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."

Summary:

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

8 comments:

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:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1358738

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
https://www.thethirdpole.net/2016/06/14/pakistans-water-experts-fear-for-the-countrys-future/

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

https://www.dawn.com/news/1374301

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

https://www.dawn.com/news/1370550


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.

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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.