Pakistan's water scarcity

Most Pakistanis know a lot about the country's energy crisis and its consequences on the economy. However, hardly a handful know or even talks about the much greater looming threat of water scarcity in Pakistan, even though, the water crisis has much larger consequences, it constitutes one of the biggest challenges to Pakistan's survival. According to a recent report by International Monetary Fund, Pakistan's per-capita water availability has dropped significantly from 5,600 cubic meters at the time of independence to the current level of 1,017 cubic meters. And it is not all thanks to population growth.

Titled, Issues in managing water challenges and policy instruments: Regional perspective and case studies, the report forecasts that per-capita water availability will decline further unless Pakistan changes its current infrastructure and institutional approaches to the problem.

Although Pakistan has massive glaciers, the country has only one Indus system and its tributaries to take water from one point to another.
The water availability in Indus supply system is highly seasonal and 85 percent of river flows occur during the June to September months. The annual monsoon rain season also coincides with this period.

If the man-made problems are not enough, Pakistan is also exposed to extreme weather conditions.
These conditions are consisting of massive flooding and severe droughts. These conditions play havoc with the country's agricultural, livestock, and water infrastructure.

The case study argues that the significant cost of these problems is attributed to lack of government interest in building adequate storage capacity and control structures.

Pakistan has only 30-day storage facility in its dams as compared to the 220-day storage facility in India and 1000-days in Egypt.
The IMF has suggested Pakistan to conserve and sustain the water use through better infrastructure.
It also argued that Pakistan should have a plan to bring the agricultural sector under the tax net and to sustain water use through a better cost recovery mechanism.

The study has strongly emphasized that there are both equity and efficiency rationales for bringing agriculture within the tax net. It argues that Pakistan's agriculture sector consumed 95 percent of surface water annually.

However, the use of ground water has increased in recent years, farmers tend to use subsidized water and electricity tariffs have induced adoption and expansion of electric pumps to tap groundwater at an alarming rate.

Approximately 60 percent of farm-gate-delivered water in Punjab comes from tube wells. The study says that even with all these benefits the agriculture contributes only 0.1 percent in total tax revenue even though it counts 21 percent of GDP.

The writers of the study believe that due to all these reasons its important for agriculture to come under tax umbrella.

The IMF report argues that the abiana or the water tax is only 24 percent of annual maintenance and operating cost and government is only able to collect 60 percent of total receivables. This puts huge pressure on the government budget.

The study also recommended that the pricing structure of major corps should not be uniform because different crops utilize different water level; for example rice utilizes 60 percent more water than cotton.

This lack of proper pricing creates excess use of water during irrigation which results in poor water quality. Currently, the 36 percent of groundwater is highly saline.

Finally, the report maintains that Pakistan needs a policy change, with more focus on demand-side measures that would promote water conservation and control of excessive groundwater exploitation.

This demand-side approach cannot be possible without the greater engagement of stakeholders at the local level in water management and capacity-building of water management institutions.

The federal government should encourage the provinces to reform the agricultural taxation system within the context of the next NFC awards.