Pakistan faces unprecedented stresses on its water resources from inequitable distribution, population growth, urbanization, and shifts in production and consumption patterns, and these water problems exacerbate local tensions. Solutions to Pakistan’s water crisis must focus on addressing unsustainable practices and gross mismanagement, say the authors of this new report.


  • Pakistan, a semiarid region and a primarily agricultural economy, is facing declining water availability and quality, growing water pollution, and overall environmental insecurity. This situation, coupled with institutional, operational, and governance failures, is fostering domestic discord.
  • The water conflict has both historical roots and emerging dynamics.
  • Water scarcity, floods, droughts, and domestic mismanagement can embitter interethnic relations and prompt political tension, which can in turn lead to violence.
  • Understanding water availability, allocation mechanisms, and demand is critical to understanding national management challenges and security threats.
  • A common response to the data on water supply and demand is to put it in the context of population growth. However, the greater issue concerns the politics of distribution, allocation, and access.
  • Rapid urbanization, intersectoral competition, and a growing industrial infrastructure will increase the need both for water and for development of new water infrastructures.
  • Climate change forecasts may seem like an antidote to water scarcity but may not have the same implications for water security—that is, human and socioeconomic security.
  • Varying perceptions of water and security among stakeholders and decision makers are preventing viable solutions for effective water resource management.
  • The current policy approach is oriented in supply-side interventions, and the overall ethos favors engineering megaprojects, a bias reflected in policy and in donor appeals. This approach only veils the problem of water use inefficiencies.
  • Water stress should not be the tipping point but rather a means to promote social harmony, environmental sustainability, and national unity. Effective management can only come from domestic reform, and dependence on foreign aid will not render lasting solutions.
  • It is crucial that the government invest greater political capital to regulate water competition and provide quality water services to all communities. Conservation will prove key.

About the Report

Focusing on Pakistan, this report, sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace, provides a preliminary analysis of water management within a critical national context.

About the Authors

Daanish Mustafa, a member of the department of geography at King’s College London, worked for two years in Pakistan on donor-funded social development and environmental preservation projects. He holds a PhD from the University of Colorado. Majed Akhter specializes in the role experts play in political and economic development. His PhD studies at the University of Arizona focus on the role engineers have played, through water, in the development of the Pakistani state and in Pakistani state-society relations. He will be assistant professor of geography at Indiana University Bloomington beginning in August 2013. Natalie Nasrallah is an independent research consultant in international development and has worked with the United Nations Development Programme and various NGOs. She has previously worked with the U.S. Institute of Peace on studies involving conflict and natural resource management. She holds a master’s degree from the University of London.

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