Pakistan on brink of "water disaster"

This article appeared on on January 15, 2009

By Iftikhar Gilani

* Study by International Rivers predicts extreme changes in Himalayan river flows due to global warming, climate change

NEW DELHI: Pakistan is on the brink of ‘water disaster’ as a new study has predicted accelerated melting of glaciers and depletion of massive waters in the Indus Basin Rivers.

It is believed that Pakistan’s water availability would plunge to 800 cubic meters per capita annually by 2020 from the current 1,200 cubic metres. Just 60 years ago, 5,000 cubic meters of water was available to every Pakistani citizen.

The study titled ‘Mountains of Concrete: Dam Building in the Himalayas’, believes that threats of floods caused by glacial lake outburst were on the rise with possible failures of downstream dams. There are predictions of dramatic decrease in flows in the Indus basin in the next 100 years, the study said.

Global warming: The study, undertaken by Sripad Dharmadhikari of Manthan Adhyayan Kendra for International Rivers, an organisation that works to defend the rights of communities around the world that depend on rivers, predicts extreme changes in river flows due to global warming and climate change. The study has, however, not taken into account the effect of annual Hindu pilgrimages to Indus line glaciers in the Kashmir Valley and other Himalayan regions. The annual Amarnath pilgrimage on Thajwasan glaciers feeding Indus River witnesses 20,000 pilgrims every day between June and August every year. On the other hand, the Indian government has restricted 250 pilgrims per day to Gumukh glaciers feeding the Ganges River in Uttrakhand state.

The study believes that a renewed push in recent years for building dams in the Himalayan region, including in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan, could lead to the highest concentration of dams in the world.

As glaciers melt, water in the rivers will rise and dams would be subjected to much higher flows, raising concerns of dam safety, increased flooding and submergence.

Presenting his study, Dharmadhikari pointed out that the dam building in the Himalayas would transform the landscape, ecology and economy of the region. It would have far-reaching impact all the way down to the river deltas. Submergence of lands, homes, fields and forests on a large scale would displace hundreds of thousands of people, he said, adding it would severely disrupt the downstream flows, impacting agriculture, fisheries and threatening livelihoods of entire populations.