Agriculture in Pakistan

Irrigation system of Pakistan–Sources and Issues faced to it

Irrigation System and its Challenges

Agriculture and Irrigation System

Agriculture is the backbone of the economy of Pakistan and the system of irrigation is a key and source of  production of  food.

As we all know that Pakistan is an agricultural country and all of its agriculture depends on the irrigation system i.e. the watering system of its crops. The good the irrigation system, the best the yield of the crop.

Pakistan is lucky to have the World’s largest irrigation system. It provides water to about 18 million hectares of arable land. About 71% of the world’s surface is made up of water.

Water—a valuable resource

Water is one of the world’s most scarce and valuable resources and it is one the most depleted. Pakistan is an agricultural country and its economy is highly dependent on irrigation.

Of this, 97.5% is salty water and only 2.5% is sweet and about 68.9% of this sweet water freezes in ice.

Thus water is the most precious and valuable resource that Allah has bestowed us on land.

Irrigation is the watering of the crops  to assure crop growth and increase productivity by some artilficial means such as by means of channels.


Resources of Irrigation System in Pakistan

The two primary sources of water in Pakistan are surface water and groundwater respectively.

Surface Water Resources

The Indus River is an important supply of water in Pakistan, and it is subdivided into several branches downstream, including the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej rivers.

The Jhelum, Indus, and Chenab rivers provide 165 billion cubic meters per year while the Beas, Ravi, and Sutlej rivers contribute 10 billion cubic meters every year. Unfortunately, each year, due to seepage, evaporation, theft, and other factors, around 12Bm3 of water is wasted.

Approximately 70% of water volume is used for irrigation, with the remaining water being wasted in the Arabian sea.

Ground Water Resources

Flood management and planning for irrigation operations have become extremely difficult and challenging due to the wide range of rainfall duration, timing, and intensity that is seen in Pakistan during the monsoon season.

Another source of replenishment is the fast-moving water on the hills, which is called a torrent in English. There are approximately 14 separate hilly floods and torrents that have a total volume of 23436.15 Bm3.

What are the Main Sources of Irrigation in Pakistan?

Sources of Irrigation in Pakistan are :

  • Canals
  • Rivers
  • Dams
  • Head Works
  • Barrage
  • Tube Well

More than 90% of the country’s agriculture, which is a large part of GPD (Gross Domestic Product), depends upon irrigation systems. 75% of Pakistan is irrigated and 25% is rain-fed. There is such a shortage of water that even in rainy areas rainwater is insufficient for irrigation.

Rainfall mostly happens in the northern areas of Pakistan and there is snowfall in winter which melts and brings water in the form of rivers in the plains. Water is also stored in dams that are tied on the rivers.

In short, the irrigation system of Pakistan consists of:

  • 3 Big reservoirs
  • 19 Barrages
  • 12 Canal sources
  • 40 Big canal system
  • And about 120,000 watercourses.

Importance of Rivers in Pakistan’s Irrigation System

Indus River is the most important source of water in Pakistan. Indus River is the backbone of agriculture and it plays a vital role in food production in Pakistan.

Indus Basin River consists of five major tributaries that include:

  1. Jhelum
  2. Chenab
  3. Ravi
  4. Sutlej
  5. Beas

The two rivers which come out in Afghanistan are:

  • Kabul
  • Kurram

The average annual flow of the Indus River is 146 MAF million acre-feet while only 106 MAF flows into the canals.

Indus Basin Irrigation System

The total area of the Indus Basin (Sindh Taas) is 1.12 million square kilometers. The Indus Basin flows from the Himalayan mountains in the north to the arid plains of Sindh in the South, and finally into the Arabian Sea near the Pakistani international port in the city of Karachi.

Indus Basin of Pakistan

There is no way to ignore the importance of the Indus basin irrigation system in Pakistan which is enormous in both its normal and strategic significance.

In Pakistan, the Indus Basin covers an area of about 520,000 square kilometers which comes from Punjab and KPK, and also from Balochistan and easter areas of Sindh. Its drainage area is in India, which covers about 440,000 square km or about 14% of the country. These include various Indian states of

  • Himalaya
  • Jammu and Kashmir
  • Himachal Pradesh
  • Punjab
  • Rajhistan
  • Haryana
  • Chandigarh

Brief History of Pakistan’s Irrigation System

The Irrigation System of Pakistan was born in Pakistan in 1947 when the Indian Subcontinent was divided, and with its birth, it generated and gave birth to many other issues concerning water supply for irrigation which was resolved in the year 1960 when a treaty was signed between the two countries India and Pakistan which was called Indus Basin Treaty.

Indus Basin Treaty

The Indus Basin Agreement was signed on September 19, 1960. Beas River, Sutlej River, and Ravi River had been given to India, and the control of western rivers, namely the Indus River, Chenab River, and Jhelum River had been given to Pakistan.

The agreement stated that Pakistan would use Eastern rivers for agricultural and irrigation purposes whereas  India would take water from the western rivers.

Unfortunately, the treaty made in the 1960s stipulated that India could use the water from Pakistani-controlled rivers for agriculture and power-generating purposes, despite the fact that Pakistan was downstream of the rivers.  Because the basin of the Pakistani-controlled river is located in India, there is a possibility that India will have an impact on Pakistan’s irrigation resources, as he did during the wars of 1965 and 1971.

Challenges and Issues in Pakistan’s Irrigation System

In Pakistani agriculture, a word water economy is used because the crops are heavily reliant on water. In order to ensure the development and effective functioning of this vast system, it is imperative that existing infrastructure be maintained, and new infrastructure is constructed.

Insufficient Water Costs

In Pakistan, the user is responsible for recovering the capital costs related to the development of irrigation systems. The rates for operation and maintenance are linked to the water costs gathered by the regional government, however, because of the ineptitude and malpractice of the government institutions, these charges are insufficient to meet the needs of the population.

Backward Agricultural Environment

Pakistan is a densely inhabited agriculture-based country and one of the finest irrigation systems in the world, but it nevertheless has a backward agricultural environment. Most of the population (more than 65%) is dependent on the attachments to agricultural fields or industrial enterprises.

Punjab’s Irrigation System—not well developed

The irrigation system in Punjab is not well-developed and its management is not well organized due to which irrigation system has become a significant challenge in this province because population is increasing gradually.

Administrative Problems of Irrigation System

The burden in the restricted irrigation system is likewise growing increasingly burdensome, and the situation is becoming increasingly critical. Problems with the administration of Pakistan’s irrigation system include both social and technical issues. The significant decrease in the irrigation system of Pakistan is due to its mishandling.

The most common issues and problems with the irrigation system in Pakistan are listed below:

  • Improvement and upgradation
  • Salinity and waterlogging issues
  • irrigation system turning during rainy weather
  • water pressure issues
  • overwatering and under watering
  • water runoff and polling
  • Overexploitation of freshwater
  • Insufficient cost recovery
  • Government policy
  • Wara Bandi system
  • Water losses in fields Evaporation losses
  • Province-to-province clashes over the Kalabagh Dam(KBD)
  • Lack of dams

Let’s discuss the most important and common challenges and issues faced by the irrigation system in Pakistan:

 Water Wastage

A lot of water is wasted in Pakistan year due to which Pakistan is running short of water. Approximately  60% of water is wasted every year as famers use the antiquated floodwater irrigation system. There was a lot of water in flood seasons in Pakistan but Pakistan wasted it as it has shortage of reserviors.

 Salinity and Water Logging

The issue of water logging and salanity are becoming severe in Pakistan. The main reason is that farmers are installing an increasing number of tubewells for irrigation as there is lack of water storage facilities due to slit deposition. The other main factor is evaporation of groundwater in the fertile land of Punjab and Sindh due to extreme hot temperature.

Unwillingness for the Kalabagh Dam(KBD) Project

The country irrigation issues have increase mainly due to failure in constructing extra wata dams to save water for irrigation purposes.

Irrigation problems of Pakistan would increase if Pakistan construct the Kalabagh Dam. It is all because of the province to province clashes over the Kalabagh Dam Project as only Punjab is willing to move through this project. But all other provinces are unwilling to go through it.

Shortage of Dams

There is high need of more and more dams in order to increase the storage capacity of water. Pakistan should more dams on the Jhelum, Chenab, Indus and Ravi rivers so that Pakistan could sot out all the problems regarding irrigating land, lack of water and also pricing of all the crops.


As agriculture is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, it the need of the hour to develop and introduce the best irrigation technologies in Paksitan. All the challenges and issues that the Pakistan is facing in its irrigation system should be resolved.

Pakistan should build more and more dams to increase storage capacity of water and also solve the issue of water lagging and salanity so that wastage of much of the fertile land be minimized. There should be intelligent use of water and there should be the best management for fertile land of Pakistan.

If all these changes are implemented, it would not only assure significant increases in agriculture and its productivity but also strengthened the paksitan’s economy.

Anesa Yasmeen

Aneesa Yasmeen; a Senior analyst on Current affairs who always focuses on exploring better-researched outcomes by deep analyst strategies. She is a passionate author and enjoys writing about the latest events happening in Pakistan.

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