Punjab is increasing rapidly, which means more water is required for agricultural and domestic use. Moreover, as the population of the whole country is increasing rapidly; as a result, the need for food, clothes, and other necessities.

Sometimes the legal request for water from other provinces is neglected because of Punjab. Due to such discrimination, other provinces believe that they are deprived of their rights or that they are not given less importance than Punjab. This thought brings tension among different provinces. It is seen and tested that whenever tension grows and discrimination is observed, competition between groups arises. In 2010 Punjab and Sindh came against each other on the topic of opening up the Chashma-Jhelum (CJ) Link Canal.

Punjab wanted its share, and Sindh was opposing then by the intervention of then PM of Pakistan Yousaf Gillani, the matter was resolved. It is observed that many sections of government and establishment blame India for Pakistan’s water scarcity. As India diverts and sometimes halts the water from IRS, which signifies that Pakistan gets insufficient water for usage. It also becomes one factor in increasing inter-provincial crises.

Scholars believe that the multi-projects are exploiting IRS. Except for Punjab, all other provinces are of the view that the Sukkur barrage was enough on the Indus River; now, there are 19 barrages and 43 canal systems with 48 off-takes which compels it the world’s prime contiguous man-made system of 61,000 km of canals and 105,000 water courses, irrigating 35 million acres of land. Indus water is the primary source of irrigation- a sector that engages around 13% of the countries and more than 50% of the rural population. Gilgit-Baltistan, Potohor, and Mirpur have some problems with the construction of the Mangla Dam.

A new voice is attached to Mangla that Pakistan-administered Kashmir should get all the privileges just like KP receives because of Tarbela Dam. Vision-2025 was proposed in 2000 to improve the capacity and height of previous dams and build new canals and dams. It has to be done in three phases. Within Pakistan, these political uncertainties are expressed in ideological disparities between prominent political leaders in the different provinces. Now Some have noted that the federal government and Sindh and Baluchistan politicians have a tendency towards discourses of regional individuality, equity, and ecology, arranging them in resistance to a probably national developmental plan in Punjab, which promotes large-scale infrastructure and the abrupt modernization of the country.

Read more: National Bank aims to fight water shortage in Pakistan

Diamer-Bhasha dam is another controversial project which was supposed to be completed by 2019, but due to insufficient money and land problem, the project could not see daylight. Sindh is defying this project. This project faced a lot of opposition not only within Pakistan but also from India; as a result, the world bank started contemplating if they should aid Pakistan in this project or not. Later after doing an amendment is this project, it was said that China and the world bank would assist it.

The way forward

Politicians stress that proper reimbursement is not paid due to the lack of thorough benefit-sharing strategies between regional states. Dams have thus conceivably escalated uncertainties between regional blocks and exacerbated regional fragmentation. Dam expansion has also been questioned at the community level. Some proclaim that the motive for dams to satisfy increasing water demands is primarily inflated by influential landowners withstanding water use restrictions. Adverse consequences are observed foremost by underprivileged downstream communities in cities like Karachi, who already need access to adequate drinking water.

The Himalayan Glaciers, which sustain the Indus basin, are foreseen to diminish further in the coming years. This may enhance water discharge in the short run, but it would consume groundwater recharge in the long duration, thus potentially curtailing de-facto energy exposition. Heavy rains during the monsoon are expected to evolve more irregularly, drawing challenges for dealing with potential flood hazards. This could potentially affect dams’ ability to block surges and is also likely to aggravate tensions over water distribution and flow management along the Indus basin.

Natural resources are any nation’s strength as they alleviate and diminish your reliance on other Nations. A country with ample Natural resources implies that the country is self-sufficient, and the economy of that country is robust as well. Natural resources contemplated as blessings can occasionally evolve into a curse if political motives are attached to them. Similarly, those natural resources begin to deplete due to various motives ranging from the intentional negligence of the government and the people to politics. Pakistan must resolve the politics hindering a national consensus on the management of water resources. The primary issue is not of the shortage of resources, but rather the handling of resources.


The writer is a Political Scientist and Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science in Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.