145 is the approximate number of million acre feet (MAF) of surface water annually available to Pakistan on average by nature. It is the one and only country of the Muslim world blessed with such a voluminous, precious and free bounty of nature. The Indus river and its tributaries; Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas collectively known as “Indus water basin” is Pakistan’s pivotal source of fresh surface water that forms the backbone of the Pakistani economy, supplying water to the largest irrigation system of the world, that not only provides 90% of dietary needs and contributes 25% to the GDP but also actively replenishes its ground water resources. On top of that, it is a sustainable source of energy security in Pakistan. The break-up of 145 MAF is as follows. Indus (including river Kabul) provides 89.58 MAF annually (61.89% of total annual river flows), Jhelum, 22.69 MAF annually (15.67% of total annual river flows), Chenab 25.45 MAF (17.58 % of total annual river flows), and other unaccounted for diversions, post rim station of the rivers to Kotri barrage plus eastern rivers comprise of 7.0 MAF (4.83% of the total annual river flows). The total comes up to 144.72 or nearly 145 MAF annually. Out of this, on average, 102 MAF is diverted for the irrigation system. System losses (evaporation, seepage, conveyance) equal to 12 MAF annually. Surface water going to the sea is 145-(102+12) = 31MAF annually. Pakistan’s total costal length is 1100 KM, shared by Balochistan and Sindh with 750 and 350 KM respectively, is facing severe threat of land erosion due to sea intrusion. An International Panel of Experts (IPoE) conducted a study in 2004-05 and suggested an annual release of 8.86 MAF of water downstream Kotri to stop the sea intrusion as well as protection against environmental hazards.

Himalayan glaciers that contribute over 80% water to the Indus river (that feeds more than 65% of the country’s agriculture), is receding at the rate of 30 to 50 meters/annum. The Himalaya contains the world’s third largest ice mass after Antarctica and Greenland. Glacial area in Pakistan’s north is spread over an area of 16933 km2. The river Indus which originates from Tibet/China and flowing through middle riparian India enters into territorial limits of Pakistan from Gilgit Baltastan.

In 1950, Pakistan was rated by international agencies as a water abundant country. In 1951, annual water availability in Pakistan per capita stood at 5650 m3 which was more than 3 times the threshold value of 1700 m3/capita/annum. In 1992, the UN Fund for Population stated that Pakistan was a water stressed country with only 1700 m3/capita/annum of the commodity available. In 2003, Pakistan’s per capita availability of water declined from threshold value. Currently Pakistan is a water scarce country with alarmingly reduced availability around 940 m3/capita/annum, which is critically less than the threshold value. The country’s per capita annual water availability is poised to drop further if there is no paradigm shift in the prevalent water infrastructure. The reasons, inter alia, for water scarcity in Pakistan is a simultaneous effect of overpopulation, climate change and more importantly, non-development of major reservoir(s) after Tarbela dam. The Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif, has said on the floor of the National Assembly more than once that the water crisis was not too far away and could prove to be more crippling than the current energy crisis we confront. The minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, on the occasion of the International Water Day, warned of possible diversion of water by the Afghan government. We need to remain alert about development activities of the Afghan government on Kabul river. If we failed to formulate and implement an effective water management policy, it will lead to a disaster.

Due to the natural phenomenon of sedimentation, the storage capacity of three reservoirs, Mangla, Tarbela and Chashma has reduced from 16 MAF to 11.2 MAF. After raising Mangla Dam, the storage capacity has enhanced to 14.15 MAF. In other words, Pakistan so far, has developed a live storage capacity of 10% of average annual flow of its rivers which is far below the world average 40%. The country’s water storage capacity is limited to a 30-day supply compared to 1000 days for Egypt, 900 days for US, 600 days for Australia and 220 days for India, while the global standard is 120 days.

Anticipating a water crisis in the wake of extreme weather conditions, Indus River System Authority (IRSA) pointed out that minimum 22 MAF storage capacity should be developed at the earliest. In this regard, last year, Chairman IRSA wrote a letter to the Secretary Water and Power, and asked the government to freeze the country’s Public Sector Development Projects (PSDP) for five years and direct these funds for the construction of major water reservoirs on all feasible sites on a war footing as a national priority.

Pakistan built two large multipurpose (storage and power) dams, Mangla (1967) and Tarbela (1975) consequent to Indus Water Treaty (IWT) 1960, which brought the green revolution and food self-sufficiency in the country. Pakistan has not built any large dam since 1975. While water is essential for life, agriculture and industry, the government is neglecting the water sector by allocating mammoth budgetary resources to roads, highways and bridges, including projects like the metro bus and train. 22 MAF of surplus water, which goes to waste annually is a problem, and needs to be conserved by building new storages. There is no site available for construction of a dam on river Chenab while the one on river Jhelum has already been exploited by constructing Mangla Dam. Had the Kalabagh Dam (KBD) on river Indus been constructed, there would have been no need of stop-gap measures to Pakistan’s energy needs such as import of exorbitant LNG which costs the consumers dearly compared to indigenous conventional natural gas. It is high time that all baseless and untrue stances are set aside and an enormously important decision is taken earnestly for setting up the multipurpose KBD (6.1 MAF plus 3600MW) which happens to be technically ready for construction.