Options Magazine, Summer 2023: Using an integrated water-energy-land system model on multi-sector transformations, IIASA researchers seek to enhance environmental flows in the Indus River Basin.

The Indus River Basin is home to more than 250 million people in South Asia—a figure that is expected to vastly increase in the near future due to rapid development. In fact, just an acute deficit of environmental flows in the basin’s delta has been shown to negatively impact the surrounding ecosystem.

In a new study, Muhammad Awais, a researcher in the Integrated Assessment and Climate Change Research Group of the IIASA Energy, Climate, and Environment Program, and his coauthors, used a sub-national model of the basin’s integrated water-energy-land system to analyze costs associated with multi-sector transformations aimed at enhancing environmental flows to the delta.

Their results show that increasing average outflows from the basin (relative to historical policy levels) by 2.5 and 5 times respectively, would increase sectoral costs for upstream water users between 17-32% for low, and 68-72% for high ecological potential targets.

Enhancing environmental flows, the study shows, would also increase energy available for pumping and treating water upstream from the delta. This would provide a net increase in both irrigation and energy investments.

“The recent floods in Pakistan are yet another indication of the overall vulnerability of the Indus River Basin to climate change,” notes Awais. “It is crucial that policymakers prioritize ecosystem adaptation in the context of environmental flows. Doing so will greatly help mitigate the negative impacts on the delta and its surrounding ecosystems. It will also, just as importantly, ensure the socioeconomic wellbeing of the inhabitants downstream from the delta.”

By Jeremy Summers


Awais, M. , Vinca, A. , Parkinson, S., McPherson, M., Byers, E. , Willaarts, B. , Muhamma, A., & Riahi, K. (2022). Replenishing the Indus Delta through multi-sector transformation. Frontiers in Environmental Science 10 e958101. 10.3389/fenvs.2022.958101.