Effective Water Management Strategy

Published: 6 Aug, 2018



Water is a basic need of life. Pakistan has been gifted with plentiful water resources. With rivers flowing from the Karakoram and Himalayan ranges in the north to the vast Arabian Sea in the south. Water is crucial for the livelihood of people and also for sustained development of an economy. For Pakistan, it takes on more significance. Pakistan is a mass producer of agricultural products. Its agricultural sector is dependent on a single source: the Indus water basin. It irrigates around 19.02 million hectares of cultivated land (Agricultural Statistics Pakistan). The agriculture sector contributes to approximately 21 percent of Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product and remains by far the largest employer; employing 45 percent of the country’s total labor force (Ministry of Finance). Agricultural sector is one of the major consumers of water and due to its immense importance, the requirement for water is likely to increase in future. Another major use of water is hydropower generation. 34 percent of Pakistan’s electricity generated is hydropower.  Therefore, the importance of water for Pakistan and its economy cannot be invalidated.

Large amounts of agricultural production and snowballing population have led to an increased demand for water. At present, per capita water availability in the country has declined from 5,300 cubic meters in 1951 to below 1,100 cubic meters in 2010, and below 1,000 cubic meters, countries begin experiencing chronic water stress (Population Action International, 1993). Additionally, the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) delivered a grave warning: if the water problem is not addressed, the country will run out of water by 2025. By 2025, the demand for water is expected to reach up to 274 million acre feet (MAF) with the supply remaining constant at 191 MAF, causing a demand-supply gap of 83 MAF.

In order to mitigate the water crisis, certain measures need to be taken. These have been discussed in our article, in no particular order.

Pakistan has so far constructed two major dams since 1947; Tarbela, on River Indus, and Mangla, on River Jhelum. According to a report by Medium Term Development Framework (MTDF), the gross capacity of Tarbela and Mangla reservoirs was likely to reduce from 17.5 MAF to 5.55 MAF (32%), due to siltation. The two reservoirs need to be upgraded immediately. This will enable the country to store more water alongside producing more hydroelectricity. The table below shows how the capacity of these dams has reduced over time.

ReservoirOriginal gross storage capacity (MAF)Storage loss by year 2003 (MAF)Storage loss by year 2010 (projected)(MAF)
Tarbela11.62 (1974)3.14 (27%)3.95 (34%)
Mangla5.88 (1967)1.18 (20%)1.60 (27%)
Total17.54.32 (25%)5.55 (32%)

Source: MTDF (2005-2010)

In addition to repairing and upgrading the water reservoirs present, Pakistan needs to build more dams and reservoirs. In order to increase the country’s water storage capacity and to solve the water shortage at hand. Immediate erection of the Kalabagh Dam should be done. This project is a proposed hydroelectric dam, with a storage capacity of 6.1 MAF, which is to be built on the River Indus at Kalabagh. At this site the annual flow of River Indus is 138.69 MAF [WAPDA]. Experts state that the construction of Kalabagh dam would help save around 40 MAF of water going down the sea every year and in this way besides generating power. Sindh would get an additional 4 MAF, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 2.2 MAF, Balochistan 1.5 MAF while Punjab would get 2 MAF additional water for irrigation, which will surely increase Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product. Pressure, to build new dams, remains primarily on the central government. Due to this, the possibility of private investment is overlooked. Private sector in Pakistan has the potential to create such reserves. The profits and possible gains could be a source to attract investors from the private sector.

In addition to these massive projects, some small dams need to be built as well. Local community-based small dams provide a simple, cheaper, reliable and manageable solution to water storage and electricity generation issues. Dams like Baran, Tanda and Kandar in Khyber PakhtunKhwa have a live storage capacity of 98,000 acre feet, 99,000 acre feet and 2,650 acre feet respectively. Such projects are quite important to store and manage water for increasing irrigation and drinking water sources and improving socio-economic conditions of the area.

Pakistan is gradually inching towards being a water-scarce country, from being water-stressed for too long; due to over-exploitation of ground water and an unsustainable water management system. It is estimated that the groundwater contribution to irrigation water supplies in Pakistan has already increased from just 8 percent in 1960 to more than 50 percent in 2010. Presently, the country meets more than half of its overall irrigation water requirements from ground water extractions. Existing number of private tube wells in Pakistan is over 700,000 and annual groundwater extraction through private tube wells under the normal hydro-climatic conditions is of the order of 42 MAF (Compendium of Environmental Statistics of Pakistan, 2015). Consequently, groundwater tables are lowering rapidly in different parts of the country. In order to address this issue an extensive social awareness campaign should be started, because most of the water-sector problems have risen due to lack of knowledge and understanding of water management practices and high-efficiency irrigation systems among the major users of water. Water continues to be used recklessly and inefficiently, adding insult to injury. An effective solution to stop water wastage is pricing the water correctly. In Pakistan, water remains an underpriced resource for both domestic and commercial purposes. There is need for a policy initiative and relevant action from the governing bodies to add an accurate price tag on water.

Moreover, farmers need to be informed about new methods of irrigation. Farmers need to be encourage to use more efficient irrigation methods, for example, drip irrigation. Methods like the drip irrigation are efficient in minimizing water evaporation and providing a constant supply of nutrients and water to the crops. Therefore, they can prove to be effective in saving water. In addition to these measures, the government needs an effective system of water governance in the country, in order to prevent over-extraction of underground water. Appropriate legislation needs to be formulated and implemented with terms to the pricing model of water usage.

Lining of canals, distributaries and watercourses is a significant step towards solving the scarcity of water in Pakistan. The water bodies, e.g. canals, should be lined using materials like prefabricated concrete, bricks, plastic etc., in order to prevent seepage, excessive evaporation and operational losses.

The significance of water cannot be ignored while talking about the economic growth and survival of Pakistan. With the increasing population, the demand for water in Pakistan is likely to increase whereas policy makers have not yet been able to find a feasible solution for the prevailing water crisis. There is a need to analyze the existing water resources and recommend a comprehensive management strategy in view of catering the planning requirements for the future. Every year due to floods a huge amount of water flows down towards the sea and this loss of water definitely affects the populace. In order to overcome this problem, above mentioned recommendations need to be considered. Awareness regarding efficient water management should be created among the users of water, whether it be farmers, industries or domestic users.



  1. http://www.finance.gov.pk/survey/chapter_10/02_agriculture.pdf
  2. http://icci.com.pk/data/downloads/63/1293619048_1.pdf
  3. http://spate-irrigation.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/3.-Mr.-Mohammad-Iqbal-24-06-2014.pdf
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/287088604_Feasibility_study_of_Kalabagh_dam_Pakistan
  5. https://asiafoundation.org/2017/11/01/pakistans-water-crisis-national-water-policy-needed/
  6. https://www.dawn.com/news/397304
  7. https://tribune.com.pk/story/1509400/pakistan-water-stressed-country-innovative-mindset-needed/
  8. http://www.pbs.gov.pk/sites/default/files//crops_and_climates/compendium_environment/compendium_environment_2015.pdf
  9. https://www.ztbl.com.pk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IntgrWaterResMgt.pdf
  10. http://www.fao.org/pakistan/fao-in-pakistan/pakistan-at-a-glance/en/


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