Water Woes in Pakistan: Climate Challenges and the Urgency of Sustainable Solutions

In recent years, Pakistan has found itself at the forefront of the battle against the impacts of climate change, as its weather patterns undergo profound transformations, significantly impacting the nation’s landscape and livelihoods. The simultaneous filling of major water reservoirs – Tarbela, Mangla, and Chashma – on August 17, 2023, was initially perceived as a momentous event, raising hopes for agricultural sustainability. However, as mid-January 2024 approaches, concerns arise with Tarbela and Mangla reservoirs nearing depletion and winter precipitation yet to materialize.
One of the primary factors contributing to the low rainfall in Pakistan is the extensive deforestation that has taken place in the country. The rampant clearing of forests has disrupted the natural water cycle, reducing the amount of moisture in the air and consequently leading to decreased rainfall. Deforestation not only hampers the local climate but also exacerbates the vulnerability of Pakistan to the impacts of climate change.
Furthermore, the situation has been made worse by excessive groundwater extraction. Aquifers are being depleted as a result of the careless extraction of groundwater for home and agricultural uses, among other uses. Pakistan becomes more susceptible to water scarcity as subterranean water reservoirs get smaller and less able to support agricultural activities and act as a buffer against infrequent rainfall.
Problematic water management techniques combined with excessive water use exacerbate the issues. The impact of changes in precipitation patterns brought on by climate change is made worse by inefficient use of the water resources that are available and by a lack of sustainable management. Pakistan’s reliance on rivers for water makes these resources more stressed, especially in light of the water’s disproportionate distribution—94% of it is used for agriculture.

Local hydrological cycles have also changed as a result of dam construction, which was done to store water and generate electricity. Although dam construction is necessary for water management, care must be taken to prevent interference with natural flow patterns. Low rainfall poses challenges due to altered hydrological cycles that impact water availability for different applications.
Pakistan is currently experiencing an unprecedented dry spell as a result of rising temperatures brought on by climate change. Just 1.1 millimeters of rain fell on the country in December 2023—a startling 92% less than previous records. As a result, December was among the driest in the previous 63 years. The provinces of Punjab and Sindh, which typically receive heavy winter rainfall, are particularly affected by this change in the weather.December 2023 saw a rainfall deficit of 98% in these agricultural heartlands, heightening concerns about crop yields.
A vital component of Pakistan’s economy, agriculture is more vulnerable to risk as a result of climate change. Temperature extremes are a serious threat to crop yields; by 2020, they could affect 10% of the land area and by 2030, 15% of the land area. Moreover, water availability becomes a critical concern, particularly given that over 90% of Pakistan is likely to experience water scarcity as a result of climate change.
Pakistan is not the only country facing the problem of water scarcity. Water scarcity caused by climate change is also very likely—it has a probability of over 90% in neighboring Nepal. According to projections, Pakistan and Nepal may experience inadequate water availability as early as 2050, making it difficult for them to produce enough food on their own. This alarming scenario underscores the urgency of addressing the interconnected challenges of climate-induced low rainfall, water scarcity, and sustainable agriculture practices.
Efforts to combat water scarcity in Pakistan involve constructing new water reservoirs, such as the Diamer Bhasha Dam. However, the progress on such projects raises concerns about meeting future water demands. The present reliance on river water for irrigating 450 million acres of land, with a shortfall averaging 25%, necessitates immediate action. In order to ensure water sustainability in the face of challenges brought on by climate change, a multifaceted strategy that includes efficient water usage and increased productivity is essential.
Pakistan’s water demand is predicted to increase dramatically in the future, possibly reaching 14 to 15 million acre-feet by 2030. In order to meet this challenge, a proactive strategy that includes improved productivity, water-use efficiency, and the timely completion of water reservoir projects is needed. In light of the interrelated issues raised by climate change and its effects on rainfall patterns, the article’s conclusion emphasizes the necessity of swift and concerted action to ensure water sustainability and security in Pakistan.

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