Despite having more glaciers than anywhere else in the world and its location in the Indus River Basin, Pakistan is at risk of acute water scarcity. Its surface and groundwater sources are both increasingly stressed and severe drought conditions persist in parts of the country due to a lack of rain. At the same time, Pakistan has an extensive agriculture sector, which uses flood methods of irrigation to grow water-intensive crops. Water infrastructure in Pakistan is outdated and in poor condition, which wastes even more water, while little is stored because of a lack of reservoirs and sediment build-up in existing facilities. The water that is available is often unclean, having been polluted by human, agricultural and industrial waste, with little infrastructure in place to provide clean water.
The problem is made worse by poor governance and management in the water sector. While there are laws governing water, they are often archaic, dating back to the colonial era. Other attempts to reform water management have simply added new bureaucracy on top of the existing framework, creating agencies with overlapping duties.
While the adoption of the National Water Policy in 2018 has been a cause for optimism in Pakistan, its vague and sometimes contradictory wording raise concerns that the country’s water crisis will continue to worsen.