Water supply and demand management of the Indus basin : Options for current and future sustainable water resources management

The Indus basin is one of the regions in the world that is faced with major challenges for its water sector, due to population growth, rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, environmental degradation, unregulated utilization of the resources, inefficient water use and poverty, all aggravated by climate change. The Indus Basin is shared by 4 countries – Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and China. With a current population of 237 million people which is projected to increase to 319 million in 2025 and 383 million in 2050, already today water resources are abstracted almost entirely (more than 95% for irrigation). Climate change will result in increased water availability in the short term.

Article Courtesy : Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS)

Authors : A.N. Laghari, D.Vanham, and W.Rauch

However in the long term water availability will decrease. Some current aspects in the basin need to be re-evaluated. During the past decades water abstractions – and especially groundwater extractions – have augmented continuously to support a rice-wheat system where rice is grown during the kharif (wet, summer) season (as well as sugar cane, cotton, maize and other crops) and wheat during the rabi (dry, winter) season. However, the sustainability of this system in its current form is questionable. Additional water for domestic and industrial purposes is required for the future and should be made available by a reduction in irrigation requirements.

This paper gives a comprehensive listing and description of available options for current and future sustainable water resources management (WRM) within the basin.

Sustainable WRM practices include both water supply management and water demand management options.

Water supply management options include:
(1) Reservoir management as the basin is characterised by a strong seasonal behaviour in water availability (monsoon and meltwater) and water demands;
(2) Water quality conservation and investment in wastewater infrastructure;
(3) The use of alternative water resources like the recycling of wastewater and desalination;
(4) Land use planning and soil conservation as well as flood management, with a focus on the reduction of erosion and resulting sedimentation as well as the restoration of ecosystem services like wetlands and natural floodplains.

Water demand management options include:
(1) Management of conjunctive use of surface and groundwater; as well as
(2) Rehabilitation and modernization of existing infrastructure. Other demand management options are:
(3) Increase of water productivity for agriculture;
(4) Crop planning and diversification including the critical assessment of agricultural export, especially (basmati) rice;
(5) Economic instruments and
(6) Changing food demand patterns and limiting post-harvest losses.


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