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Kunhar River in a deep gorge


Rivers in Pakistan

Written by Nisar A. Khan

Indus River under the Thakot Old BridgePakistan’s river system consists of more than 60 small and large rivers (See Map of Rivers in Pakistan below). Indus River, with an overall length of around 3200 KM and total estimated annual flow of 207 billion cubic meters, is Pakistan’s longest and largest river. After originating in the highlands of Kailas mountains of Tibetan Plateau, it runs from north to south through the entire length of the Pakistan and after collecting waters from all other Pakistani Rivers it finally unloads into the Arabian Sea near Karachi. Other famous rivers flowing through Pakistan includes Jhelum River, Chenab River, Ravi River, Sutlej River, Kabul River etc.

Indus River near Bisham


All of Pakistan’s major rivers originate in northern highlands of Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindukush mountain ranges and pour one by one into each other and finally into Indus River creating the Indus River Basin, which covers an area of more than 0.6 million km2,.


Kunhar River near Balakot

Historically these rivers have been witness to the rise and fall of subsequent civilizations, which flourished along its banks including the famous Indus valley civilization, dating back to 3300 BC. These rivers have always provided ideal conditions for human settlement and growth of politics, arts and culture. It continues to provide key water resources, especially for large scale agricultural irrigation in the valleys of the north and fertile plains of the south of the country.


River waters are also an important source for generating large scale hydro power and industrial and domestic use. Nevertheless these river waters also provide unique ecological environments, where flourish a great variety of plants and animal species.

Jehlum and Neelem Rivers Junction

However the continued demand for river waters on one hand and careless use on the other hand, is putting these important resources and its environment under extreme pressure and its quality and ecosystem is fast degrading.


Many of these rivers originate or pass through Indian territories before entering Pakistan. Since partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, river water use and distribution remained an important issue. In 1960 the Indus Water Treaty was signed with India, according to which all water of the eastern rivers (Sutlej, Bias and Ravi rivers) shall be available for the use of India.

River Swat near Chakdara

On the other hand, the three western rivers (Indus, Jhelum, Chenab rivers) shall be available for the use of Pakistan.


To utilize these river resources, over the years a number of reservoirs, dams, barrages and canals have been developed to regulate irrigation water and produce electricity in Pakistan. These include 3 major storage reservoirs, 19 Barrages, 82 Small dams, 57 major canals etc, making one of the largest contiguous irrigation systems in the world. Turbela Dam, Pakistan’s largest, is also believed to be second largest in the world in terms of structural volume with a surface area of 240 square km, and is generating around 3500 megawatts of electricity.


Following is a brief list of major rivers of Pakistan


Indus River, Jehlum River, Chenab River, Ravi River, Sutlej River , Kunhar River, Neelum River, Gilgit River, Hunza River, Shigar River, Shyok River, Kabul River, Swat River, Chitral River, Gomal River, Kurrum River etc. For details please see following pages and a Map of Rivers of Pakistan in below;

Map of Rivers in Pakistan

High Mountains                    Forests     Rivers        Range lands                  Irrigated Plains                    Deserts/Wastelands                         Towns/Cities                       Sea

Pakistan Geographical Profile

An illustration of geographical cross section of Pakistan


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