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  • Nov 8th, 2016
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Increasing water scarcity in the country could lead to food insecurity in the coming years as 90 percent of the total available water is used for irrigation with 80 percent farmland in the country. According to a report of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Pakistan is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, not far from being classified as "water scarce," with less than 1,000 cubic meters per person per year.

Water demand exceeds supply, which has caused maximum withdrawal from reservoirs, it says, adding that at present, Pakistan's storage capacity is limited to a 30-day supply, well below the recommended 1,000 days for countries with a similar climate. The report says that climate change is affecting snowmelt and reducing flows into the Indus River, the main supply source. Increases 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.

"Improved water management is critical to deliver sufficient water to the 80 percent of farmland in the country that is irrigated," it says. Pervaiz Amir, country director of the Pakistan Water Partnership, told Business Recorder that in Pakistan 90 percent of water is used in agriculture and if this is not reduced, within five to ten years farmers in the Indus basin will no longer be able to grow water-intensive cash crops like sugar cane, rice and cotton.

He said the country's wheat production fell by 1.5 million tons last year due to water shortages and hail storms in some parts of the Indus basin. Amir said the government should promote strip cropping and encourage farmers to grow a more diverse range of gains, such as millet, maize and sorghum, to boost food security besides providing them more resilient seeds.

According to a study of the International Water-logging and Salinity Research Institute (IWASRI), part of the Water and Power Development Authority, about 145 million acre-feet of water flows through Pakistan each year, but the country's existing storage capacity is only 14 million acre-feet, meaning it can only store enough water to last 30 days. The international standard is 120 days.

Muhammad Saeed, director at IWASRI, said that 42 percent of the land in Punjab is irrigated using wells and the excessive pumping of groundwater is quickly lowering the water table. "In the near future, farmers will no longer be able to grow water-intensive crops like sugarcane and rice," he said. Citing the study, he said that across Punjab province, the groundwater supplies are depleting at 16 to 55 centimetres (6 to 21 inches) a year, and this could potentially threaten the food security in the coming years if more water reservoirs are not constructed.

Pakistan is the world's fourth largest producer of rice after China, India and Indonesia. The average production of the crop stands around six million tons each year, with cultivation on over 2.5 million hectares. According to the 2010 agricultural census carried out by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, almost 64 percent of the country's population lives in rural areas and earns a living from agricultural activities such as crop cultivation, livestock rearing, and transportation of agricultural products to market.

Abid Qaiyum Suleri, executive director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, however says that at present, half of Pakistan's population is food insecure and if the current trend of water depletion continues in Punjab and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa-two regions that are home to 80 percent of Pakistan's farming population - food production and farming income will suffer.

Almost half of Pakistan's population does not have enough food for an active and healthy life, according to a recent report by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute. A growing number of districts in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces are facing food insecurity according to the report. In Balochistan, the worst affected region in the country, 90 percent of districts suffer from food insecurity. The SDPI study recommends the government should construct more small dams at the community or catchement level to conserve rainwater and recharge groundwater. It also suggests the government to improve crop irrigation techniques, since 40 percent of irrigation water is wasted.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2016

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