According to a report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan ranks at third place amongst countries facing water shortages. Poor strategies by the government and inefficient, and poorly planned, distribution of water within the country are some of the biggest reasons for the accelerating water crisis. With the impacts of climate change in motion, alterations are expected in water dynamics, and hence the problem of water scarcity is only going to aggravate.
Water is a core element to ensure food security and in achieving sustainable development, therefore efficient water management practices need to be in place to ensure that the country does not run short on water. Inability to act fast, in a planned manner, could result in disastrous consequences in the form of widespread poverty, economic losses, and conflict. If the situation persists, by year 2025, Pakistan will have little, to no clean water available.
According to a recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), food security is amongst the biggest challenges faced by Pakistan. Ranking at 77th position among other countries, Pakistan is one of the most food insecure countries in Asia. Apart from the obvious impact of demand deficit and undernourishment in children and women, food insecurity aggravates the burden on the country’s resources.
Agriculture has always remained at the heart of Pakistan’s economy. It is the second largest economic sector in Pakistan, which has critical importance towards ensuring food security, and economic growth. The agriculture sector contributes 24% GDP of Pakistan and employs about 42% of the labor force, and despite the role that it plays, agricultural productivity remains low. Pakistan fails to yield crops like rice, wheat, sugarcane, to the amounts where it can compete with global averages. Most of the country’s agricultural produce is consumed domestically, and the resulting lack of substantial exports act as a barrier for Pakistan in becoming a major competitor in the global food industry.
Being an agricultural economy, Pakistan requires massive reserves of water for irrigation. The current water management infrastructure in Pakistan is over a century old and the barrages are becoming obsolete. Availability of fresh water in Pakistan has decreased by about 800 percent since the 1950s. The situation could have been a lot better if there was proper water management in place and wastage of water was limited. The outdated irrigation system results in huge losses of 30 percent fresh water (2/3 of irrigation water), and in a country where 21 million people are deprived of clean drinking water, it is high time for innovation in our water management system. The prevailing situation calls for modernization of infrastructure and the use of modern technologies. New methods of irrigation should be explored and irrigation practice should be extended to desert areas of Sindh province, which could cultivate land of approximately five million acres. Pakistan could really learn from comparing its water management to that of foreign water management and agricultural policies. Israel, for example, who emerged as a world leader in desalination, and treating waste water, and revolutionized sustainable water management by introducing the modern drip irrigation model. An indigenized drip irrigation model can do wonders for Pakistan’s agricultural sector.
The outdated irrigation system results in huge losses of 30 percent fresh water (2/3 of irrigation water), and in a country where 21 million people are deprived of clean drinking water, it is high time for innovation in our water management system.
Also known as micro-irrigation, drip irrigation is an irrigation model in which crops are supplied with fertilizers and water, through a network of UV resistant tubes, directly to the roots, at a steady flow rate. This way, the water and fertilizer reach only to the soil that directly feeds the roots. Drip irrigation prevents the whole soil area from getting moisturized and thus, results in saving water leakage and evaporation, all the while maintain optimal moisture levels for the crop to flourish. This kind of irrigation method is best suitable for irrigation of row crops like cotton, sugarcane, fruit plants like mango, apple, bananas, strawberries and various vegetables and floriculture.
Historically, under the Israel’s Water Law, water was termed as a public property. To manage this public good the country held a very controlled, centralized system; waters prices were set low so that farmers could produce food cheaply, for both domestic consumption, and for export purposes.
Israel’s water policy has always been a part of their ‘hydrological socialism’. Water was extracted from rich regions of the northern Galilee, and sent to the dry southlands through a National Water Carrier. Through this way, the arid and semiarid Negev desert become productive agricultural areas. This system, however, produced waste and inefficiency. Under the new water management system, there was increased privatization of water supply and production, subsidy reductions, and differential pricing for consumers while agricultural users paid less. Agricultural productivity, encouraged through government policies, was in no way attained through water pricing, and these non-market management strategies even now continue to dominate the water policy for Israel. Private corporations began to produce water and price was set by the demand and supply. Reverse osmosis desalination plants were set up in 2002, which increased more than 30 percent of water supply. Another major institutional transformation took place in the form of water and sewage management. These reformations helped Israel maintain a highly profitable agriculture sector.
Israel constitutes 75 percent dry, crusty land. It receives about an average of 90 millimeters precipitation annually, most of which is absorbed by the rocky soil. The modern drip irrigation adopted by Israel, along with other institutional transformations, has revolutionized the water management system in the world. Israel used technology interface in the form of micro planning. Through the modern drip irrigation, natural resources; land, water, air, and sunlight, are used to maximize agricultural per unit output. Through the plastic tubing in the drip model, water is delivered, most of which is treated wastewater, directly to the roots of crops and plants even in desert cities like Beersheba.
The National Water Policy of Pakistan was a commendable step passed by the government. Among other salient features, the policy called for an Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) system to be in place. In this climate change situation, the approach needs to be revised and should focus more on ‘Climate Resilient Water Management’.
Only 5 percent of farmers all over the world are using drip irrigation, and majority still use traditional flood irrigation in which 60 percent of irrigation water is lost through drainage, evaporation, runoﬀ, or leakage. On the contrary, drip irrigation devices, cut down water use by almost 90 percent. Through this method, farmers get to spend less on expensive water and more on efficiently using their resources. Just like the topography of Israel, Pakistan comprises of large areas of dry, and semi-arid, lands, with fickle precipitation and extreme weather trends that do not suit crop production. The National Water Policy of Pakistan was a commendable step passed by the government. Among other salient features, the policy called for an Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) system to be in place. In this climate change situation, the approach needs to be revised and should focus more on ‘Climate Resilient Water Management’. Following Israel’s lead, Pakistan can also turn its dry lands into crop fields by adopting modern irrigation technologies like the modern drip irrigation system. With the constant increase in population growth of the country, soon there will be twice as many people to feed. Future climatic scenario of Pakistan also predicts many hazards for the agriculture sector. Availability of water has already become a severe issue of today, and is threatening further water and food security. Therefore, it is imperative that an effective, sustainable plan to tackle the problem of water scarcity is put to motion.
is a Development Economist with an MPhil in Development Studies from the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, Islamabad. She is passionate about working towards a developed, inclusive, and greener environment and is currently working as a Research Associate at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.