Key Water Issues

In Pakistan, 80% of arable land is irrigated, producing 90% of total output.
In Pakistan, 80% of arable land is irrigated, producing 90% of total output.
Pakistan has the potential to be an agricultural powerhouse.

The potential of Pakistan’s agriculture is widely recognized – it cannot only be self-sufficient in its food supplies, but can also be a major exporter of agricultural products. The country is also already a leading producer of wheat, rice, cotton and milk.


Unlocking Pakistan’s potential

Irrigation played a large and significant role in the growth of Pakistan’s agricultural sector stimulated by investment since the 1960s. However, like in many parts of South Asia, irrigation systems in Pakistan are now underperforming and groundwater use is on the rise causing problems of salinity. The major challenge today is to improve management to raise productivity levels and bring a new wave of agricultural performance to the country. These improvements in management should work across sectors, recognizing that managing water resources in an integrated way will bring greater benefits to people and the environment.
Key Issues:
  • Poverty and food security
  • Agricultural production and productivity
  • Complex transboundary issues
  • Groundwater overdraft
  • Salinity
  • Climate change impacts

The growth of Pakistan’s agricultural sector has traditionally been attributed to the expansion of irrigation which provided the platform for economic development. Today, competition for water is growing and the irrigation sector is under threat. The country identifies water scarcity as a key problem made real by the demands from a large and growing population, where over 80% of arable land is irrigated. This is compounded by the threat of melting glaciers in the Himalayas due to climate change, which is likely to aggravate the serious problems of flooding in the lower reaches of the Indus Irrigation System. In recent years, surface irrigation infrastructures have shown signs of decay and are suffering from the problem of salinity. Groundwater is emerging as a major component of the irrigation sector bringing opportunities to farmers but this also affects water tables and has worsened problems associated with salinity.

Pakistan is known for having the largest area under contiguous irrigation in the world, heavily dependent on the inflows into the Indus River system derived mostly from snowmelt in the western Himalayas.
Pakistan is known for having the largest area under contiguous irrigation in the world, heavily dependent on the inflows into the Indus River system derived mostly from snowmelt in the western Himalayas.

Pakistan’s irrigation efficiency can improve. A focus on raising the performance of the irrigation systems through management reforms and enhancing institutional capacity, will reduce food insecurity and contribute to economic development in Pakistan. IWMI’s research in Pakistan contributes to understanding how irrigation management can be improved. This involves building a benchmark for performance of irrigation systems based on different criteria tested in pilot sites in collaboration with the government, farmers, agricultural institutions and other partners. The outcomes contribute to developing performance indicators based on how well physical, agricultural, financial and environmental issues are addressed through management.