Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2021-400
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2021-400

  02 Aug 2021

02 Aug 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Future upstream water consumption and its impact on downstream availability in the transboundary Indus basin

Wouter J. Smolenaars1, Sanita Dhaubanjar2,3, Muhammad K. Jamil1,4, Arthur Lutz2, Walter Immerzeel2, Fulco Ludwig1, and Hester Biemans1 Wouter J. Smolenaars et al.
  • 1Water Systems and Global Change Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, 6708 PB, The Netherlands
  • 2Department of Physical Geography, Utrecht University, Utrecht, 3584 CB, The Netherlands
  • 3International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Kathmandu, 44700, Nepal
  • 4Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad, 44690, Pakistan

Abstract. The densely populated plains of the lower Indus basin largely depend on water resources originating in the mountains of the upper Indus basin. Although recent studies have improved our understanding of this upstream-downstream linkage and the impact of climate change, water use in the mountainous part of the Indus has been largely ignored. This study quantifies the comparative impact of upper Indus water usage on downstream water availability under future climate change and socio-economic development. Future water consumption and relative pressure on water resources vary greatly between upper Indus sub-basins and seasons. During the dry season, the share of surface water required within the upper Indus is high and increasing, and in some sub-basins future water requirements exceed availability during the critical winter months. In the lower Indus this causes spatiotemporal hotspots to emerge where seasonal water availability is reduced by over 25 % compared to natural conditions. This plays an important, but previously not accounted for, compounding role in the steep decline of per capita seasonal water availability in the lower Indus in the future due to downstream population growth. Increasing consumption in the upper Indus may thus locally lead to water scarcity issues, and increasingly be a driver of downstream water stress during the dry season. The quantified perspective on the evolving upstream-downstream linkages of the transboundary Indus basin, provided in this study, highlights that long-term water management here must account for rapid socio-economic change in the upper Indus and anticipate increasing upstream-downstream water competition between riparian states.

Wouter J. Smolenaars et al.

Status: open (until 27 Sep 2021)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on hess-2021-400', Anonymous Referee #1, 14 Aug 2021 reply
  • RC2: 'Comment on hess-2021-400', Anonymous Referee #2, 31 Aug 2021 reply

Wouter J. Smolenaars et al.

Wouter J. Smolenaars et al.

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Short summary
The arid plains of the lower Indus basin rely heavily on the water provided by the mountainous upper Indus. Rapid population growth in the upper Indus is expected to increase the water that is consumed here. This will subsequently reduce the water that is available for the downstream plains where populations and water demands are also expected to grow. In the future, tensions over the division of water between the countries that share the Indus basin may therefore aggravate.