H2O: Pakistan is among top 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change

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H2O: Pakistan is among top 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change

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 Dr Mohsin Hafeez, International Water Management Institute’s representative for Pakistan and Central Asia is an accomplished international water and climate governance expert with over 26 years of experience in climate adaptation, water and climate governance and integrated water resources management for the rural and urban areas

Dr Mohsin Hafeez

IWMI representative for Pakistan and Central Asia


Conservation and judicious use of available water resources and adaptation are the only way forward to mitigate the effects of climate change, said Dr Mohsin Hafeez, International Water Management Institute’s (IWMI) representative for Pakistan and Central Asia.

“Pakistan is among top 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change. The prevailing scenario demands short- and long-term system level planning for conserving the lifeline of the country for future generations,” he said, while talking to BOL News.

“Unusual weather patterns are devastating lives and livelihoods through floods, heatwaves and droughts. We will have to live with the challenges posed by the climate change. Water is an asset, which should be used wisely. We receive majority of the rainfall (around 70 to 80 per cent) during the monsoon season. Our storage capacity is merely that of 30 days. Even after the completion of Mohmand, Diamer-Basha dams, our water storage capacity will be increased to 45 days. It is approximately 800, 600 and 400 days in Australia, China and India, respectively.

We need to build small and big dams to store enough water to meet our irrigation and energy requirements,” he said.

Dr Hafeez also emphasised on the rainwater harvesting to recharge depleting aquifers, especially in the urban areas and suggested to increase the green cover of the country to reduce the impacts of heatwaves and floods.


“We should adopt environmentally-friendly activities such as tree plantation and judicious use of water in urban areas to improve local water security. Pakistan should adopt compulsory rainwater harvesting tanks for every new house being built in all major cities. Rainwater should be harvested for use in toilets, car washing and watering of plants in lawns. Pakistan needs to promote water conservation techniques in the agriculture sector,” Dr Hafeez added.

“Water metering is the right option to stop wastages in the urban areas. Further, industrial and commercial tariffs should be introduced,” he said, adding that there is a need to adopt better farming practices and focus on research to develop drought resistant high yield crop varieties.

According to Dr Hafeez, “We use 5,000 litres of water to produce one kilogramme rice in Pakistan. It is just 400 to 500 litres in other countries. We should improve farming practices and develop water efficient varieties.”

Dr Hafeez is an accomplished international water and climate governance expert with over 26 years of experience in climate adaptation, water and climate governance and integrated water resources management for the rural and urban areas.

He graduated from the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad after which he did his Masters in water resources management from the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) in 1998. This led him to a PhD in water resources management from Rheinischen Friedrich Wilhelms Universität, Bonn, Germany in 2002.

Dr Hafeez has a strong understanding of the real issues and practical challenges associated with hydrology and water management after working with the academia, research institutes, consulting, donor agencies and government organisations in 14 countries, including Australia, China, Germany, The Netherlands, Philippines, the United Kingdom, and the US.


He has successfully identified, conceptualised, planned, developed, and executed around 70 major interdisciplinary research, consultancy and development projects, dealing with agriculture and natural resources management, irrigation modernisation and river basin management, water and food security, water policy development, climate resilience, and remote sensing decision support systems across several countries.

His contributions to increasing water use efficiency in the irrigation sector by ranking water saving options based on potential savings for the existing rural infrastructure and their economic return is highly acknowledged.

This water conservation work has been adopted by Australia under “Water for the Future” initiative in the $12 billion Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure programme, helping upgrade irrigation infrastructure and secure long-term water supply.

At the international level, this work has led to a multilevel government policy dialogue and changed irrigation water practice in the Yellow River Basin, China and Indus River Basin, Pakistan. His work has led to winning many prestigious awards in the Australian and international irrigation and water sectors.

He has organised scientific workshops and chaired several national and international scientific fora in water resources management, floods and droughts, hydrology and remote sensing applications in Australia, China, New Zealand, Pakistan, and the US.

Dr Hafeez has an excellent scientific publication record in the form of journal articles (high impact factor), conference papers, working papers, policy briefs, book and book chapters with over 200 publications to-date.


He has supervised more than 13 post-graduate students (MSc and PhD) in Australia and Germany on integrated water resources management, climate change and remote sensing application for agriculture, water and environment.
He is Adjunct Professor (Water Resources) at the Institute of Water and Hydraulic Research (IWHR), Beijing and at Hubei University, Wuhan, China. He is also the associate editor of ICID International Journal, Irrigation and Drainage.

Prior to joining IWMI as its representative for Pakistan and Central Asia in May 2019, he had worked with Ricardo Energy and Environment Consulting, the UK; Bureau of Meteorology; GHD Pvt Limited (Global Consulting firm in 28 countries); Centre of Water for Food Security at Charles Sturt University (CSU); and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Land and Water Division in Australia; International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the Philippines; University of Bonn, Germany; Centre of Excellence in Water Resources Engineering (CEWRE); University of Engineering and Technology (UET); and Kaneko Agriculture Machinery Company (Ltd), Pakistan.

Following are the excerpts of an exclusive talk with him:

Your first venture as a professional?

I completed my internship and first job with IWMI before going to Germany for higher education in water resources management. My one-and-a-half years stay at IWMI was a wonderful learning curve that helped me a lot in shaping my career as a researcher. My maiden research work was the development of a cost-effective device for tube-wells to ensure sustainable use of groundwater.


Your inspirational role model?

Prof Galyord V Skogerboe is my teacher and inspirational role model. He was IWMI representative for Pakistan during my association with the institute as an intern from 1997/98. From him, I had learned about research, its benefits and how it could be used for a better outcome. He instilled a thirst for research in me that helped me tremendously in my career as a scientist and a professional engineer.

What is International Water Management Institute?

IWMI is an international, research-for-development organisation that works with the governments, civil societies and the private sector to resolve water problems in developing countries and scale up solutions. Through partnership, IWMI combines research on the sustainable use of water and land resources, knowledge services and products with the capacity strengthening, dialogue and policy analysis to support the implementation of water management solutions for agriculture, ecosystems, climate change and inclusive economic growth.

Headquartered in Colombo, Sri Lanka, IWMI is a CGIAR Research Centre with offices in 13 countries and a global network of scientists operating in more than 30 countries. CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food-secure future. CGIAR science is dedicated to transforming food, land and water systems in a climate crisis.

IWMI was established in Pakistan in September 1986 as a permanent research centre and has the status of an international organisation in Pakistan. IWMI Pakistan’s priorities – co-developed with federal ministries, provincial governments and development partners are aimed at supporting the design and implementation of the effective policies around water, food and climate; improve water use efficiency and productivity; and build stronger water institutions at all levels. Key research areas include disaster risk monitoring and climate resilience, water resources assessment, irrigation modernisation, agricultural water management and capacity development.


In what areas does IWMI work globally?

IWMI’s Strategy 2019/23 responds directly to the demand for innovative, scientifically tested water management solutions for sustainable development. With offices in 13 countries and a global network of scientists operating in more than 30 countries, our research, at field to basin and regional scales, will address three high-priority water challenges:

Food: To improve food security while sustainably managing water resources and ecosystems.

Climate: To adapt to and mitigate climate change, while building resilience to water-related disasters and disruption.

Growth: To reduce poverty and advance inclusion with equality as agriculture transforms, energy transitions and urbanisation intensifies.

What are the pressing environmental challenges for Pakistan?


Pakistan is experiencing a multitude of environmental challenges such as climate change, unsustainable water consumption, water pollution, deforestation and unsustainable development among others. From the origin of Indus River in northern Pakistan to downstream Kotri Barrage in Sindh, the water is not fit for drinking purposes and is creating health issues. The climate change has emerged as the most serious environmental issue of the century, which demands collective action.

What is the role of IWMI Pakistan in addressing water issues?

It includes water scarcity, water pollution, and over-abstraction of groundwater resources, water governance challenges, unsustainable water use in agriculture, industrial and domestic sectors and non-implementation of the National Water Policy among other challenges.

IWMI Pakistan is closely working with the federal and provincial departments of Pakistan for the sustainable use of water resources, promoting “More Crop Per Drop” approach and modernising the irrigation methods, improving water governance at the federal and Punjab levels, helping create trust among provinces on the equitable distribution of water resources, establishing artificial groundwater recharge pilot site in Islamabad, and ensuring the implementation of the National Water Policy.

What are the impacts of climate change on water resources in Pakistan?

The climate change is making our rainfall patterns erratic. We are not sure when we’ll have rainfalls, which is affecting our sowing season and impacting agriculture and our way of living. Further, April 2022 was the warmest month during the last 61 years. Similarly, March 2022 was the warmest month in the history of Pakistan (since 1961). Surprisingly, our Northern Areas didn’t experience the desired heating, which they do every year in summer. The result was less glacial melting and almost 50 per cent less water in the canals of Punjab and Sindh. In the wake of these challenges, there is a need to make our water sector resilient to the climate change impacts.


IWMI Pakistan advocates for promoting nature-based solutions, ie, small water storages to improve local water security, as well as building more water reservoirs to meet the national water demand in the wake of crippling water shortages due to the climate change.

Our aquifers are depleting at a faster pace due to excessive pumping. What steps should be taken to conserve the underground water?

Yes, it is a big issue both in the urban and rural areas. There is a need to maintain a balance between groundwater pumping and recharging. We need to revisit our agricultural practices to minimise the use of water pumped through tube-wells. The situation is really alarming in big cities such as Lahore. We need to promote the culture of rainwater harvesting for minimising our reliance on the underground water. For instance, we can fulfil all the requirements of Islamabad by harvesting only 25 per cent of the rainwater. We need to develop groundwater recharge sites, such as doongi grounds in the urban areas.

Water wastage is a serious issue. How can we save this precious resource for our future generations?

Water is a lifeline for our economy and the people and it should be used judiciously and conserved for future generations. Water metering and public awareness can help minimise wastage of this precious resource in the urban areas.

Of the total rainfall of 11 million acres feet (MAF) in the non-Indus Basin of Balochistan, only 10 per cent of the water is saved for various purposes. As such, water worth $10 billion is wasted annually in Balochistan alone. The situation is the same in other federating units. We need to build small and large reservoirs to store water for agricultural purposes and power generation.


Pakistan heavily relies on the import of fossil fuel for power generation. How can we rationalise our energy mix?

Pakistan has abundance of natural resources like water, solar and wind and has the potential of generating 55,000 to 60,000MW through hydel resources alone. It can easily fulfil our growth requirements for the next two to three decades. As such, there is a need to build dams to fulfil our future irrigation and power generation requirements.

How the Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem nexus approach can bring a transformative change in managing water resources in Pakistan?

Water, land, energy, forests and biodiversity are highly interconnected systems and critical to food and nutrition security, livelihoods, climate change adaptation and mitigation and environmental health and biodiversity. Further, the transboundary nature of the Indus River Basin makes integrated and sustainable management of the resources challenging and the governments’ stakeholders and investors often struggle to manage change in complex systems.

Systems thinking helps the governments, investors and local communities to identify where and how to maintain, restore and improve ecosystems and biodiversity, revitalise agriculture and support sustainable irrigation, clean energy and agro-processing needs.

Through WEFE NEXUS Gains project, IWMI is developing interactive tools for various stakeholders to plan WEFE interventions and inform policies, environmental flow assessment tools, boosting water productivity at multiple scales in the basin, linkages between water, energy and food systems for food security and livelihood improvements, including micro-hydropower and solar energy, considering ecosystem health and gender dynamics.


What are the water governance challenges in Pakistan and how is IWMI Pakistan addressing them?

Pakistan’s high vulnerability to water risks and disasters, such as droughts and floods, have highlighted the urgency for climate resilient solutions and improved water governance at the federal and Punjab levels. The current water governance mechanism is a colonial legacy that does not meet the complex water management challenges of the Indus Basin.

Pakistan needs a paradigm shift in water governance to improve climate resilience and water security. However, there is a lack of coherence between the 2018 National Water Policy, 2018 and National Climate Change Policy 2021.

IWMI Pakistan is implementing the Component 1: Climate Resilient Solutions for Improving Water Governance (CRS-IWaG) of Water Resource Accountability in Pakistan (WRAP) programme. The programme is funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to strengthen the capacity of government and private sector departments and to manage water resources at the federal, provincial and district levels.

It aims at improving the capacity of water institutions at the federal and Punjab levels, such as Water Resources Commission (WRC), Water Services Regulatory Authority (WSRA), On Farm Water Management (OFWM) and Irrigation Department in implementing climate-smart interventions through a transformational change process. It will also generate evidence to implement the national and Punjab climate and water policies and acts.

How can we ensure water security in Pakistan?


Pakistan can ensure its water security by adopting Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem (WEFE) nexus approach, ensuring judicious use of water resources, improving efficiency in the agriculture sector to divert additional water to other sectors, replacing water guzzling crops with less water consuming and drought resistant varieties, introducing high efficiency irrigation methods and adapting and mitigating the climate change.


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