Water Crisis- Soluble or Insoluble?


Thomas Fuller said, ‘we never know the worth of water till the well is dry.’

The aphorism depicts the prevailing water crisis in Pakistan. The situation worsened when Indian Prime Minister Narinder Modi inaugurated these hydroelectric projects; 330-MW Kishanganga hydel station in Bandipore and laying of the foundation of the 1,000-MW Pakul Dul project in Kishtwar in Jammu & Kashmir. Times of India reported that these projects indicate his government’s political will to respond to Pakistan’s use of terrorism against India with every option at its command, including utilizing India ‘s full share of water from western tributaries of the Indus, as possible leverage points.

Before, evaluating Indian aggressive water policy or mismanagement water issues in Pakistan, it is important to understand what water resources are available for Pakistan.

Abundant Resources of Water

Pakistan has been blessed with abundant natural water resources which include streams of water flowing down the Himalayas and Karakorum heights forming rivers that flow in to the Arabian Sea, to some of the largest glaciers in the world, both self-replenishing sources. Pakistan possess one of the largest irrigation network in the world which is capable of irrigating over 16 million hectors of land out of 34 million hectors of cultivable land available. Other sources of water available in Pakistan are rainfall, surface water available in rivers and underground water.

Surface Water

Surface water sources comprise of Indus River Basin (IRB): Jhelum, Chenab and Sutlej. It covers an area of 516,600 sq. km. From this annually 141.67 million acre feet (MAF) of water is being received. Closed Basin Kharan Desert and its main rivers are Pishin Lora, Baddo Rakhshan, Mashkhel and many other streams. It covers an area of 120,100 sq. km. Here we are getting approximately 4.5 MAF of water. Lastly, Makran coastal basin constitutes of streams of Malir, Hub, Porali, Kud, Hingol, Nai, Mashhai, Dasht, Nihing and Kech. It covers an area of 122,400 sq. km and its main source of water is rainfall. From this basin 0.78 MAF of water is usable.

Underground Water

According to National Geological survey, the recharge or absorption to the ground is around 72 MAF, out of which about 48 MAF is in the command of Indus Basin Irrigation System (IBIS). Ground water is also found in some rain-fed (barani) lands and inter-mountain valleys at depths varying from 100 to 200 feet. Total of 240.22 MAF of water is available from eastern / western rivers and rainfall.

Water Reservoirs

Pakistan currently has three main reservoirs, which are Mangla dam, Tarbela dam and Chashma barrage. More small reservoirs like Warsak, Baran dam hub, Khanpur, Tanda, Rawal, Simly, Bakht khan Hamal lake, Mancher lake, Kinjhar lake and Chotiari lake also included as small storage.

Existing water storage capacity of Pakistan’s larger reservoirs:

Tarbela Dam

World’s largest earth and rock filled dam was built at Tarbela on Indus River in 1976 with storage capacity of 11.6 MAF and a live storage capacity of 9.68 MAF. From last 35 years of operation its storage capacity has been reduced to 24.6 %, due to silting and now only 7.26 MAF live storage capacity is available.

However, 4 extension projects have been completed to increase production which balances the country’s cumulative demand of energy. In March 2018, PM Khaqan Abbasi inaugurated the 4 extension project on Tarbela Dam reservoir. The T-4 project will pay pivotal role in  adding  electricity of up to 1,410 MW to national grid. The T-5 extension plan on this reservoir has been planned out which should reach completion by 2022.

Mangla Dam

Second largest reservoir of Pakistan, Mangla, was built on River Jhelum in 1962 with a live storage capacity of 5.41 MAF which has been reduced to 4.67 MAF (2005). It was a multipurpose project, primarily designed for irrigation.

Its upgradation has been completed in 4 different stages to help meet the energy demands of the country.

Chashma Barrage

Chashma Barrage reservoir was built on river Indus in 1971. It is one of the first barrages that regulate flows of River Kabul that empties into Indus River upstream near Attock.  The live storage capacity of barrage is 0.717 MAF which has been reduced to 0.487 MAF.

Utilization of Water

Water is the basic requirement for all living entities. In Pakistan the usage of water distribution is categorized as follows:  Agriculture (90%), Power Generation (30%), Drinking Water (10-15%) and Industry Sector. On the whole, each of the sectors is not receiving the required volume of water to fulfill its needs.

Scarcity of Water

Does the aforementioned data really depict that Pakistan is rapidly running out of water resources or is it just a myth? Without any doubt, the country is facing severe threat of water scarcity, there are many reasons and factors for these water shortfalls but mismanagement of water sources is the primary cause.

Following are potential causes of water scarcity:

  • No national policy for justified water distribution
  • Insufficient water storage reservoirs
  • Wastage of water; approximately Rs 25 billion water everyday
  • Politicization of water related issues
  • India’s construction of dams
  • Low price of water consumption
  • Lack of awareness on efficient usage of water among masses
  • Climate Change- decline in rain fall 

Indian Water Terrorism

Pakistan and India are signatories of Indus Water Treaty (IWT)- 1960, according to this treaty, water of western rivers Jhelum and Chenab would be available for Pakistan flowing from Jammu & Kashmir whereas eastern rivers Satluj, Bias, Ravi would be in India’s control.

As per UN report, Pakistan is at 7th position in the list of countries which are facing water crisis. Pakistan can become severely water stressed by 2025 if proper measures are not taken.

India has been constructing dams and barrages on western rivers which is a plain violation of IWT. It has planned to construct 155 hydel projects, according to Permanent Indus Commission (PIWC). PIWC provides platform for two signatories to solve, share and inspection mechanism. Moreover, 41 hydro projects and 21 hydro plants were under construction in addition to 155. The Krishanganga hydro plant was also part of these projects.

India has adopted an offensive policy to pressurize and damage Pakistan for supporting freedom struggle in Indian occupied Kashmir. BJP backed PM Modi has made it clear to Pakistan that any form of support to the Indian occupied Kashmir will be considered an act of terrorism and India will respond with all available means. This of course is India’s way of justifying their open and clear violation of water treaties.

Does India really need these additional dams?

India who proclaims itself as world’s largest democracy, with a population of 1.354 billion (2018). The second most populated country of the world. More than 1.1 billion people are living under water scarce conditions. According to Ministry of Water Resources of India, 1 out of 4 deaths are due to scarcity of water and deaths due to water related diseases lies between 34-67%.

Like Pakistan, there are more or less same causes of water crisis in India. Despite construction of multiple water management projects, common man still suffers from water related issues.

India has recognized their water requirements and challenges and are acting on it by formulating a policy based on domestic benefits and countering Pakistan’s interests.

Security Issues

In Indo-Pakistan scenario, if current situation of water scarcity persists, particularly, if India continues its violation of water treaties; it would become another core of factor of tension between two countries besides the Kashmir issue.

The abovementioned information related to Indian non-stop violation of IWT may become continuous reason for future skirmishes across the border. Both nuclear states, must ensure that such conflicts not only do not escalate but are also timely resolved in order to avoid a bigger catastrophe.

Pakistan’s weak foreign policies and deteriorating global influence is one of the reasons why India managed to construct disputed and controversial hydel projects. Pakistan’s appeals to concerned international bodies for the resolution of such violations by India are being ignored or facing intentional delays.

The role of international community has always been unfavorable for resolving such matters. Lately, the bilateral talks between Pakistan and Indian delegations reached no settlement because of India’s stubborn attitude. The meeting was held to address the concerns of Pakistan on the controversial construction of Krishanganga project on Neelum river. The World Bank which acted as an arbitrator for both the countries for IWT added that the treaty only gives ‘limited and procedural role’ and bank can only supervise the negotiations.

Damaging effects of water scarcity on the economic growth of Pakistan would be inevitable. Agriculture which is the back bone of the country is already facing severe problems due to water shortages. Banana, mango, wheat, cotton and rice production has already dropped dramatically. Many exporters have been forced to cancel their export contracts as they are unable to meet the demand and quality requirements.


A well thought out and mutually acceptable plan is needed to resolve this crisis.

  • A national policy is needed to ensure water management needs.
  • Metered usage of water consumption for domestic, agricultural and industrial users
  • Launch awareness campaigns urban as well as in rural areas, especially in schools
  • Encourage the tree plantation in the country to control the climate change
  • Political consensus on building more water reservoirs in the country
  • Develop and execute simple but comprehensive foreign policy specifically addressing national and global water crisis issues
  • Invest in innovative technologies for water recycling and power generation.


Pakistan is a country rich in natural resources. But natural resources are not infinite and have to be managed intelligently. A long term vision based on current and projected population growth and resource requirements is needed. With a population of mostly young and talented people, Pakistan still has a very strong chance of reversing the crisis and overcoming the water stress challenges.

By Samra Saeed