Lahore School of Economics

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Indus Basin Water Management Challenges and Strategies

Arif Nadeem

The Indus Basin Irrigation System (IBIS) of Pakistan has developed the world’s largest canal network. The construction of large water storages at Mangla, Tarbela and inter-river link canals are the major milestones in the IBIS management. The system is designed to allocate the scarce water resource over a large geographic area on equitable basis, although equitable distribution is self-defeating as the delivery system is positively linked to the landholdings. The water demand has increased tremendously over time due to expansion of agricultural cultivation on marginal land, increase in agricultural intensification, and fast population and industrial growth in the country. However, development of the IBIS has lagged way behind the increased water demand.

The major water structural challenges currently facing the IBIS are inadequate storage capacity, highly seasonally variable river flows, increasing water shortages during whole Rabi crop-season and sowing-time during Kharif crop-season, inadequate transfer capacity of link canals, and extremely long lead times from reservoirs to the farmers’ fields causes large conveyance losses. The major management problems are poor operation, maintenance and monitoring of the system causing large water leakages, untitled water rights creating tension among regions and farmers, supply rather than demand driven system which not only creates inequitable distribution (especially to tail-end farmers) but also inefficient water use, and lack of holistic approach for the efficient utilization of water resources available from both surface and underground.

In the face of stagnant or even declining water storage capacity of dams, the use of groundwater has tremendously increased facing an increasing danger of depletion, quality deterioration, and serious environmental consequences. For the purpose of conjunctive use of canal and groundwater, the required planning and management at the command area-level is lacking. The emerging impacts of climate changes would add a new dimension to these challenges.

In this backdrop, more proactive and integrated planning of the IBIS system is required, comprehensive strategies are to be evolved, and significant investments have to be generated for holistic water resources management of the Pakistan’s IBIS. The additional water should come mainly from improved efficiency of the canal delivery system, focusing on supplying water as and when needed, specifying water entitlements rather than generalized water rights, gearing water towards regions and crops having the highest productivity per unit of water, devise technologies for the efficient delivery and use of scarce water, and plan conjunctive use of surface and groundwater. The major emphasis should be to change the software of the irrigation infrastructure, rather than investment on changing or expanding the hardware. For this purpose, following policy reforms should be considered: 

Arif Nadeem, Secretary Punjab Agriculture Department, Lahore presented the paper in ixth Annual Conference on Management of the Pakistan Economy (DEVELOPMENT CHALLENGES IN THE NEW DECADE). The complete paper will appear in the special issue of the Lahore Journal of Economics.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 5/05/2010 12:45:00 PM,

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