The Indus River System Authority (Irsa) has partially agreed with the IMF report that Pakistan is becoming a water-stressed country as the availability of per capita water has declined. The per capita water availability has gone down to below 1,000 cubic meters, from 5,600 cubic meters at the time of independence. The IMF report “Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full?”, blamed the absence of proper water management as the cause of water scarcity in Pakistan and there is a degree of truth in this claim. Water scarcity in the future will dismantle all aspects of national security and we fail to realise this despite third party warnings and interventions.

However not all is lost. Irsa claims that the Indus Basin could still provide ample opportunity of water storage and its distribution among the provinces. Annually 30 maf water flows downstream to Kotri and the environmentalists’ survey had recommended that 8.6 maf flow of water to Kotri was essential to protect flora and fauna in that region. This means that the Indus Basin still had additional 22.4 maf water to be stored.

Having said that, how will the government ensure reliable and effective water storage in the Indus Basin to address the looming scarcity? Currently the dams in Pakistan have a holding capacity of 30 days as compared to 220 days in India and 1,000 days in Egypt. Will we ever get past the disputes that surround the Kalabagh dam, to tackle the storage problem head on? Though the importance of dams cannot be stressed enough, natural ways of watershed management can prove very successful in storing water provided by the monsoon rains. To understand watershed management and empower the farmers to save water for their land and their communities is key.

Pakistan depends on a single source, the Indus system and its tributaries, for most of its water supply needs; 95% of surface water goes to agriculture alone. If water is being consumed so heavily for agriculture and livestock activities why does farming go largely untaxed? It is time that water is taxed in an appropriate way that the rich landowners use it with the efficacy that it deserves. Water is a valuable resource that is depleting fast. The government should invest in creating awareness for the importance of sustainable usage not just to the farmers and industries but also individual households. Only if we grasp the gravity of the situation, will we be able to take prompt action.