The Indus River System Authority (Irsa) on Wednesday said that the country is facing a 30 per cent water shortage at the start of the sowing season for cash crops such as rice and cotton.

Irsa said the gap is based on lower than normal winter snowfall in the northern areas, affecting catchment areas of the Indus and Jhelum Rivers that are used for irrigation.

Kharif crops, or monsoon crops, including rice, maize, sugarcane and cotton are sown in April and require a wet and warm climate with high levels of rainfall.

“There was less snow than normal as a result of climate change affecting the country’s glaciers,” Muhammad Azam Khan, assistant researcher with Irsa, told AFP on Wednesday.

“This will have a direct impact on the availability of water for kharif crops in the summer.”

The water shortage gap is expected to narrow as the monsoon rains arrive later in the season.

However, the meteorological department has also forecast higher than normal temperatures during the monsoon season, increasing uncertainty.

Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy, contributing about 24pc of its GDP.

But it has been criticised for being water inefficient.

“What this current water shortfall means for the crops is that authorities will have to better plan on how to utilise the water that is allotted to them,” Khan said.

The country has recently been grappling with the profound impacts of climate change which includes shifting and unpredictable weather patterns.

Devastating floods in 2022 — which scientists linked to climate change — that affected more than 30 million people also severely impacted the cotton crop that year.

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