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Will Pakistan actually run dry by 2025?


News Analysis |

Every morning, the women and children of Balochistan are forced to walk for miles and miles, carrying clay pots, in the search of water in the barren landscape of Pakistan’s most water-scarce province-a daily errand that has become a ritual in multiple cities across the country.

Last year in December, the farmers of Balochistan approached Islamabad to address their grievances and inability to grow their major cash crops, primarily wheat, due to the scarcity of water. Reports released by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) have shed light on the exploitations of climate change, which have wreaked havoc on the livelihoods of fruits and vegetable farmers across Balochistan.

A large chunk of the water resources are allocated to the agriculture sector because of outdated irrigation methods. The study also highlights that the domestic usage of water also needs to be regulated.  

Water scarcity remains a major challenge in Sindh, and various crowded districts of Karachi have been hit hard with the epidemic of water paucity. Analysts have theorized that the Sindh government is highly likely to propose a demand for an increase of 1,200 cusecs in the water supply for Karachi. It appears that the demand for water is constantly on the rise, while supply is short, which has left more than 15 million citizens in Pakistan’s financial capital struggling to meet their needs of clean drinking water.

The United Nationals Development Programme (UNDP), World Bank, and International Monetary Fund amongst other organizations have issued warnings to the Pakistani authorities that there would be countrywide water shortages by 2025. These reports have been confirmed by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), and these organizations have further theorized that by 2050, Pakistan is expected to dry out entirely, leading to a drought-like situation.

Read more: Water Talks: Second round begins between India & Pakistan

Water shortage is a serious threat for Pakistan, as it not only threatens the life quality of its citizens but also its agriculture-based economy, which accounts for 26% of its GDP. The PCRWR has concluded that lack of efficient water storage practices during monsoon season has left Pakistan vulnerable to the hazards of scarcity. Currently, Pakistan is the fourth-largest consumer of water in the world, which the most “water-intensive” economy.

While many in Pakistan are quick to blame the ‘unfair distribution’ of water resources between India and Pakistan as the reason behind this water scarcity, the World Bank has released a large-scale study, ‘Getting More from Water’, which regards “mismanagement of Pakistan’s water resources” as the major culprit.

This treaty was signed between Jawaharlal Nehru and General Ayub Khan, and the western rivers of Jhelum, Chenab and Indus were assigned to Pakistan while Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej were given to India.

This 191 pages long study is extensive research into the water crisis of Pakistan, and it has theorized that the country has failed to effectively manage its water resources, along with neglecting the impact of climate change. A large chunk of the water resources are allocated to the agriculture sector because of outdated irrigation methods. The study also highlights that the domestic usage of water also needs to be regulated.

In an interview with DW, Mohammad Khalid Rana from the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) stated that Pakistan has only two large storage reservoirs, and it can save water for only “30 days” whereas India can store water for “190 days”.

Read more: Scarcity of Life: Water shortages reaching vertical limits in Pakistan

Rana said, “Pakistan obtains around 145 million acre-feet of water each year but is only able to save 13.7 million acre-feet. Pakistan needs 40 million acre-feet of water but 29 million acre-feet of our floodwater are wasted because we have few dams.” He further added that India addressed this ineffectiveness and argued that the control of the western rivers should be handed over to New Delhi, since “Pakistan cannot use them properly”.

Brief History of India-Pakistan Water Spats

All the six major rivers of Pakistan, which are Ravi, Sutlej, Beas, Jhelum, Chenab, and Indus, originate in India, which has always given the Indian government complete control over the water flow received by Pakistan. India has always cemented its position as the “upper riparian” nation, while Pakistan has suffered as the “lower riparian” state. Since partition, water has been the root cause of many skirmishes as New Delhi has never failed to violate Pakistan’s right to its water resources, and in 1960, the World Bank intervened with the Indus Water Treaty (IWT).

Last year, DJ ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor also commented on water issues and stressed the need to address to its significance because “Any future war that happens will be due to these issues”, he said.

This treaty was signed between Jawaharlal Nehru and General Ayub Khan, and the western rivers of Jhelum, Chenab and Indus were assigned to Pakistan while Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej were given to India. The treaty made it clear that there would no restrictions on how either country uses these rivers, as long as the “flow of water is not hindered”. However, India has always violated the terms of this and multiple other international treaties, along with using water political as a bargaining chip for securing petty diplomatic wins.

In 1999, India began construction of the Baglehar dam on Chenab, which led to the Permanent Indus Water Commission. More recently in 2016, Modi actively violated the IWT and announced his decision to establish hydroelectric projects along the River Chenab, which will severely impact Pakistan’s water supply. Modi had blatantly cemented his decision to violate the treaty and complete the construction of the project, saying “blood and water cannot flow side by side”.

Read more: Pakistan’s Water Crisis makes Kalabagh an “inevitable” reality, assures CJP

In recent developments, Prime Minister Imran demanded the inspections of the proposed sites. And last week, Faisal Vawda, the Federal Minister for Water Resources announced New Delhi’s approval for the arrival of an inspection team to inspect the sites of the Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai hydropower projects on the Chenab Basin.

PMCJ Dam Fund

The Dam Fund, supported by Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Supreme Court of Pakistan, is a crowdsourcing drive that is taking donations from Pakistani citizens for the construction of the Diamer-Basha and Mohmand Dam. Pakistanis have extended a positive response towards donating to this multi-billion venture, and the drive has raised Rs. 9,458,651,696 till this date.

The Diamer-Basha has immense importance in increasing Pakistan’s abilities to store up water for drought years, and it has earned significant importance, being credit as the “need of the hour” by researchers and analysts. It has been theorized that the construction of these dams is necessary to effectively manage our natural water resources, and avert a water and food crisis.

Recently, India and Pakistan have agreed to the Indus Commissioner tours that were declared mandatory in the Indus Water Treaty, and New Delhi has also taken measures to address Islamabad’s apprehensions over its hydroelectric projects in the Chenab Basin.

However, there are multiple stakeholders who oppose the construction of any large-scale storage on the water resources of the Indus basin. The leaders of Sindh have always leveled objections against the construction of large storage bodies, primarily due to the risk of damage to the Indus delta because a greater accumulation of water upstream will leave the delta dry, leading to a catastrophic drought-like situation in the coastal regions of Sindh.

Water Crisis: Pretext for an India-Pakistan War in the Future?

Even though relations between India and Pakistan remain stable, it is expected that the two countries are expected to be engaged in an armed conflict over water issues. Last year, DJ ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor also commented on water issues and stressed the need to address to its significance because “Any future war that happens will be due to these issues”, he said. DJ ISPR commented, “We are afraid that future wars will be fought on the issue of water”.

Currently, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Supreme Court’s crowdsourcing drive, the only one of its kind, is aimed at the construction of two large scale dams, of which will be located in Gilgit Baltistan, a region regarded as the “disputed territory of Kashmir” by New Delhi. Analysts have theorized another kind of mismanagement of water shortages within this region will impact both countries and can lead to the onset of water skirmishes.

Read more: Looming water crisis, economy at stake: WEF warns Pakistan

During an interview to a leading publication, Ashok Swain, director of research at the School of International Water Cooperation Uppsala University Sweden, highlighted that Modi is likely to use water as a “tool to bring Pakistan to heel” in the instance, he is reelected.

Recently, India and Pakistan have agreed to the Indus Commissioner tours that were declared mandatory in the Indus Water Treaty, and New Delhi has also taken measures to address Islamabad’s apprehensions over its hydroelectric projects in the Chenab Basin.

Mina Jahangir with additional input by News Desk.

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