The impending water crisis in Pakistan
“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” — W H Auden
Pakistan is heading towards a momentous and great exigency: the water crisis. Everyone — government, intelligentsia, eggheads, public — are apprised of the forthcoming challenges pertaining to water scarceness, but still they have turned a blind eye towards it. No serious steps have been taken nor are any in the offing to deal with the imminent adversity.
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A report of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) states: “Pakistan is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, not far from being classified as ‘water scarce’ with less than 1,000 cubic meters per person per year.” While according to experts the water availability per capita will be declined to almost 855 cubic meters by 2020.
As per the ABD, Pakistan’s water storage capacity is confined to a 30-day supply, which is well below the recommended 1,000 days for regions with a similar climate. This is more than 33-folds difference. For an average, ordinary nation this would have been a dreadful situation. But the authorities in Pakistan appear to be complacent about the approaching terrible circumstances.
Water is widely misused by people without having an idea of its significance.
Broadly speaking, our community is a religious one but we do not give importance to water preservation in accordance with the teachings of Islam. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is believed to have said, “Conserve water even if you are on the bank of a river.” Even so water is wasted ruthlessly. Most of the people who have plenty of water to access keep the tap running while brushing their teeth, shaving their beards, or doing dishes etc. Generally, leakages in water pipes go unnoticed.
Low rainfall and silting of the available water reservoirs ring more alarms. Salinity and sodicity make it even worse. The quality of ground water is undergoing deteriorated because of human activities, and its quantity is decreasing day by day. Reservoirs and aquifers are rapidly drying up. Water is pumped out from ground on a faster rate than it is replenished naturally. The phenomenon of climate change and frequent weather changes are the other major factors that are contributing to the impending water crisis. There is a dire need of robust, comprehensive, and implementable national water policy.
Pakistan is an agricultural country where 43 percent of the labour force is employed in agriculture, which makes up 24 percent of our GDP. For agriculture, water is an indispensible resource. There are also a lot of industries that consume a large amount of water for manufacturing of several products. Furthermore, Pakistan is the third largest producer of milk in the world. Livestock also require an adequate supply of good quality water.
All these lucrative spheres will be gravely affected in case of a water shortage. If some remedial measures are not taken on time, the lingering water crisis will soon be at our doors, and the whole nation will have to face dire consequences. We are on the verge of encountering a situation that might prove to be the most precarious one we ever faced in our history if not dealt with promptly and sagaciously.
Our economy, which is already on thin ice, will hit the skids. The unemployment ratio will go from bad to worse. All this will contribute towards the already tense situation in the country. Disputes among provinces may arise regarding rights on rivers’ water, which may bring about a very uncertain and terrible course of events.
Government should declare a water emergency sooner than later; concerned authorities must shift their focus to water development and water management.
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The issues vis-à-vis construction of the Kalabagh dam need to be resolved; provinces that get supernumerary benefits should compensate the other provinces for the losses they will suffer if the Kalabagh dam is built. Moreover, other small and big reservoirs should be made operational without any further delay.
An all-inclusive water strategy should be formulated. Every year, floods wreak havoc in many areas of Pakistan. This liability can be converted into a benefit by building reservoirs to preserve that water. Public should be educated via campaigns by media, political leaders and even religious scholars regarding water usage and its consequences if wasted incautiously. Celebrities can also play a meaningful role in this regard.
Pakistan is one of the major victims of climate change; government should acknowledge this reality, the sooner the better. We are losing our glaciers, which are shrinking in enormous numbers every year, affecting many of our districts downstream. The effects of climate change can be minimised by campaigns like billion-tree tsunami, a commendable initiative by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. Moreover, water should be protected from pollution, and sewerage system needs to be improved. Wasted water can also be re-used for irrigation, which would help to save water for future. A water budget should be properly planned and thoroughly prepared. But for all this a sense of responsibility and a sense of purpose are needed on part of our political leaders. The writer can be reached at SirajShawa@gmail.com