Water Security Management

India’s Water Projects and its Impact on National Economy

Pakistan is highly dependent on agriculture, which in turn is dependent on water. Pakistan is an agricultural country where 62% of its population (mainly rural) is dependent on the agriculture sector. Without any doubt, almost 80% of Pakistan’s agriculture is dependent on irrigation. Many of Pakistan’s industries are agro-based such as the textiles industry. Moreover, 70% of Pakistan’s food needs are fulfilled domestically. Eighty percent of its agricultural output comes from the Indus Basin. Above statistics prove our heavy reliance on agriculture sector viz-a-viz requirement of uninterrupted flow of water to this region. Water will remain a critical resource for sustained economic development. Irrigation network of Pakistan is one of the largest infrastructural enterprise accounting for approximately USD 300 billion of investment (at current rates) and contributing approximately USD 16 billion, or nearly 25% to the country’s GDP. Irrigated agriculture contributes 90% of food while “barani” provides the remaining 10%. Irrigated area in Pakistan has increased from 8.40 Mha in 1947 to 18.09 Mha at present, due to construction of large number of irrigation interventions and a huge number of tube wells. Resultantly, Pakistan now owns the largest contiguous irrigated area in the world. Indus Basin System has three super dams (besides 68 other large dams according to ICOLD definition), 19 river barrages, 12 inter-river link canals, 45 huge canal commands, and over 600,000 tube wells, besides nearly 18,000 km drainage network to dispose off agriculture effluent with one drain taking a sizeable part of the saline effluent right into the sea. Presently, in Pakistan approximately 90% of water is being utilized for irrigation purposes, remaining water is being utilized by urban and rural population and industry. However, by year 2025 Pakistan’s population is set to increase considerably from present population of 210 million. Therefore percentage of water required especially for urban water supply is set to increase dramatically. This will put further pressure on our water resources which are already facing an acute shortage in meeting demands across all sectors.

On April 1, 1948, India being an upper riparian state holding a position of strength and knowing well that shortage of water can create adverse effects on economy of Pakistan, stopped the supply of water from every channel flowing from India to Pakistan. Pakistan protested and India finally agreed on an interim agreement on May 4, 1948. This agreement was not a permanent solution; therefore, in 1952 World Bank was approached to help settle the problem. Finally in September 1960, an agreement with the name of “Indus Waters Treaty” (IWT) was signed between India and Pakistan. This agreement was considered as a remarkable example of conflict resolution.

Important Points of IWT

•   All the waters of the three Eastern Rivers (Ravi, Sutlej and Beas) shall be available for unrestricted use of India. Pakistan shall be under an obligation to let flow and shall not permit any interference with water of the Sutlej Main and the Ravi Main in the reaches where these rivers flow in Pakistan and have not yet finally crossed into Pakistan. Pakistan however can only use it for non-consumptive and domestic purposes.

•   All the waters, while flowing in Pakistan, of any tributary which in its natural course joins the Sutlej Main or the Ravi Main after these rivers have finally crossed into Pakistan shall be available for the unrestricted use of Pakistan.

•   Pakistan shall receive unrestricted use of all the waters of the Western Rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab). India shall be under an obligation to let flow all the waters of the western rivers, and shall not permit any interference with these waters.

Furthermore, the aggregate storage capacity on western rivers was provided to India as per details given in Table 1 below:

Indian Projects on Western Rivers

The Permanent Indus Water Commission (PIWC), provides an ongoing mechanism for consultation and conflict resolution through inspection, exchange of data and visits between the two countries. As per the list compiled by PIWC, India plans to construct 155 hydropower projects/dams (small and big) in violation of the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960. If a project has an installed capacity of 4 MW it will have no effect on the flow of water. India, because of its nefarious designs gives limited data of its projects, either completed or planned. Moreover, India, is constructing large number of dams on western rivers of which the major ones include 17 on River Chenab, 5 on River Jhelum and 11 on River Indus as given in Table 2 below. The aggregate power generation capacity of those dams is several thousand MWs, which gives an index capacity of their operating pools and impacts on downstream flow regime.

As a worst case scenario, agriculture and electricity aside, Indian blockade of Pakistani water will seriously damage Pakistani social fabric as there will be a severe reduction in productivity and millions of people will be deprived of food and water. India has explicit designs of employing fifth generational warfare tool i.e., Food and Water War which can prove extremely disastrous for Pakistan. It is quite possible that as a result of Indian nefarious designs, riots in large cities and towns may erupt and this would jolt the law and order situation in the country. Such incidents with less intensity have already taken place in Pakistan against constant load-shedding of electricity and shortage of water particularly in Karachi. If India continues with the current policy of ‘water aggression’ , war between two countries may appear as a final arbiter. International community and those interested in peace between India and Pakistan must come forward now to end this ‘water aggression’ by India.

Particularly since Indian PM Modi is in power, India is serious in cutting water flow of western rivers to create problems for Pakistan economically. All of this is being done under a well thought out strategy to wage “water and food war” on Pakistan. This, besides destroying agriculture of Pakistan which is its mainstay can cause power shortages, render our link-canal system redundant and resultantly turn Pakistan into a desert. More so during campaigning season, low inflow of water at Marala HW can undermine the defensive value of BRB canal. Therefore, Pakistani water and security concerns are legitimate and must be acknowledged. Some of Indian violations to IWT are as under:

•  No intimation to Pakistan before the start of projects; a clear violation of IWT.

•    Violation of restriction of aggregate storage allowed over western rivers. India is manipulating this provision by constructing a series of storage sites thereby increasing its water regulation and water storage capabilities.

•  On River Chenab, India has already built many hydroelectric plants and is building more of these with a view to have a potential to block entire water of Chenab for 20-25 days. These dams can release huge quantity of water downstream to cause damage to standing crops and also to our canal systems.

•   On River Jhelum, India has plans to construct 50-60 medium-sized projects (dams and hydroelectric units). This will enable India to render it dry in next few years.

•   Another crisis in the making is the Kishanganga hydroelectric project on the Neelum River in India. The average flow of Neelum water will drop by a considerable percentage in Pakistan, which will cause energy losses amounting to billions of rupees.

•   Construction of BHP would deprive Pakistan of 26 to 28% water in winter season thereby affecting Pakistan's irrigation water requirements especially during the Rabi crop season.

Economic Implications for Pakistan

According to the latest study titled ‘Mountains of Concrete: Dam Building in the Himalayas’, water availability to Pakistan would plunge to 800 cubic meters per capita annually by 2020 from the current 1,200 cubic meters. Just 70 years ago, 5,000 cubic meters of water was available to every Pakistani citizen clearly indicating that Pakistan is already on the brink of water disaster. India’s immense future energy and water requirements are compelling her to undertake projects that are in violation to IWT. Construction of many such projects is already underway whereas few have already been completed and started working.  Significant effects of Indian violation of IWT are appended below:

On an overall basis, climate change, environmental concerns, and using state-of-the-art data sharing mechanisms are the issues least tackled in the treaty. These may give rise to multiple dimensions to differences and disputes. The Court of Arbitration is, in fact, not a Court of Justice but facilitator for arbitration. Trust deficit is already there and both the countries are nuclear powers. Therefore, it is required to frame and implement universal laws based upon equitable and fair sharing of transboundary waters all over the world for avoiding water wars.

•   Pakistan’s mainstay rests in agriculture and water flowing in the rivers/canals is its bloodline. Agriculture contributes significantly to Pakistan’s GDP which is around 21% and employs approximately 45% of its labor force. Adverse effects of water shortage will reduce our agriculture yield, more so, effect prevailing level of poverty creating economic and social problems.

•   Due to increasing water shortages, growth rate of Pakistan’s agriculture is already decreasing. By year 2025, Pakistan will be requiring estimated 277 MAF of water to achieve desired growth targets in agriculture. Meanwhile, shortage of surface water has resulted in fall of water tables which can cause droughts and dependency on ground water.

•   India has developed massive water holding capacity on western rivers which has given them the potential to affect Pakistan’s water inflows, causing acute shortage of water especially for winter crop. Moreover, India is planning to start projects for diversion of water from these rivers, possibility of a project on lines of Chinese Great North-South Water Transfer Project cannot be ruled out.

•   Reduced inflow of water into Pakistan will cause shortage of water for irrigation. This coupled with adverse climatic conditions and internal mismanagement can initiate serious inter-provincial water conflicts. Therein if India violates IWT at this point in time, differences created may become a prelude to major conflict between the two countries.

•     As a worst case scenario, agriculture and electricity aside, Indian blockade of Pakistani water will seriously damage Pakistani social fabric as there will be a severe reduction in productivity and millions of people will be deprived of food and water. India has explicit designs of employing fifth generational warfare tool i.e., Food and Water War which can prove extremely disastrous for Pakistan. It is quite possible that as a result of Indian nefarious designs, riots in large cities and towns may erupt and this would jolt the law and order situation in the country. Such incidents with less intensity have already taken place in Pakistan against constant load-shedding of electricity and shortage of water particularly in Karachi. If India continues with the current policy of ‘water aggression’, war between two countries may appear as a final arbiter. International community and those interested in peace between India and Pakistan must come forward now to end this ‘water aggression’ by India.

Realistic Review of the Treaty

These days bombs and shells cannot cause as much damage to the lands of Pakistan as can potentially be done through blockage of water by India. Therefore one of the biggest advantages of the Treaty was that it prevented an imminent war between the two basin states. Researchers at Oregon State University have found that the world’s 263 transboundary rivers generate more cooperation than conflict. Over the past half century, 400 treaties have been signed on the use of rivers. Of the thirty seven incidents that involved violence, 30 occurred in dry and bitterly contested region formed by Israel and its neighbors. The Treaty is therefore said to provide a good foundation for resolving water dispute between the two riparian’s subject to the provisions of the Treaty are adhered to in true letter and spirit. As a result of the Treaty, each country became independent of using, planning and developing waters of the rivers allocated to it as per its own wish, will, demand, supply and interests without interference of either country, which reduced chances of disputes and tensions. Resultantly substantial storage reservoirs, inter-river link canals and barrages based diversion infrastructure was developed owing to which canal diversions in Pakistan increased from 83 BCM to 129 BCM. That facilitated to make the irrigation system more demand-oriented while it was earlier based on run-of-the-river diversions contrary to the hydrological features of the basin having almost 80% of waters available only during monsoon months of July to September. The disadvantage of Treaty cannot be overlooked. The strange fact is that it resulted in distribution of rivers rather than distribution of waters. On an overall basis, climate change, environmental concerns, and using state-of-the-art data sharing mechanisms are the issues least tackled in the Treaty. These may give rise to multiple dimensions to differences and disputes. The Court of Arbitration is, in fact, not a Court of Justice but facilitator for arbitration. Trust deficit is already there and both the countries are nuclear powers. Therefore, it is required to frame and implement universal laws based upon equitable and fair sharing of transboundary waters all over the world for avoiding water wars.

Given that water is a highly politicized issue, the need of the hour is consensus building and taking forth difficult decisions which are beneficial for all. Water is everyone’s business, therefore, for an effective water policy we need representation from all sectors of the economy and an understanding of the fundamental changes that have to be undertaken to safeguard our finite water resources. These policies should reflect a concise structure with well-defined objectives, action items, implementation methodologies and a time frame to achieve all its set aims and goals. 

Steps Needed to be Taken by Pakistan

Given that water is a highly politicized issue, the need of the hour is consensus building and taking forth difficult decisions which are beneficial for all. Water is everyone’s business, therefore, for an effective water policy we need representation from all sectors of the economy and an understanding of the fundamental changes that have to be undertaken to safeguard our finite water resources. These policies should reflect a concise structure with well-defined objectives, action items, implementation methodologies and a time frame to achieve all its set aims and goals.  

There are an additional 22 million acres of land that can be irrigated by extending the Indus Basin irrigation networks to arid areas of southern Punjab, eastern Sindh, southern KP and eastern Balochistan. The policy should bring forward future exploration and development of new water infrastructure as well as management and repair and replacement of the existing systems.  The water policy should target promoting sustainable use of our available water resources by increasing the current water efficiency. There is a huge potential for increased water supply by increasing our canal irrigation water efficiency which currently stands at 33% in comparison to 90% in the developed countries. Repairing the downstream leakages, smart metering and creating effective solutions for reducing the demand for water from the core of increasing water efficiency.  Pakistan can store only 10% of its annual rivers flow as compared to the world average of 40%.  The absence of these translates into massive economic losses. For instance, three years of repeated floods in 2010, 2011 and 2012 inflicted severe damage on the national economy, reducing its potential economic growth by half. The country grew at an average rate of 2.9 % per year instead of its potential growth rate of 6.5 %.

Pakistan can store only 10% of its annual rivers flow as compared to the world average of 40%.  The absence of these translates into massive economic losses.  For instance, three years of repeated floods in 2010, 2011 and 2012 inflicted severe damage on the national economy, reducing its potential economic growth by half. The country grew an average at a rate of 2.9 % per year instead of its potential growth rate of 6.5 %.

Being among the most water-stressed countries in the world, Pakistan faces a situation threatening into grave water shortage. The solution to Pakistan's water problems has two aspects: how the country can utilize its own potential, and how its potential can be affected by India. In this backdrop, Pakistan needs to work on three directions: stopping India from manipulating its water share; development of water resources domestically, and, cost-effective management of its existing resources. According to a research, water, having an economic value of approximately USD 70 billion, is being thrown into the sea every year due to non-construction of water reservoirs. A water starved country, which has depleted foreign reserves of only few billion US dollars, cannot afford throwing water of economic value USD 70 billion every year into the sea. Study by Pakistan Council of Research on Water Resources (PCRWR) warns that depletion of groundwater may soon worsen the water crisis in Pakistan’s major cities, causing a drought like situation. Such crisis needs to be tackled on war footing; otherwise, a large section of Pakistan’s population, especially those living in big cities, will be facing acute shortage of water. 

Construction of Reservoirs

Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma are rapidly losing their storage capacities because of sedimentation, as a result of which they have lost almost one-third of their original potential. This virtually means loss of one mega-reservoir. Creation of more reservoirs is an absolute essential if Pakistan is to meet the additional allocations required under the 1991 Water Accord between the provinces. Therefore, construction of additional water storage facilities is critical for the conservation and utilization of water.

Implementation of WAPDA Vision 2025 Pakistan has to invest soon in new large dams. WAPDA's Vision 2025 should be pursued on a priority basis, under which four storage reservoirs, Yugo, Skardu, Bhasha and Kalabagh, are planned. At least, one storage reservoir is urgently needed to make up for the dams' capacities lost to sedimentation. Work on Bhasha has started. Kalabagh should be the next one and is inevitable. As for the years beyond 2025, Pakistan should start focusing on other storage sites. There are many on the Indus and the Jhelum and off-channel. There are also hundreds of small and medium storage sites in all the four provinces, work on which must be pursued. Meanwhile, the enormous backlog of maintenance work on our water infrastructure must be taken in hand.

Unorthodox Solution to Pak-India Water Rift

Pakistan's water issues with India are about as important as the resolution of the Kashmir problem. In fact, the two are interlinked. Therefore, the resolution of the water issue should be part and parcel of any process of normalization between India and Pakistan. We will now have to look beyond the Indus Waters Treaty for solutions.

Consuming Maximum HE Potential of Indus Basin River System

Currently, Pakistan has 40,000 MW hydro power potential on River Indus alone while combined estimate of whole Indus basin river system surpasses the figure of 70,000 MW. But unfortunately only 5000 MW is being produced at the moment which is merely 12.5% of total potential. New projects must be initiated at the earliest to cater for growing electricity demands of our population.

Effective Use of International Forums

Pakistan should highlight all pertinent issues at various international forums to include UN etc. Only passing political statements will not suffice. Moreover, Indian intentions and violations of IWT should be exposed to the international community in quantitative terms to show the real face of India.

Internal Water Management

Presently, solution to the water problems between Pakistan and India is not imminent. Need of the hour is that Pakistan water authorities (Indus Water Commission) should work within the confines of existing treaty. They must work on water management as the availability of water is being wasted and the ground water tables are going down and down. Some of the measures in this regard include:

•   The losses occur due to seepage, infiltration and leakages etc. Seepage results in waterlogging and these losses can be reduced or eliminated by lining the canals.

•   People should be educated to conserve water by cooperation.

• Government should make laws on water conservation.

• Modern irrigation techniques, i.e., trickling, sprinkling etc, which have a potential to improve water distribution and its utilization.

Immediate Measures for Internal Usage of Water

•     The motto ‘half the water, twice the output’ should be practically implemented.

•  Pakistan's irrigation system is collapsing and concrete steps need to be taken.

•  Projects like recycling of the water should be initiated.

•   Best possible alternate in the current scenario would be the merger of the already existing water management institutions coupled with empowerment.

•    Water policy has just been approved by PM on April 25, 2018 and it should be implemented in true letter and spirit.

Pakistan’s water sector is facing acute and serious problems. Building of more reservoirs and an effective management strategy are the need of time. At the same time Pakistan should make renewed efforts to ensure that the treaty remains intact. Pakistan should involve World Bank and other international bodies to resolve differences and disputes through comprehensive dialogues. Learning from this experience to protect Pakistan’s transboundary water resources, Pakistan should initiate high level consultations with Afghanistan leading to negotiations on a treaty concerning the optimum utilization of the shared Kabul River based on mutual benefit. Pakistan should seek the assistance of the World Bank or another third party to facilitate the consultations and negotiations.


The writer is a retired Brigadier who has served as Chief Executive in WAPDA and in Development sector.  Presently he is Chairman of a NGO working on Water Issues and Climate Change.

E-mail: [email protected]

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