Irrigation System in Pakistan – Here Is a Detailed Guide

Pakistan is known as an agricultural country. One of the basic needs of any country with agriculture at the helm of affairs is water. And that is when the understanding of the irrigation system comes to play its due role in the story. 

The irrigation system in Pakistan is an interesting topic. On one hand, Pakistan is the country with the world’s largest irrigation system and on the flip side of the coin, Pakistan is seriously suffering from some of the major water issues such as scarcity and poor management. 

Let us dive deep into why this is happening: 

Let’s Take a Look Back in Time – History of Pakistan’s Irrigation System

Pakistan’s irrigation system is not only the world’s largest system but is also the oldest one. This one dates back to 2500 BCE. The Indus civilization was one of the most advanced ones. Those people were known for establishing and constructing a fine system of canals and dams which was really helpful in crop irrigation.

During the British invasion, the system was further expanded and modernized. They built larger-than-life dams which were able to store water and were then used for the purpose of irrigation. Sukkur and Taunsa Barrage in the 1930s was the biggest achievement of that time period.

Then with the passage of time, the government took matters into its hands and continued with the construction of the Tarbela Dam in the 1970s and the Mangla Dam in 1960 were two of the most successful developments.

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Current Look into the Canal Irrigation System in Pakistan

The main factor of the irrigation system in Pakistan is its rivers. Rivers are natural bodies that contain water and flow from the point of their origin to the point of destination. Pakistan is the country that has the largest irrigation system in the world. Covering a whopping land space of 16 million hectares.

This extensive system of irrigation in Pakistan contains canals, dams, and reservoirs. and is fed by the Indus River and its various tributaries.

IBIS or Indus Basin Irrigation System is the biggest contributing factor to the canal irrigation system in Pakistan. This one consists of the following three main canals:

  • Indus River
  • Left Bank Outfall Drain
  • Right Bank Outfall Drain

This system also contains Chashma-Jhelum and the Taunsa-Panjnad system. The addition of these small systems also covers the water needs of 4 million hectares of land.

The irrigation system of Pakistan is managed by IRSA (Indus River System Authority).

What are the Sources of Irrigation in Pakistan

Given below are some of the main sources of irrigation in Pakistan:

Surface Water

Surface water is the main source of irrigation systems in Pakistan. The rivers and their tributaries which are flowing via the IBIS. This surface water is the main reason for the irrigation of the most fertile and productive lands in Pakistan.

Ground Water

The next source of irrigation system in Pakistan is groundwater. Groundwater is the water that flows inside the depths of the earth. Pakistan has a large network of underground aquifers. These aquifers are tapped in using tube wells. The farmers mainly rely on tube wells and irrigation systems for watering the crops.

Dams and Reservoirs

Although we are running behind on the number of dams that are present in the country. Still, the presence of the dams in the country is playing a keen role in maintaining the flow and regulation of the irrigation system in Pakistan.


No one can deny the important role that canals play in the whole scheme of things. They are carved to ensure that water is being transported from one point to another. Such as rivers, dams, and reservoirs to the main population and facilities. The entire canal irrigation is a much more beneficial system in terms of water efficacy and water management as compared to the flood irrigation system.

Rivers of the Irrigation System in Pakistan

As we have discussed previously. Pakistan’s irrigation system is mostly dependent on the rivers. The following are the rivers that are known for playing a key role in the irrigation system of Pakistan:

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Indus River

One of the longest and most important rivers in Pakistan is the Indus River. This one originated from Tibet and tends to flow along the lines of the Himalayas. From those high mountains, the river continues its trajectory throughout the country.

Jhelum River

This one is a known tributary of the Indus River and shares its origin in Kashmir. From there it flows across Pakistan and also provides water to the Jhelum-Chenab link canal. This is an important link canal system because it supplies water to almost 1 million hectares of land.

Chenab River

Chenab River is also an important river which is famous for supplying water to at least 2 million hectares. This way the river is adding worth to the land by ensuring a smooth cultivation process of rice, cotton, and other crops.

Ravi Ravi

One of the most ancient rivers of Pakistan is the Ravi River. This river is also known as the most important river in the entire irrigation system and provides water to almost 1 million hectares of land.

Sutlej Ravi

Another important river is the Sutlej River which originated in Tibet and then flows through the Sutlej Beas Link Canal. This river is known for providing water to 1 million hectares.

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What are the Common Challenges Faced by Irrigation System in Pakistan

Here are the threats and challenges which are currently faced by the irrigation system in Pakistan:

Infrastructure Deterioration

The architectural prowess of the structures is known to play a key role in determining how long the structure will be functional. Due to mismanagement and the absence of funds, the country is currently suffering from infrastructure deterioration in these matters.

Water Scarcity

They say that the next war will be on the water. And if we are to believe the statistic, then the prediction is not that wrong. The water in the Indus River and its tributaries are heavily dependent on the melting of the snow and the characteristic monsoons of the region. But the current scenarios of droughts and floods are making the situation even more unbearable for the masses and the authorities.

Climate Change

One of the biggest challenges of the current times is the drastic and unprecedented changes in the climate. The climate is the weather conditions for a long period of time. The rising temperature and the uncontrolled glacier meltdowns are creating havoc for the irrigation system in Pakistan – leading to droughts and floods.


Another major issue that is currently making headlines for all the wrong reasons is the mismanagement of resources. From unequal and unfair distribution to not allocating enough resources, the mismanagement is leading to provincial conflict.

The Bottom Line!

The irrigation system of Pakistan is the backbone of the country’s GDP. Not only is it important for providing water to the crops and population but is also responsible for managing the aquatic ecosystem of Pakistan.

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