Water scarcity ‘is Pakistan’s worst nightmare’

Despite an abundance of water in Pakistan a few decades ago, lagging policies have raised the prospect of water scarcity that could threaten the economy. DW speaks to Michael Kugelman about the severity of the situation.

Pakistan has the world’s fourth highest rate of water use. Its water intensity rate – the amount of water, in cubic meters, used per unit of GDP – is the world’s highest. This suggests that no country’s economy is more water-intensive than Pakistan’s.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan is already the third most water-stressed country in the world. Its per capita annual water availability is 1,017 cubic meters – perilously close to the scarcity threshold of 1,000 cubic meters. Back in 2009, Pakistan’s water availability was about 1,500 cubic meters.

The bulk of Pakistan’s farmland is irrigated through a canal system, but the IMF says in a recent report canal water is vastly underpriced, recovering only one-quarter of annual operating and maintenance costs. Meanwhile, agriculture, which consumes almost all annual available surface water, is largely untaxed.

In a DW interview, Michael Kugelman, South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center, talks about the reasons behind the mismanagement of water in the South Asian nation, the consequences of this aggressive water consumption as well as potential solutions.

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