Hill Torrent Water: A Potential Water Resource for Pakistan?

Author: Dr. Khuram Mubeen

Water vitality for life is well established. Globally “water economy” is of paramount importance in modern times. This is even more worthwhile for developing countries. A recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report ranks Pakistan globally 3 rd among the countries with a severe shortage of water. By 2025, water availability per person annually will be 809 m 3 in Pakistan. The per capita water storage capacity situation is also very vulnerable in Pakistan. Per person storage capability of 5000, 6150, 2200, and 150 m 3 in Australia, the US, China, and Pakistan, respectively, represent a gloomy picture for Pakistan.

The main resources of the water for Pakistan are

  1. Surface-water {per person water availability: 1090 m3
  2. Groundwater {Pakistan ranks high among countries facing groundwater shortage
  3. Precipitation {Most of Pakistan’s area receive low average rainfall below 200 mm annually

Additionally, the lack of seriousness to improve water storage capacity is further amalgamating the national water availability. On the other hand, increasing the population demands more crop production besides addressing the issue of mismanagement of available water resources.

Under the changing dynamics, the future development in agriculture lies in making efficient and wise use of hill torrent water i.e. spate irrigation system.

The current area under spate irrigation traditionally fluctuates between 0.34 M hectares to 1.28 M hectares in dry to wet years which in potentiality may extend to around 7 M hectares. Is this an over rated approximation? May be to an extent, but the fact however remains very clear that there is a lot of potential to be explored in spate ecologies.

Whether the existing farm productivity in spate systems is sufficient? The answer is No.

Is there an established system of research on different aspects of hill torrent water management and spate irrigation? Unfortunately again the answer is a big No.

Does the spate irrigated area possess a significant potential of contribution in National food security? Yes provided hill torrent prone areas are given due importance in planning and development.

Does the spate irrigation potential in the country (up to 10% at present) possess even more potential for contribution in national development? The answer would be Yes and it needs to be explored under varying dimensions. Pakistan having largest area under hill torrent management system globally should have been supposed to be the world leader in spate irrigation system.

How much water volume through hill torrents can be saved? What would happen if hill torrent management and spate irrigation is ignored further To answer these questions we have to look into following information.

Around 55% of Pakistan area is drained by hill torrents. The average run off per year from hill torrents in Pakistan is around 12.15 MAF. Other researchers have reported yearly potential of water from 14 major hill torrents to be around 23 billion m 3 . Whereas the live storage capacity of our largest water reservoir is far below this. The above statements depict the importance of water value we are wasting through hill torrents. This huge volume of water loss is also damaging the infrastructure, vegetation and properties (both public and private) besides life losses for humans and animals etc. Land degradation and soil erosion is becoming worse and worse over time and farmers cannot uplift the water for diverting to their fields. This water diversion to farmer fields demands more energy consumption and making the traditional agricultural production system even more fragile and costly. Hill torrent management facilities needs to be improved to stop such huge wastage of water volume and also to make the best use of this national water resource.

The other very important question is whether the canal water and ground water without the use of hill torrent water can ensure a safe water budget for Pakistan in future on sustainable basis in the back drop of increasing population and dwindling canal and ground water resources? The answer seems
No.

As per above discussion, it is pertinent to note that we should harvest hill torrent water resource to its maximum potential. Hill torrent water channelization (“Spate Basin Irrigation system” is proposed here which may be constructed as per geographical and population needs) can be a viable option based on technical studies and surveys of the hill torrent areas.

Furthermore, it is important to note that under the changing climate and sea pack scenario in Pakistan, the hill torrent areas are going to be the economic hub in future owing to unexplored potential and resources including water, land and landscape etc. Nature has blessed Pakistan with a huge water resource in the form of Hill torrents. We just need to set up a right direction and investment plans as per needs of the poorest residents of such ecologies by looking into all possible and impact oriented interventions on sustainable basis.

Hill torrents are a blessing in disguise. We should foresee hill torrents as a resource rather than a monster. A productive hill torrent water management system should also reduce burden on canal water and ground water for agriculture and other uses. It is the need of the time to realize hill torrent water as a precious nature gifted potential water resource in the context of water economy and national development of the homeland.