Groundwater depletion in the Indus Plains of Pakistan: imperatives, repercussions and management issues

Muhammad Watto, Amin Mugera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


© 2016 International Association for Hydro-Environment Engineering and Research.The sustainability of agricultural growth has been greatly influenced by the massive use of groundwater in Pakistan for the last few decades. However, the groundwater economy of Pakistan is at critical juncture now. Concomitant with massive pumping of groundwater aquifers through unrestricted expansion of tube-wells, groundwater exploitation has led to many negative environmental, economic and spatial impacts and serious threats to the sustainability of irrigated agriculture in the region. The spectacular increase in the groundwater development during the last half-century has manifested as a kind of ‘silent revolution’ carried out by thousands of farmers in pursuit of reliable irrigation water supplies. The groundwater revolution in the Indus Basin has been a result of a succession of factors –each of them exacerbated the groundwater crises in the subsequent periods. Massive groundwater extraction programmes were commenced to overcome waterlogging and salinity, which was blown up by large-scale surface water developments in coming years. Within this backdrop, this article attempts to identify the causes and consequences of groundwater overdrafting in Pakistan and draws attention to groundwater resource management issues. In this article, we discuss how the rigidity of the surface-water-allocation system, the Green Revolution, the Indus Water Treaty, soaring population and the groundwater management policies have led to groundwater revolution. Major environmental impacts identified include soil salinization, salt water and sea water intrusion, land subsidence, and drying up of lakes and vegetation in different parts of the country. Various pecuniary impacts such as increasing pumping costs while decreasing land values are also very prominent. Migration and prospective social conflicts are amongst the potential spatial impacts. We have concluded that decreasing surface water supplies, unimpeded pumping of aquifers, lack of groundwater
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)447-458
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of River Basin Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016


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