Pakistan has about 1.2 million tube wells extracting 50 million acre feet of water every year for farm irrigation. NASA satellite maps show that Pakistan is among the places worst affected by rapid depletion of groundwater.
|Water Stress Satellite Map Source: NASA
A recent World Bank report titled "Groundwater in Pakistan’s Indus Basin : Present and Future Prospects" lays out the need for better groundwater management in Pakistan. Here are three key highlights of this reports:
1. Improved groundwater management is crucial for a healthy, wealthy, and green Pakistan. Pakistan’s Indus Basin Irrigation System is the largest artificial groundwater recharge system in the world, but the current water management paradigm doesn’t reflect it.
2. Over-abstraction, waterlogging and contamination threaten the crucial role of groundwater as a life-sustaining resource, which has cascading impacts on drought resilience, public health, and environmental sustainability.
3. For groundwater to remain a safe and reliable source of drinking water and a lifeline for tail-end farmers, a balance must be achieved between efficiency of the surface water system and sustainability of groundwater resources.
The World Bank report points to the need for better management of groundwater resources. One of the keys to groundwater management is to have an elaborate network of small dams and water reservoirs in strategic locations to recharge underground aquifers.
In recent years, Pakistan has begun to address its groundwater challenges, starting with the National Water Policy 2018 which identified priorities for groundwater management.
Pakistan's Common Council of Interests (CCI) with the prime minister and the provincial chief ministers recently adopted a National Water Policy (NWP) in April 2018. It is designed to deal with “the looming shortage of water” which poses “a grave threat to (the country’s) food, energy and water security” and constitutes “an existential threat…”as well as “the commitment and intent” of the federal and provincial governments to make efforts “ to avert the water crisis”.
The NWP supports significant increases in the public sector investment for the water sector by the Federal Government from 3.7% of the development budget in 2017-18 to at least 10% in 2018-19 and 20% by 2030; the establishment of an apex body to approve legislation, policies and strategies for water resource development and management, supported by a multi- sectoral Steering Committee of officials at the working level; and the creation of a Groundwater Authority in Islamabad and provincial water authorities in each of the provinces.
As the NASA satellite map shows, the Punjab is the worst affected province where the groundwater depletion is the highest. Currently, 1.2 million private tube wells are working in the country, out of which 85% are in Punjab, 6.4% are in Sindh, 3.8% are in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and 4.8% are 3 in Baluchistan.
National Water Policy 2018
was followed by the Punjab Water Policy in 2018 and the Punjab Water Act 2019. The policy emphasizes the need to curb groundwater over-extraction and contamination, and the Act establishes a regime of licenses for abstraction and wastewater disposal, managed by newly created regulatory bodies.
Punjab is also developing a provincial Groundwater Management Plan. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a similar act was passed in 2020 while in Sindh, a draft Water Policy is underway to provide much needed direction for tackling waterlogging and salinity, and for conjunctive management of surface water and groundwater. The federal government is drafting a five-year National Groundwater Management Plan to provide a framework for coordinating groundwater stakeholders across Pakistan.
It appears that there is now clear recognition of the rapid loss of groundwater and its impact on agriculture irrigation and drinking water availability. What is needed is serious follow-up and execution to produce results.
Here's a video discussion on the subject:https://youtu.be/nrfF3ppBzpo
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