Pakistan’s Water Alarm Triggered: Are We Looking at the Right Answers?

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Pakistan’s Water Alarm Triggered: Are we looking at the right answers?

Abstract:

Emphasis on the integrated water resource management and proper utilization of available water is more than ever before. Pakistan has been suffering from drought conditions since many years, due to which reduction in river discharges and lesser rains occurred. The reliance on ground water increased remarkably and extensive pumping was observed during the period. World Bank and International Monetary Funds’  reports presented alarming situation for Pakistan as far as water security is concerned which triggered panic among stakeholders and urgent need of new water reservoir or dams emerged. Government also initiated nationwide campaign to build new dams and asked for public donations which resulted in conflicting opinions among administrative units of the country. Political and ethnic voices were raised against dams to counter alarming water crisis that the country is facing. This paper studies the existent situation of water resources for Pakistan and based on available literature, analyses whether approach being taken is the real answer for this problem or there is another way to resolve this concern and diluting the conflict that has overshadowed this proposal.

Keywords: Water resource management, drought, water security

 

Introduction:

 Water touches nearly every aspect of development. It drives economic growth, supports healthy ecosystems and is fundamental for life. However, this critical resource can harm as well as help. Water-related hazards such as floods, storms, and droughts are responsible for majority of the natural disasters. Water security has been defined as “the reliable availability of an acceptable quantity and quality of water for health, livelihoods and production, coupled with an acceptable level of water-related risks”

 Pakistan, one of the world’s most arid countries, with an average rainfall of under 240 mm a year, is profoundly reliant on an annual influx into the Indus River system. About 180 billion cubic meters2 of water of the system originates from the adjoining country and is mostly derived from snow-melt in the Himalayas. This hydraulic economy of Pakistan faced massive challenges right from the autonomy of country in 1947. (Briscoe et al., 2005). The first challenge arose at the time of partition of the Indo-Pak subcontinent which detached the irrigated heartland of Punjab from the life-giving waters of the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej rivers which had become part of India. The situation became worst when India stopped the water flow of Pakistan in April 1948. Then, water negotiation started and both states under the mediation of the World Bank negotiated the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) in 1960, giving Pakistan rights in perpetuity to the waters of the three western rivers; Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab rivers. While the three eastern rivers (Beas, Sutluj and Ravi) came under total jurisdiction of India. This arrangement resulted in a new challenge that was of a mismatch between the location of Pakistan’s water (in the western rivers) and the major irrigated area in the east. Again Pakistan’s water engineers were up to the task, building the world’s largest earth fill dam, the Tarbela on the Indus, and link canals, which ran for hundreds of miles and carried flows ten times the flow of the river. (Iqbal, 2010)

 Pakistan’s economy is facing daunting challenges in the water sector. Besides demands of an ever-growing industrializing economy and rapidly urbanizing society, the potential for augmenting supply is limited, water table is falling and water quality issues have increasingly become serious. Pakistan is in the group of countries, which are now moving from water stressed to water scarce. Keeping in view the emerging issues related to climate change, water resource management is also a serious challenge.

 Although large scale water resources development has been taking place in the world, but until vast majority of people shall do not have enough potable water for drinking and canal water for irrigation. According to researchers water supply consists of making water available for agricultural urban use. Agricultural uses include irrigation, watering and farm household use. By law of supply and demand, water will be inexpensive when it is abundant and expensive when it is scarce (Adebayo A. 2007). The distribution of water supply for drinking purpose is quite appalling in modern times. Mean time the downstream people are not suitably protected against flood or disaster hits due to the improper management. Irrigation is the main stay of Pakistan’s economy, around 90% of total agriculture output of the country is totally dependent on irrigation. It is clear that water resources have played very important role in the development of land and water storage system. More than half of world’s population lives in developing countries and the poorest of these communities depend heavily on exploitation of local water resources for their livelihood. (Khoso, Wagan, Tunio, & Ansari, 2015).

Importance of Agriculture in Pakistan

 Agriculture is important sector in the development of country, taking broader perspective on contribution of agriculture to gross domestic production and including associated support services. Agriculture is of immense importance for Pakistan. At the time of independence Pakistan was primarily agriculture based country. But as time progressed Pakistan turned into more diversified country as industrialization took hold. But development of industries had not eliminated the existence of agriculture in Pakistan although the share of agriculture had decreased significantly since its birth. The role of agriculture in the economic development of Pakistan cannot be denied and Pakistan is still characterized as an agricultural country (Sarvesh Chauhan 2013).

Average Annual Flows of Rivers of Indus Basin

  Table  1: River Flows and Water Availability (1979-2015) (MAF)

                                                                                                Average

Total river inflows (a)

143.3

Ground water available (b)

50.0

Total water supply (a+b)

193.3

Average withdrawal through canals

101.0

Escapage below Kotri

26.7

Evaporation and other losses

15.6

Water availability (agriculture)

Average withdrawal through canals

101.0

Losses (from canal head to farm gate)

24.3

Water available at farm gate (c)

76.7

Groundwater withdrawal (d)

47.0

Overall water availability (c+d)

123.7

        Source: National Water Policy 

 The present water supply in Pakistan is not only limited, but also quite inconsistent in nature. More significantly, the overall availability faces momentous risks from increasing pollution and climate change. The water demand, on the other hand, is rising rapidly on account of growing population and urbanization. Thus, the resulting disparity is pushing the country towards severe water scarcity. Being a semi-arid country, Pakistan relies heavily on the Indus River and its tributaries (Kabul, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, and Sutlej) for water supplies, which collectively put in over 140 million acre feet (MAF) per annum (Table 1). This reflects the country’s susceptibility to a single basin, which itself is subject to insecurity due to continuing water disputes with India.

Water Availability and Population Growth

 As per global standards, 1000 m3 per capita is the threshold value for water scarcity. Pakistan at present is striving with water scarcity and only 1038 m3 of water is available per capita (projected figure of 2010), which will further be reduced to 751 m3 per capita till year 2030. The Figure 1 shows the anticipated growth in the population and the decline in per capita water availability.

Fig 1: Per Capita Water Availability per year (m3)

United Nations’ Report on Water Situation of Pakistan:

 The research project, The Vulnerability of Pakistan’s Water Sector to the Impacts of Climate Change: Identification of Gaps and Recommendations for Action, was launched by the Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in July 2015 in response to this situation. The project’s goal was to analyze how climate change could adversely affect the availability of water resources in the Indus basin, and therefore limit the country’s future economic and social development. It stated that agricultural water withdrawals will primarily be influenced by changes in irrigation efficiency, which is currently about 30 percent, as the country’s net sown area (and associated total irrigated area) is relatively stagnant (Amir & Habib, 2015; Bhatti et al., 2009; Qureshi, 2011). UNDP alerted that Pakistan will reach absolute water scarcity by 2025 if measures are not taken.

Baseline Water Stress

 Baseline water stress measures total annual water withdrawals (municipal, industrial, and agricultural) expressed as a percent of the total annual available flow. Higher values indicate more competition among users.

 

Figure 2: Baseline Water Stress Level Worldwide

        Data Source: World Resources Institute

 Baseline water stress measures total annual water withdrawals (municipal, industrial, and agricultural) expressed as a percent of the total annual available flow. Higher values indicate more competition among users. Arid areas with low water use are shown in gray, but scored as high stress when calculating aggregated scores.

Figure 3: Baseline Water Stress Level of Pakistan

Drought Severity Level of Pakistan

Figure 4: Drought Severity Level of Pakistan

Media Coverage of Water Related Issues

 Media coverage measures the percentage of all media articles in an area on water-related issues. Higher values indicate areas with higher public awareness about water issues, and consequently higher reputational risks to those not sustainably managing water.

Calculation: Data source for this map used percentage of all media articles on water scarcity and/or pollution. Google Archives was used to search a string of keywords including a river name, “water shortage” or “water pollution,” and an administrative unit, e.g. “River+ water shortage + Country.” The time frame was limited to the past 10 years from January 1, 2002 to December 31, 2011. For each country, the number of articles on water shortage and water pollution was summed and divided by the total number of articles on any topic found when searching for the administrative unit.

Pakistan

Figure 5: Media Coverage of Water Issues

Pakistan’s Government Response to Water Crisis

 The government is developing a plan to build a new dam in the country to improve water storage capacity. Ministry of water and power made this decision in the context of a severe water shortage in the country, and it becomes more serious every year. Ministry sources say additional reservoirs need to be built to ensure the sustainability of existing irrigation supplies, leading to more arable land and increased water availability per capita (Observer, 2016). After the reports from UNDP, there was nationwide cry of new dams and therefore Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan practically initiated the program of dams’ construction by opening a public account to collect funds for the dams (Chaudhry, 2018). Similarly when new government took office and the prime minister addressed the nations, he too urged Pakistanis to donate generously to the fund account for dams. Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke to the nation in a brief televised address Warning of the rapid depletion in Pakistan’s water resources, the premier said the country would face drought-like conditions by 2025 if immediate steps were not taken (Dawn, 2018).

Alternate Available Options

Water Recycling

 Within the next 50 years, over forty percent of the world’s population is expected to live in countries facing water stress or scarcity (World Health Organization, 2006), which can be a consequence of both physical and institutional factors. In arid regions with uncertain freshwater resources due to unpredictable rainfall patterns, achieving water security requires innovative strategic planning. Alternative sources, such as recycled wastewater, can be integrated into a diversified portfolio of water supply options to increase flexibility and adaptability and reduce reliance on traditional sources.

 With climate change, pollution and over-extraction threatening existing water resources, one would expect “water management to be vigorously innovative,” when in fact the sector “sees few innovations” (Krozer et al., 2010). In general, traditional models of urban water management have not adequately responded to these pressures (Quezada et al., 2016). However, in some arid regions, a lack of water and key socio-institutional changes have created a technological niche where a “disruptive innovation” (Christensen, 1997; Geels and Schot, 2007) water recycling has been able to emerge. Water recycling, considered an effect-oriented innovation (Krozer et al., 2010), challenges the dominant paradigm of water supply and wastewater management in several ways. On the one hand, wastewater reuse creates the need for a “separation system” (Krozer et al., 2010) so that treated black or grey water is not commixed with potable drinking. These changes to existing infrastructure may be incremental, but taken en masse, can lead to more fundamental regime change (Konrad et al., 2008). Moreover, water recycling changes our understanding of wastewater from “waste” (the dominant regime) into water (new regime). In doing so, “water recycling systems… create a new functional and structural coupling between the so far highly separated water and sanitation regimes” (Konrad et al., 2008). Traditional water and wastewater infrastructure is highly centralized, which creates path dependencies that prevent more sustainable and decentralized alternatives from occurring (Binz et al., 2012). Water recycling can disrupt this existing regime by requiring more decentralized systems so that the treated wastewater can be reused at a lower quality level than potable water for a range of non-potable uses (i.e. through the “fit-for-purpose” approach, e.g. described in Bichai and Smeets, 2015), applying appropriate treatment standards. For example, Quezada et al. (2016) describe Australia’s socio-technical transition to more decentralized systems as “incremental hybridization”(Marlow et al., 2013).

Reuse of Recycled Wastewater for Irrigation in Israel

 The constraints of water scarcity, combined with a fast-growing population and the decision to stop over-exploiting the aquifers, made it compulsory for Israel to engage in a massive program of reuse of treated wastewater. Gradually, reclaimed wastewater has become a major source of water for farmers, supplying more than 40 percent of the country’s needs for irrigation and more than 87 percent of wastewater being reused. As such, Israel is today one of the few countries in the world that has managed to almost entirely close the urban water cycle (Marin, Tal, Yeres, & Ringskog, n.d.).

Figure 6: Israel – Collected, Treated, and Used Sewage, 1963–2015

       Sources: Israel 2012; Israel Water Authority website

 Favorable pricing policies have been put in place to give farmers a strong incentive to use treated reclaimed wastewater for irrigation instead of freshwater. Wastewater is priced at US$0.3 per cubic meter for unrestricted irrigation and US$ 0.25 per cubic for restricted irrigation, less than half the tariff for freshwater for agriculture which stands at $0.66 per cubic meter.

Aquifer Management

 Artificial recharge of aquifer storage can provide water during drought periods, reverse falling groundwater levels and reduce water losses associated with leakage and evaporation, as compared with surface water storage. Aquifer storage and recovery, known also as managed aquifer recharge, is the process of artificially recharging aquifers by infiltrating water through permeable media or by direct injection through tubewells. The goal is to store water in a suitable aquifer during times when water is available, and recover water from the same aquifer when it is needed (Dillon, 2005; Pyne, 1995; Dudding et al., 2006). Large volumes can be stored underground, reducing or eliminating the need to construct surface reservoirs and minimizing evaporation losses. Aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) has been utilized throughout the world to enhance local and regional water resources (Khan et al., 2004).

 The potential benefits of ASR and artificial recharge, as adapted from Pyne (1995) and Pratt Water (2004) include:

  • seasonal, long term and emergency storage,
  • restoration of groundwater levels,
  • maintenance of distribution system pressure and flow,
  • improvement of water quality,
  • prevention of saltwater intrusion,
  • reduction of environmental effects of streamflow diversions,
  • agricultural water supply,
  • nutrient reduction in agricultural runoff,
  • enhancement of wellfield production,
  • deferred expansion of water facilities,
  • compensation for surface salinity barrier leakage losses,
  • reclaimed water storage for reuse, soil aquifer treatment,
  • hydraulic control of contaminant plumes,
  • minimisation of surface storage costs and evaporative losses, and
  • storage capacity losses.

Efficient Agricultural Irrigation Practices

 Irrigation systems have been under pressure to produce more with lower supplies of water. Various innovative practices can gain an economic advantage while also reducing environmental bur-dens such as water abstraction, energy use, pollutants, etc. (Faurèsand Svendsen, 2007). Farmers can better use technological systems already installed, adopt extra technologies, enhance their skills in soil and water management, tailor cropping patterns to lower water demand and usage, reduce agrochemical inputs, etc.

 Innovative irrigation methods can improve water efficiency, gain economic advantage, and reduce the environmental burden. In some cases, extension services provide the necessary knowledge to help farmers adapt and implement viable solutions, thereby gaining more benefits from irrigation technologies.

 According to the United States Agency for International Development’s 2017 statement, Pakistan is now a country with a food glut. But this food glut consumes 104 million acres (MAF) of water a year. In Pakistan’s water economy, John Brisco points out that the waste of irrigation water in Pakistan is one of the highest in the world. Using the same amount of water, production in Punjab, India, increased by 30%, while in California it increased by 50%. In his 1992 book, “Last Oasis,” Sandra Postel said that irrigation efficiency can be increased by 50% through the use of existing technologies. However, great strides have been made since the early 1990s, and today’s water-saving technologies can enable our farmers to produce surplus food with less than MAF of water.              Problem with Pakistani farmers lies with inefficient use of irrigation water. Most of the farmers are using old traditional irrigation practices of flood irrigation. This particular irrigation method causes huge water losses because water is supplied to field in excess to its requirements. Secondly water channels are not well maintained as they are open causing evaporation and sedimentation which results in water losses. As mentioned that Pakistan is using more than 100 MAF of water for its agriculture while it can get the same production with around 50MAF. Farmers are not using much advanced and modern irrigation technologies like drip irrigation or sprinkler irrigation. These innovations will not only save water but increase crops productivity as well.

 If we compare Pakistan’s Punjab province productivity with Indian Punjab then results clearly state that they are producing much more than Pakistan with same or even using less water.

Table 2: Country wise Major Crops Production

 

Production (Country vice)

Crops

Pakistan Punjab (Ton/Hect)

Indian Punjab (Ton/Hect)

Wheat

2.49

4.20

Rice

1.70

3.69

Maize

1.78

2.98

           Source:(Hayat, n.d.)

 

Conclusion:

 The resource is abundant. The problem lies in our consumption patterns; 104 MAF is dedicated to irrigation, of which 54 is an avoidable waste, if we invest in efficient irrigation practices. Urban and industrial sectors remain ill-served despite the manageable requirements of 27 MAF or more. In most cities, domestic and industrial needs can be satisfied by investing in the proper management of aquifers, preventing pollution in aquifers and streams, correct management of water runoff and the proper disposal of sewage effluents. Investment in the irrigation, urban and industrial sectors will not only lead to water safety in these sectors, but will also synergistically solve the problems of the extraction and salinity, while eliminating the stagnant ponds that They are a breeding ground for disease-carrying vectors. The natural water courses that have now become wastewater drains will change from the sores that are currently to the assets they once were, and many environmental benefits will become apparent.

Anxiety and dread are by and large followed by fiddly but believable so-called solutions focusing on large infrastructure investments through borrowed money. For example, instead of targeting the wastage of 54 MAF in the irrigation sector, the spotlight is on damming and diverting the 20-odd MAF of water that makes it to the Indus delta, while there is spending in billions of dollars on projects such as dams — completely ignoring the impact of erosion of the river delta and the silting of dams (as happened in the case of the Mangla and Tarbela dams), and exacerbating issues such as wastage in the irrigation sector, water-logging, salinity, etc. Appropriate aquifer management, improving irrigation efficiency and checking pollution do not involve very huge sums of money and expensive contracts and are sustainable in the long run.

Analyzing existent situation of water sources of the country and looking at the better alternate options, here are few recommendations;

  • Canal water supply management needs improvement to avoid wastage of water and for equitable distribution of available water for the entire canal command.
  • The high efficiency irrigation system like, bed, furrow, drip and sprinkler need to be adopted.
  • Improve drought forecasting and management are necessary to prepare plans to reduce the damages due to such severe situation.
  • Sustainable groundwater management under proper regulations should be adopted to safeguard aquifer deterioration underground water mining conditions.
  • More focus should be on capacity building of water sector institutions
  • Mega vision is need of the hour rather than mega projects at this state of affairs

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