Water and Agriculture Scenario in Pakistan

(By Rohoma Tahir, Mujahid Ali, H.M. Bilal, Rabbia Zulfiqar)

(Horticulture, College of Agriculture, UOS)

Recently Pakistan is among most threatening countries regarding water shortage in the world. This alarming situation is very severe as our main livings depend upon agriculture. Without agriculture, man can’t live and without irrigation, man can’t have agriculture. Food is most important for human beings as well for animals for their life. In the beginning, a man pleased his hunger by eating fruits from the forest and drinking water from natural streams. Slowly his need become bigger and he felt the need of different types of food. He started cultivating and retreat crops. Agriculture was his only occupation. He depended mainly on rainwater to water the crops, but nature did not prefer him always. Occasionally droughts were harsh and there was an influence on lack of harvest. There was a need for irrigation and he started to use water from ponds, streams, and rivers for agriculture. Irrigation is defined as the supplementation of precipitation by storage and transportation of water to the fields for the proper growth of agricultural crops.

The Sumerians of Mesopotamia were the first to use water for agriculture. In North America, Spanish and Americans built canals along the Rio Grande. With the development of agriculture, irrigation became more known in the Indus Valley, presently India and Pakistan. Today 689 million acres of agricultural land is irrigated with water to facilities across the whole world. Out of total 68% of irrigated land is in Asia, 17% in North America, 9% in Europe, 5% in Africa and 1% in Oceania.

Water is the basic element that maintains life. Misuse of water has the capacity to cause agricultural, economic, climatic and political issues in the area. Many countries around the world have fallen victim to water-conflicts. Water sharing and the uses of six rivers is the second major issue between Pakistan and India after the Kashmir issue. Five rivers reach to the Pakistan Punjab and all join at Mithinkot – this point is called Panjnad.

David Eli Lilienthal, known for leading the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), visited India and Pakistan to observe the reality of the issue. He noticed, “No army, with bombs and shellfire, could ravage a land as thoroughly as Pakistan could be ruined by the simple advisable of India’s forever shutting off the sources of water that keep the fields and the people of Pakistan alive.”

Pakistan is basically an agricultural country 65% population of Pakistan is related to agricultural unfortunately Pakistan is present near tropic and it received less rain during the year that’s why irrigation system for Pakistan act as the backbone of our economy.

Farming and agriculture are the oldest activities being performed by the human on this earth. Pakistan has one of the most fertile soils in this world and its credit goes to Indus valley in this region. Canal water is just like the blood of agriculture and farming, there was a time when such activities used to be performed near rivers but as the time passed the land near the river was no more available, but the requirement of water was still there.  The area where Pakistan is blessed with natural gifts and one of the gift is the irrigation system. 75% of the Pakistan land which is used as an agricultural land that is covered by the irrigation system. Rivers have been the largest source of water; the rainfall has also been the 2nd important source and the 3rd one is groundwater.

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The irrigation system is not as new as it sounds. For irrigation system, we find perennial canals and tube wells. The major source of water supply throughout Pakistan is Indus River. And Dams and Barrages have been established on them. Tarbela and Mangla are the larger dams in Pakistan. And they generate hydroelectricity, storing water and irrigating the land. Small dams are used as a water reservoir and they also supply water, three Small dams are Khanpur Dam, Rawal Dam, and Hub Dam.

Difference between dams and Barrages are: Dams are built on mountainous where the Barrages based on flat surfaces. Barrages are used as a supply of irrigation to the agricultural land. In Pakistan, there are four Barrages: Sukkur Barrage, Guddu Barrage, Kotri Barrage, and Chashma Barrage are well known.

A canal is a basic mean that provides water from the river to agriculture field where it is required. Canals are come out of rivers, dams, and barrages. The irrigation system of Pakistan is best in all over the world’s irrigation system. This system is good due to a canal.

Canals take water from the river when the water level is rise due to flood. That’s why the extra water is used in a better way rather than spoil around the area. Perennial canals are those canals which are taken from the Dams and Barrages these canals also supply water to the field. In Pakistan there are No. of large dams 3, No. of small dams 85, No. of Barrages 16, No. of Headworks 2, No. of interlink Canlas 12, No. of canals system 44, No. of watercourse 107,000, Lengths of canals 56,073 Km, Length of water course 1.6 Million km, Irrigated area 36 Million Acres, Average escapade to the sea 39.4 MAF.

For the use of groundwater 0.7 million tube wells have been installed. All the resources are used to fulfill the requirement of water. But with the passage of time, the demand for water is high, and these resources are not enough to meet the need. There is need to make new Dams and other resources to strengthen the irrigation system.

Agriculture is the backbone of the economy of Pakistan and irrigation system is the major resource for agriculture. Fortunately, like gas, oil and coal resources Pakistan is rich in fertile land and its irrigation system is considered as one of the world’s largest irrigation system. ‘Water is one of the rarest and the most precious sources in the world’.

Pakistan is an agricultural country and it is totally depending on irrigation. There are several Irrigation systems of Pakistan, for example rivers, canals, barrages, headworks, dams and tube wells. Total agricultural land of Pakistan measured in 2011 by World Bank was 223850 sq.-km. which is on 4th in the world, but unfortunately this area is shrinking due to several factors, for example roads and highways, mega migration to cities, lack of water for irrigation and housing societies.

History of the irrigation system of Pakistan in 1947 when the Indian sub-continent was divided in to two independent states, like many issues there is water issue as well. In 1960 both countries signed the “Indus Water Treaty”. According to the treaty In,dia was given the Eastern Rivers named as Sutlej, Bias and Ravi. And under the control of Pakistan, there are three Western rivers Jhelum, Indus and Chenab. Unfortunately, it was signed back in 1960’s that India can water of Pakistani controlled Rivers for irrigation and power generation purposes as Pakistan is at downstream of these rivers. Since Pakistani controlled river is in India, so there is a chance that India effects on irrigation resources of Pakistan, as he did during war time in 1965 and 1971.

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Irrigation Sources in Pakistan: Indus river is a major source of water in Pakistan which is subdivided into its branches downstream known as Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej also Kabul River. About 70% of total water consumed for irrigation, Due to high variation in rainfall, mostly observed in monsoon season, it is very difficult to maintain water for flood and irrigation of healthy and unhealthy rivers. One of the sources of refill are the hill fast-moving water, also known as ‘torrent’. There are 14 different ‘hilly-torrents’ in Pakistan.

Some other causes of restocking the Indus River Basin are: 1) Melting of snow 2) Precipitation, although melting process may cause more damage, but precipitation frequency is much higher than other one. At Karakorum Range, which includes a couple of tallest mountains in the world, it usually rains in winter which increases the packed snow at these high mountains. This snow melts in summers and converts in to runoff contributing about 82% of water for ‘KAREEF’ season and 18% for ‘RABEE’ season. RABEE starts from mid of November and ends at May, and KAREEF season starts from April to September.

Condition of Tarbela, Chashma and Mangla Dams reservoirs is reducing water storage capacity which will badly affect the water supply for irrigation in agriculture. KBD water reservoir will have storage capacity for more than 100 years. Reduced water supply in downstream areas in Punjab and Sindh will lead to the salt content of drinkable water cause shortage of drinking water availability for Punjab and Sindh.

Sindh will be the most affected area if Kalabagh is not built. Areas which are under irrigation at now may become barren, converted into a desert. KBD will store and release water flood when needed for agriculture in Sindh, thus saving the damage due to floods and meeting water required for agriculture and saving the salt content of groundwater at a shallow level.  It will save land currently under cultivation from turning barren.

“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry”. According to the Wapda chief, almost 60% of the Pakistan population is directly linked in agriculture and livestock and despite being it also included in 15 most water-scarce countries, Pakistan has one of the most water-intensive agriculture with the fourth highest water use rate. Pakistan needs to narrow the huge gap between the growing population and its needs, and the number and capacity of water reservoirs.

Research reports have warned that Pakistan will have water scarcity by the year 2025 if Kalabaag dam is not built. It’s time that we stand up to save Pakistan, save ourselves and our coming generations from the drought and famine. Support Kalabagh Dam as W.H. Auden once said, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

Mujahid Ali

I am a PhD scholar in Institute of Horticultural Sciences, UAF and Visiting Lecturer in Horticulture Department in University of Sargodha.

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