Pakistan: Inter-Provincial Relations on Indus Basin

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Case Description
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Geolocation: 26° 56' 4.8253", 68° 43' 44.6538"
Total Population million"million" is not a number.
Agreements: Water Apportionment Accord 1991

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Natural, Historic, Economic, Regional, and Political Framework

Water Distribution amongst Indus Riparians

The infrastructure development over the Indus Basin in early 1900s by the then governing British was intended to provide irrigation for increasing agricultural production. The infrastructure development on Indus Basin while changed the agri-based economy of the region, it also gave rise to a deep sense of distrust in the Sindh province over the actual extent of effects the infrastructure development would have over longer term on the flows to the Sindh.

Distribution of Indus waters amongst various riparians has remained an area of large interest. This interest is partially drawn to the issue of inter-state water allocations between Punjab and Sindh provinces of Pakistan. However, the inter-state distribution of water over Indus and the ensuing differences of opinions pre-date the modern history of the division of Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947.

The disputed status of water entitlements between Punjab and Sindh provinces have remained a point of discourse due to the desire to augment irrigation infrastructure for capturing Indus flows. As this infrastructure developed into more complex and intricate over decades since mid-20th century, the opposition by the lower riparian also grew in voice and frequency. The plans by Punjab Government to construct additional storage and regulatory infrastructure have remained the center of this opposition by Sindh province.

The early attempts to address the disputes resulted in the 1945 Sindh-Punjab Agreement[1] formulated by the British as a solution to introduce equity in water distribution amongst the two provinces. The 1945 Agreement stated that Sindh has the right to receive Indus waters and allocated 75% of main-stem Indus River to Sindh and 25% to Punjab whereas 94% from the eastern tributaries to Punjab and 6% to Sindh.[2] This formula remained in force up until 1947 when the sub-continent divided into independent India and Pakistan. The water sharing formula could not immediately be reviewed because when the British Act of Parliament was passed on July 18, 1947, the boundary between the two new dominions was not demarcated and so it was impractical to deal with the allocation of water.[3] As the newly formed federal government in Pakistan began allocating water on an adhoc basis, the perceptions in Sindh largely viewed this practice as favoring Punjab.

It wasn’t until much later that the Water Apportionment Accord (WAA) was signed in March 1991 in the hope to address the inter-provincial distrust through providing overarching guideline for water allocation and monitoring that these allocations are respected through the establishment of Indus River System Authority (IRSA) in 1992.

Issues and Stakeholders

Analysis, Synthesis, and Insight

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Collaborative Adaptive Management, Joint Fact Finding, and Mutual Gains: Aplication to Indus River

The Water Apportionment Act of 1991 includes aspects that both increase and hinder flexibility or adaptability over time. This article discusses these aspects and also addresses how development of technical information was addressed for this process and opportunities for mutual gains and consensus building.

Contributed by: Tahira Syed (last edit: 27 January 2014)

Key Questions

Transboundary Water Issues: What mechanisms beyond simple allocation can be incorporated into transboundary water agreements to add value and facilitate resolution?

The emphasis of addressing inter-state disputes over water allocations on the Indus Basion has more than often focused on allocation formula to be proposed and agreed in instruments such as the 1991 WAA. There is a need to identify a few additional mechanisms that can contribute to the desiging or adapting the water agreements and can also reflect levels of emerging conditions in view of climatic variations and impact on water management for agricultural productivity.

  1. ^ IUCN, 2010 – Pakistan Water Apportionment Accord for Resolving Inter-provincial Water Conflicts – Policy Issues and Options. IUCN Pakistan, Karachi. 11 pp. Draft available online:
  2. ^ Mustafa, D. 2010 – Hydropolitics in Pakistan’s Indus Basin. USIP Special Report. Available from
  3. ^ Salman, M.A.Salman and Kishor Uprety( 2002); Conflicts and Cooperation on South Asia’s International Rivers; a Legal Perspective. Washington D.C.; The World Bank