Saturday, December 2, 2017

Katas Raj Temple Case Exposes Pakistan's Groundwater Crisis

Pakistan Supreme Court has recently taken notice of the drying water pond at Katas Raj temple located in Chakwal district in the nation's Punjab province.  Hindus believe that it was formed from the tears Lord Shiva shed after the death of his wife Sati.

Why is the temple pond drying up? What is happening to the water source that used to keep it full? Is it symptomatic of a much larger  life-and-death issue of water stress Pakistan faces? Let's explore the answers to these questions.

Groundwater Depletion:

Katas Raj temple pond is a victim of the falling water table due to increasing use of groundwater in Pakistan. Pakistan, India, and the United States are responsible for two-thirds of that outsize groundwater use globally,  according to a report by University College London researcher Carole Dalin.  Nearly half of this groundwater is used to grow wheat and rice crops for domestic consumption and exports.  This puts Pakistan among the world's largest exporters of its rapidly depleting groundwater.

NASA Satellite Maps:

Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources is working with  United States' National Air and Space Administration (NASA) to monitor groundwater resources in the country.

Water Stress Satellite Map Source: NASA 
NASA's water stress maps shows extreme water stress across most of Pakistan and northern, western and southern parts of India.

The US space agency uses Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) to measure earth's groundwater. GRACE’s pair of identical satellites, launched in 2002, map tiny variations in Earth's gravity. Since water has mass, it affects these measurements. Therefore, GRACE data can help scientists monitor where the water is and how it changes over time, according to NASA.

Aquifer Recharge:

Building large dams is only part of the solution to water stress in Pakistan. The other, more important part, is building structures to trap rain water for recharging aquifers across the country.

Typical Aquifer in Thar Desert 

Pakistan's highly water stressed Punjab province is beginning recognize the need for replacing groundwater. Punjab Government is currently in the process of planning a project to recharge aquifers for groundwater management in the Province by developing the economical and sustainable technology and to recharge aquifer naturally and artificially at the available site across the Punjab. It has allocated Rs. 582.249 million to execute this project over four years.

Punjab Pilot Project: 

The Punjab pilot project is intended to recharge groundwater by building flood water ponds in "old Mailsi Canal and supplement it by installing suitable recharging mechanism like recharging well as pilot project. Moreover to develop efficient and sustainable techniques for artificial recharge of Aquifer using surplus rain, flood and surface water and also strengthening the ground water monitoring network in Punjab as well as to identify the different potential feasible sites for artificial recharge."


Katas Raj Pond case in Pakistan Supreme Court has brought mass media attention to the nation's existential crisis with its water resource depletion. The country needs to urgently address this looming crisis with a multi-pronged effort. It needs to build large dams and recharge its groundwater reservoirs. At the same time, Pakistan needs to find ways to conserve and more efficiently use the water resources it has.  The country needs to particularly focus on efficient farm irrigation and planting of less water intensive varieties of crops because the agriculture sector uses over 90% of all available water.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Water Scarce Pakistan

Cycles of Drought and Floods in Pakistan

Pakistan to Build Massive Dams

Dust Bowl in Thar Desert Region

Dasht River in Balochistan

Hindus in Pakistan


Taj said...

Its those two extremely large cement factories there who has sucked up all the groundwater in that area.

Riaz Haq said...

Taj: "Its those two extremely large cement factories there who has sucked up all the groundwater in that area."

It may well e the cement factories in the local vicinity but the problem of groundwater depletion is much larger in Punjab and the rest of Pakistan. It needs to be taken seriously.

The country needs to urgently address this looming crisis with a multi-pronged effort. It needs to build large dams and recharge its groundwater reservoirs. At the same time, Pakistan needs to find ways to conserve and more efficiently use the water resources it has. The country needs to particularly focus on efficient farm irrigation and planting of less water intensive varieties of crops because the agriculture sector uses over 90% of all available water.

Haseeb R. said...

Very timely report. How can this be sent to water authorities and national parties so that a fast and positive action plan starts moving forward immediately.

Riaz Haq said...

Haseeb: "How can this be sent to water authorities and national parties so that a fast and positive action plan starts moving forward immediately."

Just hope they read my blog or follow me on social media :-)

Riaz Haq said...

Small dams in Sindh to recharge aquifers:

Two projects worth Rs1.1bn were approved in water resources. These projects include construction of small dams, storage dams, delay action dams and retention wires and security barriers in Sindh worth Rs886.7m. The project is related to the issue of water scarcity, need for additional reservoirs and mining of ground water.

The main objectives are to conserve rain flood water, recharge aquifer to raise the subsoil water level and supplement the existing barani irrigation system. The scheme will also provide recreational and employment facilities to local people.

The other project worth Rs300m envisages construction of Abato, Daisara and Sanzala dam at Chamman Kila Abdullah. The project would be completed in 18 months and help address groundwater water scarcity with additional reservoir storage and increased poverty in backward irrigated areas. In environment sector, scaling up of Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) Risk Reduction in Northern Pakistan worth of Rs3.8bn was referred to Ecnec for further approvals.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan’s water experts fear for the country’s future

As its population explodes, Pakistan stares at a future where it will be a water scarce country, but currently there is little new thinking in the government on how to tackle the crisis

In Pakistan water availability per person annually is just 1,017 cubic meters, dangerously close to 1,000 cubic meters, crossing which would mean the country is water scarce. NASA’s researchers found that of the planet’s 37 largest aquifers studied between 2003 and 2013 the Indus Basin aquifer is the second-most overstressed and was being depleted while receiving little to no recharge. It is also on the World Resource Institute‘s water stress index.

At the same time, we are draining our last resort – the aquifers – faster than we can replenish them. The water table is falling at an alarming rate from one to ten feet per year at the canal command areas and almost all the urban centres. In 1960, there were about 20,000 tubewells; today there are over one million, lamented Muhammad Ashraf, chairman of the PCRWR. Nearly 50-55 MAF is pumped out, while 40-45 MAF is recharged. In the 1960s only about one MAF was pumped out.

The situation is no better at the transboundary level. There is no mention of the groundwater distribution in the 1960 transboundary Indus Waters Treaty. When the water distribution treaty was being negotiated, there was little information about the Indus basin’s aquifers but now more than ever experts want the sharing of groundwater to be included.

“There is little research on the characteristics of aquifers underlying the Indus basin. Unless and until there is reliable and shared information about the aquifers, no sound policy or sharing mechanism can be devised and it would be foolish to think that IWT could be amended without the proper research to support an amendment,” said Alam, who has studied the treaty at length.

Riaz Haq said...

Rainwater harvesting in Thar
Mohammad Hussain KhanDecember 04, 2017

The Sindh Small Dams Organisation of the provincial irrigation department has been building recharge and storage dams across the province. So far, 44 small dams have been completed and 30 are under construction to irrigate around 155,000 acres of land. In all, 70 recharge and four storage dams are to be built by the organisation.

“If a dam in our village [Chanida] is filled like the Ranpur [dam], we can cultivate the onion crop on 200 acres,” Eidal Kumar tells this writer at the dam’s site in Nagarparkar. “Whatever water is currently available [in the Chanida dam] is used by livestock,” he adds.

Recently, the multibillion-rupee Sindh Resilience Project was launched under which three small dams in Nagarparkar and 12 in Kohistan belt are to be built.

The World Bank-funded project aims to mitigate flood and drought risks in selected areas and strengthen Sindh’s capacity to manage natural disasters. The Sindh government would share 20pc cost of the project.

Of the Rs10bn cost, 80pc would be spent on small dams and 10 main river Indus’ dykes which needed refurbishment after recent floods.

The accumulation of rainwater replenishes/recharges groundwater aquifers and then water is lifted through pumps by growers for rearing animals and cultivating crops.

The sandy soil of Thar absorbs water quickly, but water table in groundwater aquifers around such dams gets improved considerably.

“At some sites [of dams], groundwater level is recorded at 20 feet which was 100 feet before it rained in that area,” says Zahid Sheikh, an irrigation officer who was looking after small dams’ construction until recently.

Besides recharge or storage dams, spate irrigation is another technique applied in areas located on the right bank of the Indus river such as Jamshoro, Dadu, Qambar-Shahdadkot and districts like Thatta, Khairpur and Malir.

According to an old study conducted by the National Engineering Services of Pakistan, around 1.4 million acres could be brought under spate irrigation for cropping in Sindh, which has such 33 sites for water conservation of hill torrents. Small farmers of these areas have remained dependent on hill torrents during Kharif crops.

Ashfaq Soomro of Research and Development Foundation said according to their study, improved structures of ponds can serve to reduce seepage and evaporation losses.

Unfortunately, Sindh has not carried out a geographical study to develop comprehensive data set for a planned effective intervention. “Generally, communities in such difficult areas are left to deal with problems on their own,” commented an expert.

Ahmad Zeeshan Bhatti of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources says a detailed mapping of Tharparkar is needed for determining potential sites to build rainwater harvesting. Since Thar’s soil is sandy, it increases the seepage ratio. Road catchment could be built to accelerate the pace of rainwater’s runoff after a cost analysis.

India has installed solar panels in water bodies to block sunlight that otherwise accelerates the pace of evaporation. The wind velocity could be controlled by raising hedges around dams, he said.

A proposal for mapping entire arid region was submitted to the federal government after hundreds of newborns died in Tharparkar in 2014 owing to malnourishment. The file has been gathering dust since then.

Riaz Haq said...

Water insecurity in Pakistan
Neil Buhne November 15, 2017

For people in Pakistan, perhaps the most immediate and serious impact is on water availability. According to a report by the World Resources Institute, Pakistan is on track to become the most water-stressed country in the region, and 23rd in the world, by the year 2040. No person in Pakistan, whether from the north with its more than 5,000 glaciers, or from the south with its ‘hyper deserts’, will be immune to this.

Pakistan’s economy is the most water-intensive worldwide, according to an IMF report. According to the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, Pakistan may run dry by 2025 if the present conditions continue. They claim that the country touched the ‘water stress line’ in 1990, and crossed the ‘water scarcity line’ in 2005, more than a decade ago, and that in relation to the scale of the problem relatively little has been done to improve the use or supply of water.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation measures the pressure on national water resources by calculating water withdrawal as a percentage of total renewable water resources (TRWR). Stresses are considered high if the TRWR value is above 25 per cent. Pakistan’s water pressure amounts to a staggering 74pc. This level of pressure is high, even when compared with neighbouring countries, such as Iran at 67pc, India at 40pc, Afghanistan at 31pc, and China at 19.5pc.


Crafting sustainable solutions will require an integrated approach to supply and demand management. In the long-term planning, coming up with strategic conservation strategies is key. Both surface and groundwater resources are being used at capacity, and current methods of extraction and uses are not only unsustainable, they are also damaging to the economy and human security today and in the future.

With the population growing even faster than projected, and the intensity of water use remaining high, if no remedial actions are taken now the water needs of the estimated 208 million Pakistanis will continue to escalate dramatically. While more reservoirs and dams may be a part of the answer, they are just one part. So, apart from building more dams and reservoirs, it is essential that Pakistan diversifies its water resources to ensure water availability. We have examples from many countries that can be adapted to Pakistan.

For instance, Singapore follows The Four Taps Strategy to tackle water shortages, and Japan has invested heavily in water-saving technologies. Similarly, we have plenty of rainwater year-round that can be recycled and stored as is being done in the Maldives.

In all those countries, a price is put on water use, so it’s important to note that for a country like Pakis­tan water is almost a free commodity. Unlike electricity, there are no water meters in houses where people pay accor­ding to usage. Thus, there is enormous, unmeasured water was­tage. To sensitise the public on water wastage it is critical that water usage is metered. Public outreach campaigns have worked elsewhere for helping put a value on water; and decreasing the intensity of water used.

Current irrigation practices are largely inefficient, and water productivity is lowest in the Indus basin’s irrigated agriculture. According to UNDP, the development of laser levelling technology and furrow-bed irrigation has resulted in saving 30pc of water and has led to an increase in productivity by 25pc in Punjab’s Okara district. Such a model should be replicated in other areas, as well as other methods, such as expanded drip irrigation farming systems.

Delaying efforts to address Pakistan’s water scarcities will intensify tensions between different stakeholders. If more Pakistanis are not to be left behind and the SDGs are to be met rapidly, reducing ‘water stress’ is crucial. Water management needs to become a top priority for Pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan Water Policy 2018.

The looming shortage of water in our beloved country has now
become a grave threat to our food, energy and water security. Today,
Pakistan’s water economy is in acute danger of running dry. Our per
capita availability of water, which was above 5,200 cubic meters at the
time of independence, has now dropped below the minimum threshold of
1,000 cubic meters per head, officially making us a water scarce country.
The prevalent water scarcity is inching towards a full-blown water crisis
and is likely to become an existential threat, unless we act decisively

This extraordinary situation requires extra ordinary measures.
Business-as-usual is simply no longer an option. We need to focus all
our energy and acumen, not only to avert an anthropogenic water crisis
but to mitigate the impacts of climate change, as Pakistan is considered
by experts to be one of the most climate vulnerable countries on the
planet. If the glacial melt which accounts for 40 percent of our river flows
accelerates, we will face heavy flooding in some years and as the snow
cap shrinks, the annual river flows will begin to decline. This, combined
with the more than usual variations in rainfall, can play havoc with the
country’s agriculture sector and threaten its food security system.
Taking cognizance of this grave state of affairs, we deem it
necessary to sign a Charter in the broader interest of the present and
future generations of this country, and have forged a consensus that:
 The demand-supply gap of freshwater is broadening on account
of the population explosion, rapid urbanization and sub-optimal
use of this precious resource in all sectors;
 sustainable consumption and production patterns need to be
adopted by law as a water intensive foot-print is no longer an
 since there is no additional water available to inject in the Indus
River System, a holistic and aggressive management regime for
the judicious use of available resources is mandatory;
 being a single basin country lying in a Monsoon region,
Pakistan needs to build a number of reservoirs so as to
conserve some of annual surplus flows that escape into the sea
Page 3 of 4
keeping in view the effects of sea water intrusion, importance of
conserving aquatic ecosystem and to act as a shield against
water related disasters and climate change;
 conservation and scientific management of water is as
important as augmentation; It is unacceptable and ironic that a
substantial portion of the water diverted to canals is lost in the
conveyance system;
 contamination of water has taken its toll on public health and
80% diseases are water borne, responsible for billions of
rupees in lost productivity and medical and social costs.
With the commitment and intent to achieve water security for our people,
we hereby pledge that;
1. Top most priority will be given to water sector and development
spending will be increased significantly with judicious
distribution among all sub sectors including disaster
management and WASH
2. Inter provincial coordination will be fostered to implement
transformational infrastructure development in an equitable and
amicable and harmonious manner
3. Transfer of political power from one regime to the other does
not affect water sector development in any way and that
approved projects shall continue as per agreed time and cost
4. Water resources planning and development will be entrusted to
high level qualified professionals.
We firmly resolve that dedicated efforts will be made and all
resources will be utilized to avert the water crisis and mitigate
Page 4 of 4
the anticipated impact of climate change on water security. We
believe that sincere efforts made today will translate into a
water secure future for the coming generations of Pakistan, and
we pledge to leave no stone unturned in this endeavor.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan: Focus on water crisis
REPORT from IRIN Published on 29 Jan 2002

The problem is not only that too much water is not good for the crop but that the water thus wasted is in short supply. Water availability per person in Pakistan today is 1,000 cubic metres, down from 5,600 cubic metres per person in 1947, the year that the country gained independence from Britain. There were about 35 million people in Pakistan in 1947. Today there are nearly 140 million, but water availability has remained the same.

"I need water for properly irrigating my fields before tilling the soil for sowing wheat seeds," 35 year-old Ahmed told IRIN in a field in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) town of Mardan. "The more water I give to the soil, the better it will be," he said. Unless the fallacy of this outdated custom is exposed without delay, the adverse effects resulting from it could cost Pakistan dear.

This widespread practice among the farming community is already ringing alarm bells for water experts in Pakistan, still affected by the effects of a three-year drought.

"When Pakistan was created, our water resources were the same as they are today - about 138 million acre feet [the volume of water that would cover an area of one acre to the depth of one foot]," Muhammad Akram Kahlown, chairman of Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, told IRIN in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.


One solution is the development of reservoirs. At least six new dams are planned to be built over the next 20 years. However, in the short term, the situation of the country's two largest reservoirs is far from satisfactory.

"On the average, we have inflows of 146 million acre feet of water in normal years, but for the last three years it is a drought-like situation. Last year, our shortage of water was 25 to 30 percent. During this Rabi [winter crop season] it is about 50 percent short," Riaz Ahmed Khan, chairman of the Federal Flood Commission of Pakistan, told IRIN.

"In normal years we use about 35 million acres of water during Rabi, but this year only 18 million is available," he said. Part of the problem was the shortage of water in the Mangla and Tarbela dams, he explained.

Mangla Dam's capacity to store water is 1,202 ft, and the dead level is 1,040 ft - the level reached after which water is not withdrawn to avert the silting up of the power tunnels. Tarbela's maximum level is 1,560 ft, and the dead level is 1,369 ft. Both the dams are short of water, and if rains are not timely, disaster could befall the country's irrigation network.

Experts say Pakistan's vast irrigation network - comprising three main reservoirs, 19 dams, 43 main canals and a conveyance length of 57,000 km - is ageing and highly inefficient.

Riaz Ahmed Khan said Pakistan pumps 106 million acre feet of water into the canals. Almost 36 million acre feet are lost to seepage, which in turn causes waterlogging, rendering the land uncultivable.

Pakistani officials say that with financial assistance from the World Bank and other multilateral sources the government is working on a drainage project to address this problem within the next few years.


Kahlown said 45 million acre feet of water are added to the irrigation system from the ground water available in the country. But during the last three years massive pumping out of ground water had taken place.

"If there are no rains soon, we will be in bad shape. In the past, a tube well which used to work for four hours, now pumps water out 20 hours a day," he said, adding that this practice was unsustainable.

"Of the 565,000 total tube wells in Pakistan, nearly 70 percent are now pumping hard water or saline water, because sweet water has been exhausted. If the drought persists for a year or so, it will mean that there will be more pressure on these tube wells," he said.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan's total dam capacity of 28.81 cubic kilometer or 22.5 million acre feet (MAF). It has remained flat since 1980.

Pakistan will double its water storage capacity to at least 28 million acre feet (MAF) of water from existing 14 MAF increasing the storage capacity from 10 to 20 percent of total water flows, reveals the draft document of National Water Policy (NWP) prepared during last 7 decades and tabled in Common Council of Interests (CCI) that met with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in the chair here on Tuesday.

Though the CCI attended by three chief ministers of Sindh, KP, Balochistan and Finance Minister of Punjab deliberated the draft of the National Water Policy in detail and decided that the said draft with more inputs from federating units be brought in next meeting for approval.

However, as per the copy of draft of the policy, in procession of this scribe, the authorities in Pakistan will also carve out the plan of reduction of 33 percent in 46 million cares feet river flows that are lost in conveyance. The decision makers will also come up with the plan to increase at least 30 percent in the efficiency of water use by produce more crop per drop ensuring g the gradual replacement and refurbishing of irrigation system.

Mentioning about the agriculture sector, the NWP draft point outs saying that the strategies and action plans shall be prepared to ensure food security of people of Pakistan focusing the concept of ‘More Crop per Drop’ that will be pursued with full determination.

Riaz Haq said...

Mr Gandapur, the former chairman of the Irsa, wrote letters to the president and prime minister in which he said: “The IWT ceases to function as Tarbela and Mangla reservoirs have lost 6.6MAF of replacement storage due to silting.” – File Photo
ISLAMABAD: With Pakistan increasingly becoming water deficient, Indus River System Authority (Irsa) has drawn up plans for creating capacity to store an additional 20 million acre feet (MAF) of water on ‘war footing’ to keep the economy floating.

The Irsa finalised recommendations in this regard with input from all its members after a former chairman of the authority, Fatehullah Khan Gandapur, set off alarm bells by declaring that Indus Water Treaty (IWT) of 1960 was almost dead because of excessive losses in storage capacity.

Mr Gandapur wrote letters to the president and prime minister in which he said: “The IWT ceases to function as Tarbela and Mangla reservoirs have lost 6.6MAF of replacement storage due to silting.”

He criticised the team of bureaucrats currently engaged in negotiating the country’s water rights with India and said the officials were simply incapable of handling “an issue of national survival”.

“Blatant violations of the treaty by India by building dozens of low and high dams on all the six rivers and tributaries has exceeded the allowable storage limit of 4.19MAF fixed in the treaty,” he said. So far, the dams have created 10MAF of dead storage and 25-30MAF of live storage, depriving Pakistan of its water rights for Rabi and Kharif crops.

More high dams are under construction.

Sources told Dawn that on the directives of the president and prime minister, the government’s adviser on water and the Irsa members had a marathon briefing session with the former Irsa chairman early this week and finalised recommendations for creation of additional storage capacity. The recommendations would be submitted to the prime minister for approval.

The report on the recommendations says the situation will become worse in the next couple of years. That’s why it is imperative that an additional capacity of 20MAF be created on war footing to protect the agricultural economy.

The Irsa also warned the government about the proposed construction of around a dozen dams by Afghanistan on Kabul river and suggested that talks be initiated immediately with the Afghans for finalising an agreement to protect Pakistan’s water rights.

The Irsa seconded Mr Gandapur’s proposal for construction of the 37MAF Katzarah Dam near Skardu because it was non-controversial and could enhance the expected life of the downstream dams and barrages, including Tarbela and Diamer-Bhasha.

The authority was also in agreement with Mr Gandapur’s suggestion that the multipurpose 8.5MAF Guroh Dop dam on river Panjkora near Chitral should be built for storing every year about 7-8MAF of water that ultimately falls into Kabul river.

This would stop water from Panjkora from going into Afghan territory. It said a water treaty with Afghanistan was important because Panjkora or Chitral river contributed more than 50 per cent of the Kabul flows.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan’s #water shortage is a myth. Pakistan is world's biggest exporter of #groundwater in form of global #food trade. #watercrisis … via @ecobusinesscom

The country’s water scarcity is socially constructed, and large farmers engaged in agricultural exports are the culprits and the beneficiaries of it.

I recently came across some real news about Pakistan which merits sharing, and commenting. According to a July, 2017 article by Carole Dalin at University College, London and fellow authors, in Nature, the world’s top journal for scientific knowledge, Pakistan is the largest exporter of depleted groundwater embedded in agricultural exports in the world. We account for 29 per cent of the global trade in agricultural products grown from over abstraction of groundwater, ahead of the United States (27 per cent) and India (12 per cent). So we are number one in something, should we be happy and proud that we even beat the United States, let alone India? Or is there a cause for concern?

The research presented by Dalinet al. is predicated upon the concept of virtual water coined by my esteemed colleague, Professor Tony Allan, at King’s College, London. The concept is simply that all agricultural, or for that matter any industrial products require a certain amount of water to produce, which is embedded in those products as virtual water. For example, it takes about 22,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of beef, 1,350 litres for one kilogram of wheat, 3,000 litres for a kilogram of rice, 140 litres for a cup of coffee etc. As a water researcher, I have my reservations about the concept and its use, which are beside the point. One has to concede that it is an amazing teaching devise for drawing attention to the impact on water resources, for producing goods and services, particularly agricultural products that make our life styles possible.

So what does it mean that Pakistan is the largest exporter of depleted groundwater as virtual water through its agricultural exports? In Pakistan, up to 80 per cent of the water required by crops to grow comes from groundwater, and not from surface water, as is commonly believed. In fresh groundwater zones, most of the water is in fact, surface water that seeps through canals into groundwater, that is pumped back up to the surface for agriculture. Groundwater extraction rates in Pakistan are much beyond the natural recharge rates, at which the groundwater is replenished


Is there an absolute scarcity of water in Pakistan? How can the largest exporter of virtual water protest water scarcity? The answer simply is that there is no absolute water scarcity. It is socially constructed, and large farmers engaged in agricultural exports are the culprits and the beneficiaries of it. There are only three types of water storage: glaciers, surface (dams) and groundwater. We have one of the largest reserves of groundwater in the world, and we misuse it for the benefit of commercial interests. The Chinese when they prioritise agricultural investments under the Chinese Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are not looking for land. They have plenty of it. They want our water. We would do well to remember that in this season of hollering about conspiracies and attacks on democracy.

Riaz Haq said...

Restore Pakistan’s rivers, handle floods, droughts and climate change
Managing river systems can help Pakistan manage floods, deal with droughts, create engines for a green economy, as well as help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions more effectively and more cheaply than big dams, argue Hassan Abbas and Asghar Hussain

A recent study published by Springer in 2019 – The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment (authored by 210 scientists from 22 countries), warns that these mountains could lose between one-third to two-thirds of its ice fields by 2100. Melting glaciers at this scale will initially result in greater river flows by 2050-60, increasing the risks of heavier floods, bigger landslides, excessive soil erosion, dam busts and silting of reservoirs etc. As the glacial melt begins to decline subsequently, that pattern is predicted to reverse, especially in the dry summer months, resulting in harsher droughts, and lower energy output from hydropower dams. But worst of all, tensions between neighboring communities and countries would likely increase over shared water resources.

Global warming due to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions results in higher air and ocean temperatures. Warmer oceans mean more evaporation from the oceans, and warmer air means more moisture holding capacity of the air – resulting in bigger and heavier clouds, and bigger and heavier precipitation (rains and snow fall) events. Studies have also pointed out that higher energy in the atmospheric system is pushing the storms and clouds further north and south from the equator, depriving some regions which used to receive rains while increasing rains in others.

The case of Pakistan is unique due to the presence of the world’s tallest mountains in the north. On the one hand, the mountains would block the clouds from moving further north, and on the other, bigger and heavier clouds would drop heavier loads of water in the mountains, ultimately bringing more water into the rivers. Many scientific studies have predicted increased net precipitation in South Asia as a consequence of global warming.

In sum, Pakistani rivers will initially have more water in the drier summer months due to higher glacial melting until 2050-60, and thereafter much less; the wetter months, however, will see bigger and heavier clouds that would bring more water in the rivers; and, with more energy in the system, the frequency and severity of the extreme events, longer droughts and heavier flooding, would increase.

The current-day science, therefore, provides us with a basis to decide upon the dos and don’ts of a climate change strategy that has to deal with longer droughts, heavier flooding, and GHG emissions. What we need, therefore, is to (i) learn to live with larger floods; (ii) improve our capacity to survive longer droughts; and (iii) invoke engines of green economy that help reduce GHGs and enhance sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Riaz Haq said...

Restore Pakistan’s rivers, handle floods, droughts and climate change
Managing river systems can help Pakistan manage floods, deal with droughts, create engines for a green economy, as well as help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions more effectively and more cheaply than big dams, argue Hassan Abbas and Asghar Hussain

Let us start with flood management, and specifically the lessons learnt from the floods of 2010. These brought in an estimated flood volume of 48 million acre feet (MAF) – more than four times the combined capacity of all dams in the country, which inundated 14.8 million acres to an average depth of 3.28 feet (1 metre). The inundation in most districts of (Pakistan) Punjab and Sindh lasted from three to four months. The large extent and long duration of inundation points to the fact that the natural landscape of the Indus Basin has developed in a way that does not facilitate free drainage on the one hand. On the other, the landscape lacks the natural capacity to absorb floods. The scale of these floods cannot be handled with existing or even additional dams. Moreover, the hydrological regime predicted for the future has more silt to choke reservoirs, bigger flood waves threatening dam bursts and little water in summer to generate hydropower. Under such regimes, thinking of building more dams even for hydropower, let alone control flood, is a risky affair.

Many national and international studies after that 2010 floods concluded that structural impacts such as backwater flow from barrages, restricted flood-carrying capacity of rivers due to engineered dykes and levees, high embankments of canals in the flood plains, and destruction of wetlands and riverine forests for agriculture combined to cause river avulsions and levee failures. The engineering and development of the Indus basin, in other words, exacerbated the flood damages. The structures could only avoid disasters within their design capacity, but beyond that, they made people even more vulnerable.

Climate change has added a layer of uncertainty on the estimation of engineering design parameters such as ‘maximum probable floods’, which are generally based on historical data. Putting cascades of dams along the rivers and constructing higher dykes to restrict river’s flooding would only increase the damages in case of failure.

See Indus cascade – a disaster in the making

See Indus cascade a Himalayan blunder

Restoring capacity of riverine corridors

Management of riverine corridors and active flood plains is the key to managing large and frequent floods. What we need is to restore the capacities of riverine corridors to pass bigger floods, rehabilitate lost wetlands to absorb flood peaks, and regenerate forests in floodplains to break flood velocities and complement aquifer recharge. The estimated area of Pakistan’s riverine corridors and active floodplains is approximately 21,000 square kilometres as shown on the map. These areas are government-owned lands along 3,186 kilometres of the rivers with an average width of 6.6 kilometres. With proper management of wetlands and forests in this area, it could hold and recharge between 30 to 50 MAF of water during a flood.

Riaz Haq said...

Small dams, a harbinger of resolving Pakistan’s water woes,of%20natural%20disasters%2C%20he%20said.

Known as the home of longest River Indus (3180km) in Asia, Pakistan is a unique country with plenty of small and big rivers gifted with natural sites for construction of more dams to address the longstanding water woes of the country.

The country has more than 24 big and small rivers including five in Punjab, four in Sindh, eight in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and seven in Balochistan had numerous suitable natural sites for construction of small, medium and big dams to fulfill the growing water needs of the people.

Pakistan is also the home of rivers Chanab, Jhelum, Ravi, Sutlaj and Beas in Punjab, Kabul, Swat, Punjkora, Kunhar, Bara, Kurram, Haroo, Gomal, Chitral in KP, Nari, Bolan, Pishin, Lara, Mula, Hub, Zhob, Porali, Hangol, Rakshan, Dasht in Balochistan and four rivers in Sindh province.

These rivers are endowed with a number of potential sites at Diamir Bhasa, Dasu Kohistan, Kalabagh on River Sindh, Mohamad and Kalam on River Swat, Shalman Khyber on River Kabul, Tangi on River Kurram in North Waziristan, Kaghan-Naran on River Kunhar for construction of water reservoirs.

Despite having enormous water potential, Pakistan is gradually moving towards water-scared country where most of living creatures including humans, animals, plants, wildlife, mammals and reptiles are facing the looming threats of water scarcity.

The National Water Policy (NWP) 2018 has revealed that Pakistan was heading towards a situation of water shortage due to lack of water reservoirs, which may lead to food insecurity for all living creatures by 2025.

The policy disclosed that per capita surface water availability has significantly declined from 5,260 cubic meters per year in 1951 to around 1,000 cubic meters in 2016.

This quantity is likely to further drop to 860 cubic meters by 2025, marking Pakistan’s transition from a water stressed country to a water scarce country.

The groundwater situation is expected to further drop in the country mostly in Punjab and Sindh where one million tube-wells are currently pumping about 55 million acres feet (MAF) of underground water for irrigation, which is 20pc more than that available from canals.

Talking to APP, former Ambassador of Pakistan Manzoorul Haq said, “the policy’s findings are alarming. We need to swiftly shift our approach from construction of big dams to small dams that can prove harbinger of self-sufficiency in food and increasing exports of agro-based industries.”

He said water resources were inextricably linked with climate and the impending climate change scenario has posed serious implications for Pakistan’s water resources.

The changing and unpredictable precipitation patterns may have serious consequences, including flash floods in north and increasingly prolonged droughts in the south, he added.

Manzoorul Haq said that the glaciers retreat, more glacial lakes will form, increasing the risk of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) that is already becoming increasingly common and hazardous in northern parts of the country.

The small dams are only remedy to store flood and rainy water mostly in arid areas like Karak, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Kohat, DI Khan, DG Khan, Bhakkar, Bahawalpur, Multan, Tharparkar besides merged areas of erstwhile Fata to bring maximum dry land under cultivation and minimize impact of natural disasters, he said.


He said 46,000 dams have been constructed worldwide whereas China has built 22,000 dams and India 4,500 dams.


Mujahid Saeed, Director General Small Dams Irrigation Department said feasibility studies and designs of 26 small dams having 166,282 cultivable command area and 555,103 acres feet storage capacity, has been either completed or practical work in progress in different districts of KP.

Riaz Haq said...

Managing Groundwater Resources in Pakistan’s Indus Basin

Improved groundwater management is crucial for a healthy, wealthy, and green Pakistan. Pakistan’s Indus Basin Irrigation System is the largest artificial groundwater recharge system in the world, but the current water management paradigm doesn’t reflect it.
Over-abstraction, waterlogging and contamination threaten the crucial role of groundwater as a life-sustaining resource, which has cascading impacts on drought resilience, public health, and environmental sustainability.
For groundwater to remain a safe and reliable source of drinking water and a lifeline for tail-end farmers, a balance must be achieved between efficiency of the surface water system and sustainability of groundwater resources.


In the past, these challenges were aggravated by an inadequate policy framework, lack of regulation and insufficient investments. Unregulated pumping has led to groundwater depletion and the drying up of wells in parts of Punjab. Excess irrigation in areas where groundwater levels are high is contributing to widespread waterlogging in Sindh. An increasing volume of unmanaged domestic and industrial wastewater is seeping into the ground, adding to the cocktail of contaminants affecting drinking water supplies. Inadequate data collection has inhibited the ability to adopt evidence-based policies to improve groundwater management.

Improving groundwater management, however, is integral to Pakistan’s economic development. According to the World Bank report Pakistan: Getting More from Water, without necessary reform and better demand management in the water sector, water scarcity will constrain Pakistan from reaching upper middle-income status by 2047.

In recent years, Pakistan has taken steps towards addressing modern groundwater challenges, starting with the National Water Policy 2018 which identified priorities for groundwater management. This was followed by the Punjab Water Policy in 2018 and the Punjab Water Act 2019. The policy emphasizes the need to curb groundwater over-abstraction and contamination, and the Act establishes a regime of licenses for abstraction and wastewater disposal, managed by newly created regulatory bodies.

Punjab is also developing a provincial Groundwater Management Plan. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a similar act was passed in 2020 while in Sindh, a draft Water Policy is underway to provide much needed direction for tackling waterlogging and salinity, and for conjunctive management of surface water and groundwater. The federal government is drafting a five-year National Groundwater Management Plan to provide a framework for coordinating groundwater stakeholders across Pakistan.

These are important first steps. Going forward, the challenge will be to implement and deepen these initial reforms to ensure the long-term sustainability of Pakistan’s vital groundwater resources.

Groundwater in Pakistan’s Indus Basin: Present and Future Prospects proposes a roadmap to improve groundwater management, focusing on four intervention areas: appointing a coordinating agency that is accountable for groundwater management across all sectors in each province; establishing a modern groundwater database; managing water resources conjunctively; and improving groundwater quality.

As the last 100 years have shown, the Indus Basin’s groundwater challenges are complex and varied and demand an adaptive management response. Recent reforms in parts of the basin provide a basis for a more ambitious groundwater agenda, including the calculation of water budgets, wider engagement of stakeholders, comprehensive monitoring of water balances to manage waterlogging and depletion, the identification of opportunities for managed aquifer recharge, and a more rigorous approach towards safeguarding water quality.