Where’s our water?

Indus River Authority (IRSA) says that Pakistan will face a water shortage of up to 30% during Kharif season

By Editorial Board
April 08, 2024
A representational image showing a farmer sitting on a dried out farm land. — AFP/File

Water shortages in an agricultural country mean that the country has been sentenced to economic death. Any dip in agricultural output could have a huge impact on the national exchequer of the said country. Financially weak Pakistan, which is already trying hard to avert default, now finds itself entangled in another web of economic challenges. The Indus River Authority (IRSA) says that Pakistan will face a water shortage of up to 30 per cent during kharif season. This, IRSA says, is due to the operational constraints at the Tarbela and Mangela dams, as the country’s two major water reservoirs are still not available for water discharges. An official of the Sindh irrigation department also says that from April 1 to June 10, “there will be no water available for below Kotri water releases which are essential to stop the sea intrusion into Sindh’s agricultural land.” It is prudent to mention that the province has already lost 3.5 million acres of agricultural land since 1956 because of sea intrusion.


Water distribution across the country is a disputed issue, with Sindh often making a case for the adoption of the 1991 Water Accord to ensure a proportional share of water for all provinces. But the problem at hand is also exacerbated by climate change and outdated water infrastructure that fails to store water. This year, particularly, the lack of snow in parts that used to receive record-breaking snowfall has resulted in a dip in water storage. That Pakistan is not taking any measures to protect itself against the harmful effects of climate change is baffling. If important kharif crops – both food and cash crops – drop in production, Pakistan can face huge challenges. Crops like cotton are vital for the country’s gigantic textile sector. Any deficit in production will leave textile industries in a fix, unable to complete the orders, mostly from abroad. At a time when other countries in the region like Bangladesh are ever-ready to capture the share of the Pakistani market, Pakistan cannot afford to commit avoidable mistakes. Also, the lack of availability of important food crops compels authorities to import them, transferring the burden of heavy taxes and customs duties to ordinary Pakistanis who are barely meeting their monthly expenses.

The country must realize that it has to look for home-grown solutions to these problems and that it cannot expect any developed nations to extend financial aid. And in a world of technological advancements, Pakistan can act independently. Agritech can help Pakistan deal with external pressures on its natural resources, like water, to avoid any losses in agricultural output. There are tools available that can help water-scarce Pakistan conserve water. But all this requires public-private partnerships and the government’s firm resolve. Pakistan’s water woes are not new. Many residential areas in urban cities rely on private water tankers to fulfil their water needs. It is time the country paid undivided attention to this issue and did something to bring an important sector back on track.