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07/23/2013

Pakistan desperately needs water. Will India oblige?

Pak

This 2010 file photo shows  flooding  in southern Pakistan. Climatologists say Pakistan is one of the most  affected countries by climate change.  (AP photo)

Is Pakistan heading for a major water crisis? Almost definitely, says a new report by the Asian Development Bank.

The report calls Pakistan “one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, not far from being classified as water scarce.” It says the country has less than 1,000 cubic meters water per person per year and water demand exceeds supply, which has caused maximum withdrawal from reservoirs.

While the comprehensive report analyses a range of economic concerns for Pakistan but its conclusion clearly says that “boosting agricultural productivity and strengthening food security” will require “improving the management, storage, and pricing of water for irrigation.”

Eighty per cent of Pakistan’s farms are currently irrigated, and the report says right reforms could double the productivity.

The question is: where will Pakistan get the water from?  

Like other south-Asian countries, climate change is playing havoc in Pakistan -- among other things,  is affecting glaciers and reducing flows into the Indus River, the main source of water. The report says an increase in storage capacity to manage periods of "low snowmelt and low rainfall are required," as well as the rehabilitation of the distribution system to reduce losses.

What Pakistan can do, and is likely to do, is protest India’s construction of a series of dam’s on Indus. They would lie in India’s territory but sit upstream from Pakistan, thus possibly constricting its water flow.

Pakistan is also pushing to renegotiate  the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, which governs how India and Pakistan share the flow from the six rivers of the Indus Basin.

Treaties aren’t easy to renegotiate — for once, they take forever.

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term, and wildlife. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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