A water crisis exacerbated by climate change and divisive politics threatens to derail the local economy by affecting the county’s colonial-era irrigation system
Exacerbated by climate change and divisive politics, Pakistan is facing a concurrent water crisis, which might require a change in the country’s dilapidated colonial-era irrigation system. This delicate system of dams, barrages, canals and flood drains is the lifeline of millions of farmers from the plains of Punjab to the fertile lands of Sindh.
At the 2015 United Nations Summit, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by the United Nations (UN) Member States as part of the Agenda 2030. Goal 6 of the SDGs is: “Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. A substantial decrease in water pollution and effective wastewater management and recycling are some of the other targets of Goal 6.
Pakistan has an agrarian economy, therefore, the economic growth is at a great risk if water shortage begins affecting the crops harvested. Most of Pakistan’s exports are heavily dependent upon agricultural produce, like cotton, making the sector central to the economic stability of the nation. Around 70 percent of the population works in agriculture, which accounts for 26 percent of the country’s gross domestic output. Pakistani farmers cultivate 21.2 million hectares of land, of which more than 80 percent is irrigated. Agriculture is dominated by four water-intensive crops: rice, sugarcane, wheat, and cotton. Therefore, 93 percent of the water consumed in Pakistan is used for agriculture as compared to the global average of about 70 percent.
According to the Indus River System Authority, Pakistan is extremely short on reservoirs. In the last two years, water scarcity has grown at a terrifying rate which is evident by the fact that the country’s water storage supply is limited at just 30-days, which is way below the 1,000-day water supply standard. The country currently needs 40-million-acre feet of water, but 29-acre feet is wasted due to lack of dams. The Tarbela and Mangla Dams are the only big dams in Pakistan which can store flood water.
Pakistan is considered to have crossed the “water scarcity line” in 2005. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the problem of water shortage has worsened terribly due to the alarming rate of water usage in Pakistan – the fourth highest in the world. In this Special Report, we take an in-depth look at the imminent water crisis facing the country.