Pakistan becoming water-stressed: Irsa

Says per capita water availability has went down to below 1,000 cubic meters

ISLAMABAD: The Indus River System Authority (Irsa) has conceded that Pakistan is becoming a water-stressed country as the availability of per capita water has declined. Irsa told Senate the other day, “It is true that Pakistan is becoming a water-stressed country as the per capita water availability has went down to below 1,000 cubic meters.” The Authority however said that Indus Basin System still had the capacity of providing additional 22.4 maf water for storage.

In reply to a question, raised by PML-N Senator Nuzhat Saddiq, Irsa partially accepted the claim made by IMF that Pakistan was among the 36 water-stressed countries, an official source told The Nation yesterday. PML-N Senator Nuzhat Saddiq had inquired from IRSA about the veracity of the IMF claims that Pakistan was becoming a water-stressed country and Indus Basin had already touched its limit and there was no space for further distribution of Basin water among the provinces.

However Irsa said the Indus Basin could still provide ample opportunity of water storage and its distribution among the provinces, the source maintained. Annually 30 maf water flows to downstream Kotri and the environmentalists’ survey had recommended that 8.6 maf flow of water to downstream Kotri was essential to protect flora and fauna in that region. It means that the Indus Basin still had additional 22.4 maf water to be stored, even after the release of 8.6 maf water to downstream Kotri for environmental purposes, the source claimed.

The IMF report “Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full?”, blaming lack of proper management, had recently warned that water scarcity in Pakistan could threaten all aspects of national economy.

“Pakistan is among the world’s 36 most water-stressed countries and the situation gets worse as the population increases.”
“Pakistan is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world despite an abundant endowment, crops are predominantly irrigated, and agriculture consumes about 95 percent of annual available surface water. Yet agriculture is largely untaxed, even though it accounts for 21 percent of GDP and employs 40 percent of the population,” the report had said.

The report further stated that the canal water in Pakistan was vastly underpriced, recovering only one-quarter of annual operating and maintenance costs.

Per capita annual water availability in Pakistan has dropped from 5,600 cubic meters at the time of independence to the current level of 1,017 cubic meters, and is projected to decline further under the current infrastructure and institutional conditions. At the same time demand for water is on the rise, projected to reach 274 million acre-feet (MAF) by 2025, while supply is expected to remain stagnant at 191 MAF, resulting in a demand-supply gap of approximately 83 MAF.

Pakistan depends on a single source, the Indus system and its tributaries, for most of its water supply needs. Pakistan is exposed to extreme weather conditions including severe episodes of floods and droughts that wreak significant havoc on the country’s agricultural, livestock and water infrastructure. Much of these costs have been attributed to lack of adequate storage capacity and control structures. Pakistan’s current total dams’ storage capacity is enough for 30 days, compared to 1,000 days for Egypt and 220 days for India.

According to the IMF report globally, 1.2 billion people, or one in six, live in areas with an inadequate water supply, approximately one in nine lacks access to safe drinking water, and every minute a child dies of a water-related disease.

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