Water Shortage Biggest Threat To Pakistan: Book

By Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON, Aug 20: Water shortages present the greatest future threat to the viability of Pakistan as a state and a society, warns a new book on Pakistan.

Author Michael Kugelman argues that “while this assertion may be overblown, one can hardly dispute its underlying premise”.

The book points out that Pakistan’s water situation is extremely precarious. Water availability has plummeted from about 5,000 cubic metres per capita in the early 1950s to less than 1,500 per capita today.

According to 2008 data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Pakistan’s total water availability per capita ranks dead last in a list of 26 Asian countries and the United States.

The book warns that Pakistan is expected to become water-scarce (the designation of a country with annual water availability below 1,000 cubic metres per capita) by 2035, though some experts say this may happen as soon as 2020, if not earlier.

Mr Kugelman, a programme associate with the Asia Programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, warns that several dramatic demographic shifts are intensifying Pakistan’s already-rampant water insecurity.

The book notes that at least 90 per cent of Pakistan’s dwindling water resources are allocated to irrigation and other agricultural needs. This is not entirely surprising, given that Pakistan is an overwhelmingly arid country with an agriculture-dependent economy.

Unfortunately, however, intensive irrigation regimes and poor drainage practices have caused waterlogging and soil salinity throughout Pakistan’s countryside. As a result, vast expanses of the nation’s rich agricultural lands are too wet or salty to yield any meaningful harvests.

With the lion’s share of Pakistan’s limited water supplies dedicated to agriculture, less than 10 per cent is left for drinking water and sanitation.

The book notes that some of the starkest manifestations of the crisis can be found in the parched regions of Sindh. As the country’s population has surged, large volumes of water from the Indus have been diverted upstream to Punjab to satisfy soaring demand for agriculture and for consumption in cities.

“Consequently, downstream in Sindh, the once-mighty Indus has shrunk to a canal, and in some areas shrivelled up to little more than a puddle.”

The river’s disappearance throughout much of Sindh, the book argues, has snuffed out livelihoods throughout the river delta, particularly those of fishermen — who are now forced to gather firewood for a living and to buy their water (at high cost) from trucks.

The book quotes one Pakistani environmentalist as lamenting how the Indus Delta is suffering through “severe degradation”, sparking “coastal poverty, hopelessness, and despair”, causing great damage to the delta’s mangroves and destroying entire ecosystems.

Perhaps the most powerful accelerant of Pakistan’s water crisis is global warming. The Indus River Basin — Pakistan’s chief water source — obtains its water stocks from the snows and rains of the western Himalayas. However, few — if any — areas of the world are suffering from the effects of climate change as much as this legendary mountain region.

Many of its glaciers are already thinning by up to a metre per year. This rapid melting pattern — coupled with another consequence of global warming, high-intensity precipitation — is expected to aggravate river flooding. Once the glaciers have melted, river flows are expected to decrease dramatically.

What does this entail for Pakistan? According to the World Bank, it means an exacerbation of the “already serious problems” of flooding and poor drainage in the Indus Basin over the next 50 years, followed by up to a “terrifying” 30-40 per cent drop in river flows in 100 years’ time.

Courtesy Dawn



Filed under Pakistan

18 responses to “Water Shortage Biggest Threat To Pakistan: Book

  1. Anwar

    For the past 30 years these concerns have been raised (even among WAPDA planners) however not much effort has been made to address this problem. And this was even before the full brunt of global warming was realized..
    Water reservoirs are political footballs and there is a lack of sincere people in high places…
    As long as Punjab gets the water, people upstream and downstream can go to hell…

  2. mazhur

    Am not much aware of the water problem but can only say that the best solution to overcome water problem is to go to the source, ie Occupied Kashmir..

  3. Hayyer 48

    If as you say you are not much aware of the water problem why are you so ready to fight over it?

  4. Abdul Al-Okullah

    Mazhur is displaying the essential Pak mard quality of bluster with no substance.

  5. mazhur

    I have no water problem. I get it all from my well.
    However, I know our rivers flow out from the Kashmir valley which has been illegally occupied by the Indians. Have the guts to retrieve it from India or leave it alone for the Kashmiris-
    I know you can’t retrieve it from India so wait until you run out of water and all your plans to build dams leave you dazed and dry while politics shines with all its glitter in our dear country!

  6. Hayyer 48

    Your as weak as your pugnacity is strong.
    Of the three rivers allotted to Pakistan only one, the Jehlum, flows out of the Kashmir valley. Its Kashmiri name is the Vitasta.
    The Indus along with the Brahmputra and the Sutlej arises in the Tibetan plateau in the vicinity of Mansarover Lake. It does not even get close to the valley of Kashmir.
    The Chenab arises out of the union of two rivers, the Chandra and the Bhaga in the region of Baralacha pass in northern Himachal Pradesh. It is called the Chandrabhage locally and ther Chenab downstream out of the belief that the river originates in China. It flows into Doda district of Jammu and then onwards through Udhampur district and finally Akhnoor and then crosses over. It does not enter the valley either.
    None of the three rivers can be damned for storage of water beyond 24 hours and none has been. No water is therefore held back from Pakistan.

  7. mazhur


    Oh, I must be referring to the old map of Greater Kashmir! I think I saw that map in the book by William Moorcroft.

    Have you read it??

  8. Hayyer 48

    I like your reference to Greater Kashmir. As a signifier of not only Kashmiri nationalism but also your obvious Kashmiri origins.
    Moorcroft did a lot of freelancing in Ladakh. He was almost disowned by the East India Company because the Sikhs in Lahore accused him of being a spy for the British. He was also if I remember correctly, one of the first players of the Great Game because he sent despatches against the encroaching Russian influence.
    Whatever, it was his doing partly that led to an annexation of Ladakh for the Lahore Kingdom by Zorawar Singh of Jammu.
    Greater Kashmir, by the way is a post colonial pheonomenon. It exists in the minds of all Kashmiri nationalists as a desireable end and ultimate guarantor of Kashmiri identity without regard for the non-Kashmiri elements it encompasses. It includes, all the present borders of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, including those now under Pak adminstration, including the ‘Northern Areas’.

  9. mazhur

    Hayyer 48

    Respectfully I thank you for your appreciation and understanding. Yes, I am a Kashmiri, a Haato, a Butt and I love my home Kashmir or rather the Greater Kashmir.

    having read Moorcroft I am sure you must be aware of the original territorial jurisdiction of Jammu and Kashmir which clearly reflects upon the water issue.
    Whatever, all the water comes from the melting glaciers of Himalaya, doesn’t it??


  10. Hayyer 48

    That is right; all the water comes from the glaciers or springs of which there are many.
    Greater Kashmir last existed under the Lalitaditya who led troops to victory in Punjab as well in the ninth century CE.
    Kashmir is properly speaking only the valley of Kashmir where Kashmiri speaking people live and belong. Kashmiris also live in large numbers in Wadwan tehsil of Kishtwar and in various pockets beyond the Pir Panjal of Doda, Bhadarwah, Kishtwar and Banihal; though, these areas are not Kashmir. Some Kashmiris are found in Muzzafarabad and Poonch, Rajouri. You may want to call these areas Greater Kashmir but the bulk of the population here is non Kashmiri, though they may claim to be Kashmiri to distinguish themselves from say ‘Pakistani’. On the Indian side they never refer to themselves as Kashmiri but to their tribal origins, say Gujjar or Rajput or even Pahari. In Jammu the Muslims not in the above categories call themselves Punjabi.
    I am glad to have converse with a genuine Kashmiri. The term haato has long disappeared in India, except in Simla where a large number of Gurezi labourers still engage in labour intensive occupations but they are not technically ‘haatos’. The term came into use I believe because Kashmiris when calling out to each other begin with ‘Hath Haz’.
    Greater Kashmir is a term that now exemplifies Kashmiri aspirations for a greater dominance over territory and population than the actual Kashmir.
    Bhatts as you know are fairly common among Muslims and Pandits. Ghulam Nabi Azad the politician is a Bhatt. All Bhatts are of Pandit origin. The term ‘But’ or ‘butta’, is commonly used in Kashmir synonymously for Pandit.

  11. mazhur

    Hayyer 48

    Since you seem to have deep insight into Kashmir ‘affairs’ including water problem I believe you could do a detail write up on the subject.

    As for the origins of the Kashmiri Butts I was amazed to note the use of so many eponyms by different writers. What I have heard from my forefathers and read, especially in the History of Kashmir by Munshi Muhammad Din Fauq, Butts were a large nomadic tribe of Kashmiris having no relation with Pundits etc. Relating Butts to Pundits is a mere propaganda by the Hindu Butts to satisfy their ego. As you might know, most of the Kashmiris surnames relate to their ‘got’ which usually signifies their place of origin or profession. Butts as they are called have also been referred to as ‘Bats” by at least one colonial publication. However, during the last some years Butts have been plagiarized to read as Bhatts, Bhat, or Butto and even Bhatti which they are not.

    Lones and Tantras, inter alia, have always been among the ruling classes of Kashmir but at one time were over thrown by the Butts who were later vanquished and beaten up by the Lones so much so that the Butts had to beg for their lives screaming ‘Na Butto, Na Butto!” (I am not Butt!)

    After the partition or sometime before the Butts became prominent in Pakistan (and Kashmir) and many classes of lower castes began calling them Butts. You will note that usually every Kashmiri, genuine or fake, feels pride at being spoken of as Butt!!

    I believe you must have also read Taringini but that’s another story….

    As for people settled down in Pakistani AJ@K I may say that majority of them is NOT Kashmiri in its stricter sense. They are ‘settlers’ just like the Butts who have settled down in Punjab and Sindh and other places and call them Punjabis and Sindhis etc.

    It would be really hard for one to identify a real Butt
    in Pakistan—they are not many! And, I am sure they were not Brahmins or Pundits but an Original nomadic tribe of the Valley!

  12. bonobashi


    Pleasure to read your informed post. However ‘got’ has nothing to do with business or profession; it is ‘apabhramsa’ for gotra.

    I leave you the pleasant task of looking that up. Once time and my empty pockets permit, I would like to address some other interesting but not necessarily accurate anthropological points that you have raised.

  13. bonobashi


    None of what I have written should detract from our mutual acknowledgement of Hayyer 48’s mastery of the subject.

  14. mazhur


    ‘apabhramsa’–What does the language of Kabir and Amir Khusroe has to do with the gotra’s of the Hindu caste system??

    According to Munshi Mohd Din Fauq most Kashmiri surnames ended in the name of region they belonged to or the occupation they were in.

    Butts are a large Kashmiri clan….and they are not the same as Dars, Lones, Khawajas, Mirs, Mantos, Rathores, Naiks, etc…which castes are also original castes of Kashmiris having their own place in society. Converts from Sikhs adopted the surname of Sheikhs, Christian became Bhattis or Butts and even Dangars which are regarded as the lowest caste in Kashmir faked as Butts!
    They are related to one another on marital basis only….in fact being separate distinct ethnicities or castes.

    Kashmir has become flooded by multi-ethnical migration of Arabs, Pathans, Afghans, Punjabis, etc
    and the entire races have become mostly obliterated.

    I agree to leaving the subject to the master hayyer48
    for further expounding…

  15. Koschan

    Cool discussion!!!!

  16. Hayyer 48

    This is from my mobile, hence short. ican revert at length later.
    But briefly, the Dars, Parrays, Tantrays, Khandays etc are the surnames of the original martial Kashmiris tribes, from Hindu times. Dhars, or Dars; Bhatts or Butts is a different subject connected to the inability of native Kashmiris to aspirate these consonants: thus gar for ghar, goda for ghoda.
    Bhatt is a common surname for Pandits and Muslims.
    About the autochthons of Kashmir more later, especially after Allama Bonobashi has spoken.

  17. Hayyer 48

    Bonobashi will surely explain but Apabrahmsa refers to the vernacular forms of Sanskrit that got spoke by those outside the heartland or the mainstream of Brahminism.
    Bhattis have no connection to Bhatts, neither do Buttos. Both terms are non Kashmiri.

  18. Syed Mashud Ali


    Can anybody name the book and its is availaiblity in Pakistan.