Pakistan Now ‘One Of The Most Water-Stressed Countries In The World’ As ‘Demand Exceeds Supply’


(Credit: Agha Waseem Ahmed / My Shot)

(Credit: Agha Waseem Ahmed / My Shot)

With fewer than 1,000 cubic meters of water available per person, Pakistan is “one of the most water-stressed countries in the world” according to a new report from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The report covers a range of economic concerns for the country, but its conclusion notes that “boosting agricultural productivity and strengthening food security” will require “improving the management, storage, and pricing of water for irrigation.” 80 percent of Pakistan’s farms are currently irrigated, and the report estimates that the right reforms could double their productivity.

But standing in between Pakistan and that goal is a wealth of challenges. As The Atlantic reports, two-thirds of the country’s population is under 30 and has already grown enormously over the last few decades. By 2030, it’s projected to boom from 180 million residents to 256 million. Climate change is also reducing water flow in the Indus River — Pakistan’s main source of fresh water — resulting in a pincer move that’s rapidly depleting the country’s water supplies. From the ADB’s report:

Water demand exceeds supply, which has caused maximum withdrawal from reservoirs. At present, Pakistan’s storage capacity is limited to a 30-day supply, well below the recommended 1,000 days for countries with a similar climate. Climate change is affecting snowmelt and reducing flows into the Indus River, the main supply source. Increases in storage capacity to manage periods of low snowmelt and low rainfall are required, as well as the rehabilitation of the distribution system to reduce losses.

The Atlantic notes that water shortages are threatening to spark mass demonstrations in Abbottabad — over 5,000 homes in the city went without sufficient water in the hottest months of this year. Political leaders, parties, and organizations within the country are already pointing fingers at one another, and militant Pakistani groups went so far as to accuse neighboring India of “water terrorism.” All of which is a microcosm for why an international poll by Pew found that populations around the world view climate change as their number one threat, and why the U.S. military’s Quadrennial Defense Review called climate change “an accelerant of instability or conflict.”

The pressure is driving Pakistan’s government to protest India’s construction of a series of dam’s on the Indus River. They would lie in India’s territory but sit upstream from Pakistan, thus possibly constricting its water flow. Pakistan is also pushing to renegotiate the terms of the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, which governs how India and Pakistan share the flow from the six rivers of the Indus Basin. It’s an international-scale mirror of a brewing slew of legal conflicts between different U.S. states — such as Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico — over water access to shared rivers. The Pakistan-India dispute is currently being reviewed by the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

As both the ADB’s report and The Atlantic point out, outside of altering the treaty — an unlikely prospect, given India’s reluctance — Pakistan has a few other options. Pricing and management of water resources is especially dysfunctional in Asia and North Africa, and Pakistan is no exception; its agricultural industry is notorious for inefficient irrigation and drainage practices. The ADB report cites “anecdotal evidence” that “agricultural productivity could be doubled with appropriate reform.” There’s also the Memorandum of Understanding between the Karachi Water and Sewage board and the China International Water and Electric Corporation, which aims to make that Pakistani city’s water supply self-sufficient.

10 Responses to Pakistan Now ‘One Of The Most Water-Stressed Countries In The World’ As ‘Demand Exceeds Supply’

  1. Endofmore says:

    people under stress do crazy things
    Already Pakistan doesn’t have a great reputation for political stability and they’re faced with the greatest destabiliser of all, thirst!-and by the same token food shortages
    so we have a mixture of hungry, thirsty unstable people.
    Now let’s see, what else shall we add to this brew?
    I know, how about a few nukes?
    The people of Pakistan are going to blame their government for their climate induced woes, and the recourse of any government hard pressed by a mutinous people is to declare war on somebody. Thats the oldest trucl in history’s book.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Pakistan at least has runoff from the Himalayas. The countries that will experience water stress first are likely to be in the Middle East. There is not much water in the Sahara and Arabian deserts. Solar desal plants will be required for the countries that aren’t landlocked.

  3. wili says:

    Is this the same Pakistan that was largely under water a couple years ago from biblical flooding?

    What can possibly go right here?

    The whole subcontinent is already on the brink, and they have some of the fastest growing populations in the world, and of course strive (rightly) for better standards of living, too.

    Can anyone see any likely outcome here that is not utterly disastrous for hundreds of millions of poor people?

  4. Sasparilla says:

    It would be incredibly beneficial for both India and Pakistan to rewrite the treaty governing water resources (especially the Indus which supplies most of their water for Pakistan).

    The problem is that the current treaty gives India a certain amount of water (not a percentage and actual amount) from the Indus and as climate change sinks in the Indus will flow less and less, by the current treaty all of that reduction in water would come out of Pakistan’s Indus flow – and its the county’s major water supply.

    Looking for the area most likely to go to war (possibly nuclear) from climate change effects, you need look no further.

  5. Endofmore says:

    with India and Pakistan nuclear armed, thats pretty much a certainty

  6. wili says:

    There is no country more bellicose than the US. Disarming that/my country’s nuclear potential would make the world a much safer place.

    But yeah, the Indian subcontinent is certainly full of terrifying possibilities/probabilities.

    IIRC, India is also drawing down it’s major northern aquifer at a stunning pace, enough to alter the spin of the earth (however so slightly).

  7. colinc says:

    But that will only be the “start” and then the situation gets much “better.” First, if/when Pak/Ind go nuclear, how will China react to all that fallout, or an errant warhead (or 2), finding its way onto their turf? I also see a high probability that, in such an exchange, at least 1 or 2 warheads will “find” a U.S. base (or 2) in Afghanistan. That probably won’t be too agreeable to the U.S. congress-critters or the predominant population of jingoistic xenophobes. I also recall a study in the past few years that showed even a “limited exchange” (50-100 detonations) in that region could decimate the ozone layer, globally, over most of the arable (food-growing) lands! Yee-huckin’-faw!

    “We have met the enemy and he is us!” – W. Kelly

  8. Dr. Dee says:

    Malthusian catastrophe in progress…

  9. Endofmore says:

    nuclear conflict is as likely to kick off there as anywhere-there’s plenty of choices for that scenario though

  10. Belgrave says:

    Well under this scenario, I guess the “Long Emergency” could actually be extremely short!