Pakistan’s water worries

June 30, 2009

Buried within Foreign Policy’s latest Failed States Index (Pakistan is in 10th place, though its overall score at 104.1 compared to 103.8 in 2008 suggests a far slower rate of decline than might have been expected given its troubles over the past year) is a short article worth reading about its looming water crisis.

“The country’s troubles today pale compared with what it might face 25 years from now. When it comes to the stability of one of the world’s most volatile regions, it’s the fate of the Himalayan glaciers that should be keeping us awake at night,” says author Stephan Faris. “In the mountainous area of Kashmir along and around Pakistan’s contested border with India lies what might become the epicentre of the problem.”

The subject is not new.  I’ve discussed it on this blog here, here and here

But there’s still no real sign of it getting the attention it deserves, despite its obvious potential not only to stoke tensions between India and Pakistan, but also to create water and food shortages and flash floods.

Some years back, I saw first hand the power of flooding in Himalayan rivers while driving from Srinagar to Leh — the same strategic road Pakistan tried to close with shelling in the Kargil war. Shortly before we arrived in Leh the entire road bridge — a proper heavy concrete road bridge — had been swept away, closing the road. Not even the might of the Indian army, which had scaled the mountains above Kargil in part to defend that road, could get it open again.

(Photos: On the Srinagar to Leh road, summer, 2006)


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Among the 25 most populous countries in 2009, South Africa, Egypt and Pakistan are the most water-limited nations. India and China, however, are not far behind with per capita renewable water resources of only 1600 and 2100 cubic meters per person per year. Major European countries have up to twice as much renewable water resources per capita, ranging from 2300 (Germany) to 3000 (France) cubic meters per person per year. The United States of America, on the other hand, has far greater renewable water resources than China, India or major European countries: 9800 cubic meters per person per year. By far the largest renewable water resources are reported from Brazil and the Russian Federation – with 31900 and 42500 cubic meters per person per year.But let’s not get too carried away by the usual fears of failed state in Pakistan. I think there are many things that can done before we reach the doomsday scenario.For example, about 97% of water in Pakistan today is used in farming and a lot of it is wasted because of flood irrigation. A lot of farm water can be saved without hurting crop yields by using more efficient water irrigation techniques such as sprinklers or drip systems.A California study recently found that water use efficiency ranged from 60%-85% for surface irrigation to 70%-90% for sprinkler irrigation and 88%-90% for drip irrigation. Potential savings would be even higher if the technology switch were combined with more precise irrigation scheduling and a partial shift from lower-value, water-intensive crops to higher-value, more water-efficient crops.As a first step toward improving efficiency, Pakistan government has launched a 1.3 billion U.S. dollar drip irrigation program that could help reduce water waste over the next five years. Early results are encouraging.

Posted by Riaz Haq | Report as abusive

I get that the water worries are a long term issue, but surely the more pressing concern is that Pakistan is #10 on the list to be a Failed State.Truly sad. Somehow, I doubt that Jinnah has this vision in mind for South Asia’s Muslims.

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive

Why is India providing water to terrorists in Pakistan, who come to Mumgbai, Delhi and kill innocents?What has stopped the Indian Govt from cancelling the treaty and holding the water for Kashmiri use? Kashmiris are vociferously opposing the treaty and any water to Pakistan.If Pakistan can’t honor it’s committements, why is India honoring it’s committements?India should block all rivers to Pakistan until they handover all the Mumbai terrorists. Why is the Indian Govt not doing this?

Posted by Partho | Report as abusive

Don’t worry Partho, India has already refused heinous and nefarious emission standards of west which were meant to block India development. With major help from China on global warming and little little contribution from BRIC and developed nations contributing to global warming, we shall destroy glaciers in Himalyas. Pakistan is going to run into perennial water shortage trouble. Even Quaid e Azam wouldn’t have recognized might of time and tide.

Posted by Rohit | Report as abusive

Partho, You raise some interesting questions. Peace is not an unilateral option. Even though India is interested only in economic development, the failed state fanatics are interested only in terrorism and war mongering.Cancelling Indus water treaty in response to terrorism from the failed state has been discussed extensively. If and when the next terrorist attack from the failed state happens, this will come back to the top on agenda along with other options that were discussed post-Mumbai.

Posted by Raj | Report as abusive

@Riaz Haq,Many thanks for your detailed response. I was not trying to suggest that Pakistan is necessarily more vulnerable than other countries to global warming; but rather that the water issue is one that everyone should start thinking about now.If you have links to the developments you mentioned, I’d be glad to read them.And as I tried to say in my post, like most people I’ve been rather slow to pick up on the implications of the melting glaciers, but when you see first hand the power of those rivers in flood, it gives you pause for thought.Myra

Posted by Myra MacDonald | Report as abusive

MyraIt is correct that water issue must get the attention it deserves. Other nations like Canada have repeatedly asserted their soverignty over resource rich arctic areas which fall under its jurisdiction. Canada has some conflicts with countries like France over pieces of territories and it is aggressive in asserting its soverignty. the developed world does pay attention to water as it is the lifeline for economic activity and a valueable resource. Pakistan too must plan now, development of infrastructure critically depends on natural resources supply and water. Building dams where required, environemntal protection initiatives are important but it should take place under regional framework like maybe SAARC. This will serve two purposes, bring development, shed Pakistan image as a failed state to one that is constantly working to develop key areas like energy, transport, communication, finance etc.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

Thirsty India:I read this article in Pakistan Observer: 8/Articles04.asp@Raj,Rohit and Partho: I believe u guys are seriously misled that India is fulfulling its obligations under the Indus Water Treaty. India has been violating it from the day one and now it has new justifications to cancel the treaty altogether. Will that solve any terrosim issues? I don’t think so.. I am afraid that it will cause more of that which I don’t think Indian crowd has courage to face.. Pakistan is the only nation in the world fighting the real war against terrorism. It has sacrificed more of its armymen than all of the world combined.. If India is so concerned about it then it should do the following:- stop being a crying baby and stop to put all fault on Pakistan for each of its internal failure- stop building dams and hydroelectyric plants on rivers allocated to Pakistan under IWT.- Stop supporting and training anti-Pakistan elements in Afghanistan. I do not understand why India has tens of consulates in Afghanistan. Do you? Some reports say over a hundred..- It is surprising that Indian govt. submitted voluminous Maumbai incident report in Marathi knowingly that those were not admissable to the Pakistani courts. Then it took them 20 days to translate only 24 pages of the original 800 page report. Yeah.. right… India is too lazy to find Marathi-English translators… but Pakistan should find terrorists faster.. hilarious.. isn’t it?

Posted by Imran | Report as abusive

Pakistanis bite the hand that feeds them! orld/asia/02aid.html?hp

Posted by Daniel | Report as abusive

DanielLt. Gen Nadeem Taj is a real gentleman who told Americans to keep their chinooks away. I am very much confident we can deal with crisis and emerge successful. (I have read the NY Times article you have shared).My dear friend, you simply have no idea what damage inappropriate use of aid can do to Pakistan. The government of Pakistan is doing the right things, the aid must be regulated. Infact west will only give aid through NGOs and refrain from FDI(Foreign Direct Investment). During recent EU-Pakistan summit President Zardari asked EU give preferential trade concessions to Pakistan not aid.The idea there, was to bypass Pakistan government and route the aid through NGOs and only those NGOs that will certify the government is working right. But Pakistan government kept one step ahead.I am not a big fan of Zardari government, but i salute you sir! I salute the PM and the Army who are tightly regulating the aid and ensuring there is no misuse resulting in harm to Pakistan. I am a proud Pakistani and it is my government’s responsibility to ensure my country is free of all evil and is safe. Free of aid that is misused against Pakistan and its people.Siad Barre was a Somali dictator who oppressed his people, he used US aid against political opponents. US aid to Somalia was misused and local farmers stop growing because they recieved no incentive. We all know the civil war today in Somalia was result of misrule and foreing meddling in that country’s affairs.Thankfully few of brains are still functioning in Pakistani government. Lets hope sense prevails. One more reason Pakistan is not going to become failed state. Pakistan government ensures foreign aid is not misused.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

I believe there is more jingoistic rhetoric by Indians on this forum than any rational discussion. I am , however, optimistic that sane thinking will prevail in India’s strategic circles and they will avoid water-war or any other adventure like so called post-Mumbai response etc. Because , I am very sure that they have factored in the consequences of any such action. If Indians think that Pakistan will sit back and let India conduct any surgical strike against it or get away with blocking the water, then I think they are naively and dangerously mistaken. Even a very limited war can wipe-out all the, so called, economic progress India has achieved over the years. What prevented India from launching an attack on Pakistan 2002? According to Thomas Friedman ( “The World is Flat”), it was India’s business community who urged Indian government not to initiate a war. I am sure same reasoning applied after the Mumbai attacks besides the fact that Pakistan is fully capable of taking on India both conventionally and unconventionally. South Asia is so much marred by poverty, hunger and countless social issues that any sort of war will not result in any victor but more heap of problems.So, bottom line is Pakistan-India has no option but to sit-down, talk and resolve these issues amicably. There is no other option.Period.

Posted by Imran | Report as abusive

This is indeed a grave issue for Pakistan. The Air Force must be ready to strike at the dams/blockages that India has built on the Kashmir rivers in the event the Indians try to use water as weapon against Pakistan.

Posted by Aamir Ali | Report as abusive

yeah because that hand has slapped them many times in the past..

Posted by Imran | Report as abusive

It takes 2 hands to clap. If Pakistan can grossly violate the Simla Agreement countless number of times & constantly wage proxy wars in India through it’s ‘Non-State actors’, why shouldn’t India scrap the Indus Water Treaty & choke Pakistan’s water supply?Pakistan is a failed country who’s primary source of income (besides foreign aid) is agriculture. Pakistan should realize that India can cause a lot more damage to Pakistan without firing a single bullet, than Pakistan can ever dream of, by waging proxy wars in India.If India decides to choke it’s water supply, it’ll be lights out for Pakistan.

Posted by Mortal | Report as abusive

I think India should be given more time to stop stealing water of Pakistan. If they fail to act on ground and rely on propaganda as they usually do, Pakistan must act to protect regional stability from Hindu fanatics and must keep all options open.So far India has been a destabilizing force in the whole region but world is tightening the screw’s now and good things are happening. Indian civil society is also releasing that there is no use demonizing Pakistan and keeping the rhetoric on Kashmir like integral part of India. They are more ready for peace then ever and should be given a chance. SA deserve a better present and future.

Posted by peacelover | Report as abusive

As of today, Foreign Minister Qureshi has said India has been told the water issue can cause tension between India and Pakistan.And Amir Ali, after Mumbai attacks Admiral Mike Mullen arrived in Rawalpindi to meet Gen. Kayani and asked him that India may carry out surgical strikes in Kashmir and Pakistan should not retaliate and rather just protest like they do with drone attacks. Response: a photograph shown by Gen. Kayani , a Pakistani F-16 locked an IAF Mirage with a missile. Admiral Mullen told that next time Indian Air Froce violates Pakistan air space, they will be shot down. Water issue can start the fireworks real quick. I am with you, violation of Indus water treaty and blocking access to Pakistan waters should be termed as an act of war and responded with full force. Quick and lightning air strikes should be carried out. Pakistan has nothing to loose, if we dont stand up to guard our interests no one will.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

It seems like Pakistan want to start an armed conflict with India for any possible reason, They tried to provoke India by Mumbai Attacks, but India rightly remained calm, Indians knew exactly what is the right way and when is the right time to react.Now Pakistan is giving artificial breath to unnecessary issues like water. If water is resolved they would say India is stealing their Clouds or blocking their Air.If India is stealing water how could Pakistan weight the record wheat produce ? By reading comments of Pakistanis, it looks like they are fed up of their country and want to blame all failures on India.Umair wrote:”Pakistan has nothing to loose””Quick and lightning air strikes should be carried out”That shows how helpless an ordinary Pakistani is feeling now. They don’t have anything to loose and they don’t want to let India keep “everything”

Posted by singh | Report as abusive

I strongly feel that India should keep this option ready if there is any more terrorist attack from “Jehadis” in Pakistan.

Posted by Aaruni Upadhyay | Report as abusive

Umair: “Response: a photograph shown by Gen. Kayani , a Pakistani F-16 locked an IAF Mirage…”Then Admiral Mike Mullen said: “why are you carrying around a photo from 1999? Because that was the last time a IAF Mirage was deployed near Pak border” LOL!!! and Mirage anhilated the Pak Army Northern Light Infantry, but the brave PAF could only look on as Mirage bombed!Oh wait! you might be referring to 2008, but wasn’t that “fully armed” Su30MKI with Ibris radar that has double the range of the PAF F-16s radars from the ’80s.To address the issue under discussion: Water is a precious resource that India must first ensure is reserved for its citizen. Maybe the river inter-linking first mooted by Pres. Abdul Kalam should be implemented at the earliest.

Posted by indian | Report as abusive

indian, calm down!Umair is just pulling you into an argument. If what Umair says is true, then how come only he knows about it and it was not released internationally?Lets get back to building a country and let Pakistan and the Pakistanis decide for themselves what they want to do and where they want to go on THIER side of the border.

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive

@SA deserve a better present and future.- Posted by peacelover–But many analysts are asking that with pakistan around, is the above possibility can every become a reality.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

@Quick and lightning air strikes should be carried out. Pakistan has nothing to loose, if we dont stand up to guard our interests no one will.- Posted by Umair–Umair, 63 yrs of freedom and saying “nothing to lose”, how worse can it get?Let me add one more thing—-the world will gain a lot since they won’t have to give you aid anymore.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

I hope the JF-17’s that are being inducted into PAF have this mission in mind, of one day busting the water-stoppage dams that India is building in Indian Occupied Kashmir.Water is Pakistan’s right but many Indians are so blind with hatred, and so enraged by their powerlessness against Pakistan, that they might very well one day stop the flow of water to Pakistan.

Posted by Aamir Ali | Report as abusive

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