As it passes through Pakistan, the Indus River supports much of Pakistan’s human population.
As a whole, Pakistan is an arid country with little rainfall, in which only a small percentage of the land is suitable for crops cultivating. Most of that land lies in the fertile silt soils of the Indus floodplain. Not only does the river provide the water needed to irrigate the soil, but it is responsible for the creation of that soil.
Floods were a major threat to Pakistan during the 20th century, but until recently several dams along the headwaters of the Indus River had reduced the incidence of flooding. In July 2010, however, Pakistan suffered one of its worst-ever monsoon seasons, which triggered the country’s most disastrous flooding in 80 years, putting one-fifth of the country underwater.
Pakistan now has two big dams on rivers: the Tarbela Dam on the Indus River, near the Taxila, earlier known as Buddhist site; and the Mangla Dam on the Jhelum, where the Punjab region borders Azad Kashmir. The Warsak Dam near Peshawar on the Kabul River is much smaller. These dams, along with a series of other water controls built by the British and expanded since independence, are of vital importance to Pakistan’s national economy and played an important role in calming the raging floodwaters of 1992, which inundated large areas in the northern highlands and the Punjab plains. However, the dams did little to prevent the devastating 2010 floodwaters from coursing south along the Indus through Punjab (about 50% of Punjab’s residents were affected by the flooding), Sindh, and other regions.
Pakistan’s wildlife includes such diverse species as the endangered snow leopard, a few types of tigers, and the Greater Indian Rhinoceros. Habitat loss and poaching dangerously threaten all of these animals. In the case of the snow leopard, poaching has been reduced as international measures against selling skins of endangered species have become more effective, yet Pakistan’s snow leopard population is still in decline. Experts blame this decline on increased hunting of the leopard’s primary prey—mountain goats—and the poisoning of small rodents that the leopards also depend on for sustenance. The country’s rhinos are in direct competition with humans for the best grasslands that, in a country as strapped for good farmland as Pakistan, are unlikely to be left wild much longer.
While the Indus River flows down the length of the country, clean drinking water is one of the most pressing issues facing Pakistan’s people. Most villages and towns do not have reliable sources of unpolluted drinking water. Sewage treatment, as well as drinking-water treatment plants, are virtually nonexistent, the country is highly populated, and most Pakistanis do not have access to indoor plumbing. As a result, human waste ends up deposited in fields and along roadsides where it flows into creeks and irrigation canals. Even in places that have flush toilets, the effluent is usually run into irrigation water and deposited on crops that are later consumed by humans. Numerous cases of disease and infection result and water-borne illnesses are thought to be the most frequent cause of death in the country. The disastrous flooding of 2010 only exacerbated the problem.
In the last few decades, Pakistan’s fast-growing population has increasingly moved to the cities. Unfortunately for the nation’s environment, this increased urbanization has not been accompanied by pollution-control measures. As a result, cars and trucks spew smog into Pakistan’s air with few controls, and factories dump their waste indiscriminately. The Pakistan government’s early 21st-century Perspective Plan for the environment does not mention sustainable development strategies nor any policies related to conservation. The government has chosen to focus on achieving self-sufficiency in food production, meeting energy demands, and containing the high rate of population growth—not on curtailing pollution or other environmental hazards.