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Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


Water is a federal subject, for which the following federal institutions are responsible:

  • The Ministry of Water and Power is responsible for the development of water projects including hydropower dams, main canals and inter-provincial works. The Ministry is supported by the Office of the Chief Engineering Advisor, the Chair of the Federal Flood Commission and the Chair of the Indus River System Authority (IRSA).
  • The IRSA is responsible for the distribution of water among the provinces and assists provinces to share shortages according to the Apportionment Accord of 1991.
  • The Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), created in 1958 as a semiautonomous body, is the functional arm of the Ministry of Water and Power and is responsible for the development of hydropower and water development projects.
  • The Ministry of Food and Agriculture is responsible for water management at the watercourse command level and farm level irrigation and water productivity. The Ministry is supported by the Federal Water Management Cell, which coordinates the national projects and provides services to the provinces for planning, evaluation and monitoring of Mega projects. This Cell also provides support to the provincial Departments of Agriculture through the provincial On-Farm Water Management (OFWM) Directorate Generals. These OFWMs implement the programmes and projects related to water management for agriculture and are involved in organizing water user associations at the watercourse level and their federations at the distributary canal command level.
  • The Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) is a national apex research organization responsible for research in agriculture, land, water, energy, environment and livestock.
  • The Water Resources Research Institute of the National Agricultural Research Centre of PARC is a major institution dealing with research related to water for agriculture. Recently, the federal government transferred the High Efficiency Irrigation Project , which is a mega project, to PARC under the directive of the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
  • Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources is an organization under the federal Ministry of Science and Technology. The Council is also involved in some areas of water research related to agriculture, but has no formal link to the Department of Agriculture in the provinces. Its activities are related to water for domestic use, water quality and control of desertification.

Irrigation and drainage are handled at the provincial level. The Provincial Irrigation and Drainage Authorities (PIDAs) are the custodians of the irrigation networks in association with the Area Water Boards (AWB). These institutions carry out O&M and the distribution of water within the province and to design and develop new irrigation and drainage schemes. The PIDA experiment is still in its infancy, the Provincial Irrigation Departments (PIDs) are still active, as the responsibility and authority has not yet been transferred to the AWBs.

The Farmers’ Organizations (FOs) were registered during the early twentieth century. The Institutional Reforms for the water sector, the Provincial Irrigation and Drainage Authority Acts authorized the PIDAs to form and register the FOs at the distributary canal level. At the provincial level the FOs have been established in the selected AWBs. The FOs are responsible for collecting the water fee.

Along with the FOs, the first Water User Associations (WUA) were created in 1981 under the World Bank-supported On-Farm Water Management Programme. These were formed at the watercourse level, with the primary objective of rehabilitating the watercourses. Currently around 80 000 WUAs have been formed that have participated in the rehabilitation and lining of the watercourses.

Environment institutions have been established within most of the organizations besides the federal and provincial Environmental Protection Agencies (EPAs) to address issues related to field level activities. The regulatory and legal aspects of pollution control are being implemented by the EPAs.

Water management

The government of Pakistan has undertaken a National Project on the Improvement of Watercourses”to improve 88 000 watercourses costing Pakistani Rupees 66 billion (about US$0.8 billion in 2009) and cost sharing of 70:30 percent, where 70 percent is contributed jointly by the federal and provincial governments and 30 percent by farmers. Since 2007 the federal government has been funding a National Programme for Water Conservation for Productivity Enhancement using High Efficiency Irrigation System. A subsidy of Pakistani Rupees 90 000/ha (US$1 070/ha in 2009) is provided jointly by the federal and provincial governments and the rest by the farmer. Private sector service and supply companies have been registered in to provide ‘turn-key’ installation of sprinkler and drip irrigation systems. Recently, this project has been transferred to PARC owing to the extremely slow progress.

The public sector operates the irrigation systems above the moghas (turnout). Each season, the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) of the Federal Government estimates water availability for the following season. The Provincial Irrigation Departments (PID) inform the WAPDA of provincial water demands at specific locations. The WAPDA releases water from the reservoirs to meet demands as closely as possible. The limited reservoir capacity of the systems does not allow the full regulation of rivers for irrigation.

Farmers use groundwater to irrigate their fields at peak demand owing to scarcity of water and shortages imposed resulting from fixed rotation and the continuous flow irrigation system, which is too rigid to meet crop-water demands. The water distribution system is based on a rotation schedule, called Warabandi (7-10 days rotation), and water is supplied equitably to farmers on a fixed rotation; inequity arises from the inefficiency of water conveyance (Ahmad, 2008a).

An agreement was reached in March 1991 between the provinces on the apportionment of the Indus water to replace a much older agreement. The new agreement has released the provincial canal systems from the need to be operating at all times so as to protect or establish future rights. Now that the supplies have been apportioned, including the formula for sharing any surplus river flows, the provincial systems are free to move toward more efficient water use.


O&M expenditure is collected by levying water charges and/or drainage taxes. In Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, water charges are assessed by the Provincial Irrigation Departments (PIDs). In Sindh and Balochistan, they are assessed by the Provincial Revenue Department (PRD). Water and drainage charges are not linked to O&M needs. They are collected in all regions by PRD, and are deemed to be part of provincial revenues. The gap between O&M expenditures and recoveries through water charges is high (44 percent) and increasing. The difficulties faced in cost recovery have resulted in very poor O&M which, together with deliveries at less than the designed levels and illegal diversion, has led to major inequalities in the distribution of water. In reality, water often does not reach the tail-end users, which can partly explain the increasing groundwater extraction.

The FOs are responsible for collecting the water fee. They retain 40 percent for O&M at the distributary canal level and deposit 60 percent with the AWB for upstream O&M.

The IBIS is the largest infrastructural enterprise accounting for about US$300 000 million investment (at current rates).

Policies and legislation

Since 2005, the Draft National Water Policy is still in the process of being approved. The Pakistan Water Strategy was prepared during 2001, which is the basic document for water development and management. Further, there is no formal Agriculture Policy; although policy decisions have been made on a case-by-case basis. The only approved Integrated Water Resources Management Policy is for Balochistan province.

The 1967 Land Reform Act established a register of rights, which is a cadastral register for land and water rights.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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