Water scarcity is an increasingly pressing issue of our time, and according to the UN, nearly 1.8 billion people will live in regions of “absolute water scarcity” by the end of 2025 making water crisis in Pakistan also an alarming issue as we are at the 3rd place going to have an acute water shortage.
This universal truth is biting Pakistan really severely, and this is why the Diamer Bhasha Dam Fund that was created by the Supreme Court of Pakistan has restarted the water debate in the country.
Where many are appreciating the effort, some are quick to dismiss the actual purpose of creating an imminent dialogue on the creation of dams and are highlighting that the economy cannot be run like charities.
The thing is, if international bodies are not willing to loan us any money for the projects, we have to exercise every channel possible to preserve the water or meet the devastating consequences.
Water Crisis in Pakistan
The water crisis in Pakistan has been termed as the more significant threat to the country than terrorism, and sadly the former had not been able to make the headlines in either national or international media.
The reports by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) have warned that the country may run out of water in 2025 and with more than 200 million people depending upon the depleting water reserves, it is high time that the people wake up to find the sustainable solutions for this issue.
Some Alarming Stats
Pakistan has the world’s fourth highest rate of water consumption and has the highest water intensity rate – the amount of water, in cubic meters, used per unit of GDP – around the world which sketches quite a scary picture for a country which is not too large on the map.
According to a report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan ranks third among the countries facing acute water shortage.
The country has 1017 cubic meters per capita annual water availability which is dangerously close to the scarcity threshold of 1,000 cubic meters.
This figure was 1500 cubic meters in 2009, an indicator that Pakistan’s economy is more water intensive than many other countries in the world.
You would be surprised to know that Pakistan receives around 145 million acre-feet of water every year but only can save 13.7 million acre-feet.
It needs 40 million acre-feet of water, but sadly 29 million acre-feet of flood water is wasted due to our inability to build dams.
India has also raised this issue internationally that it should be allowed to use the western rivers because Pakistan cannot use them properly; a slap on our faces.
Causes and Effects of Water Crisis in Pakistan
Many researchers have predicted that Pakistan is on its way to becoming the most water-stressed country in the region by 2040.
This is unfortunately not the first time that the development and research organizations have alerted Pakistani authorities about the impending crisis, but we are still standing on the rainbow mountain, not valuing water at all as a commodity.
According to experts the growing population and urbanizations are the leading causes of the water crisis in Pakistan. Several other factors contributing to the water problem include;
- Reduced rainfall
- Poor water management
- Poor handling of industrial wastewater
- Climate change
- Lack of political will to address the governing issues
- Change in food consumption pattern and lack of proper water storage facilities
- Ignorance at the household level
- Wastage of drinking water in non-productive means
Water wastage is also one of the most significant issues in Pakistan, and as the water crisis worsen, no measures seem to have been adopted by the government and individuals to prevent this calamity. At the individual level, we waste water carelessly while;
- Washing cars/bikes at homes and service stations
- Washing clothes or kitchen utensils and keeping the tap open
- Washing garages and washroom every day; even the main gate of our home.
And how couldn’t this affect the mindset of people in our government departments?
Even worse, you will be surprised to know that Lahore Waste Management Company washes the Lahore city roads with drinkable water. 30,500 liters of drinking water gets wasted every day.
The mismanagement of water takes place at many levels. Most of the farmlands in the country are irrigated through a canal system and according to IMF, this canal water is vastly underpriced and recovers only one-quarter of annual operating and maintenance costs.
Surprisingly, agriculture which consumes fresh water the most is mainly untaxed, making it a burden on our economy. We are not implying to tax the poor farmer but why are the big feudal lords having plenty of agriculture land not levied?
2. Temperature Change
In Pakistan, water scarcity has been accompanied by an extreme rise in temperatures. Around 65 people died from heatstroke in the Karachi in May this year while in 2015, 1200 lost their lives due to scorching weather.
The monsoon season has also become erratic in the past few years and the winter season has shrunk from four to two months. Meanwhile, the forests now account for 2 percent of the nation as compared to the 5 percent at the time of Independence in 1947.
All of these factors combined are both the causes and effects of climate change and on top of it Pakistan lack dams to save the flood water.
The former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had announced Pakistan’s first National Water Policy this year, but experts were skeptical of the government’s policies to tackle the water crisis.
3. Reservoirs Storage Capacity
Tarbela and Mangla dams, the two major water reservoirs in Pakistan reached dead level recently, sparking a debate on social media over the lack of any positive actions by the government to face the water crisis.
These two big reservoirs can save water for only 30 days, and on the other hand India can store water for 190 days while the USA can do the same for 900 days, even Egypt has the capacity to store water for 1000 days – figures that should serve as an eye opener for the politicians as well as the citizens of this country.
Water is a basic necessity of life while experts say that almost 70% of world water is used in agriculture. So water shortage will result in no agriculture and eventually no food to eat. If we paid no heed, soon most of the fertile land would be turned barren.
5. Effecting Provincial Interharmony
Water scarcity is also triggering security conflicts in Pakistan, causing provinces to fight over this precious resource.
The three out of four provinces blame Punjab for usurping their water supply- an issue if not resolved in a considerate manner can cause the feeling of betrayal among the people of other provinces.
As we are a water-intensive economy, the water scarcity can also create a broader economic crisis in Pakistan which may also lead to an economic collapse in the future.
The most preferred solution of all the governments have been to play the blame game; blame either previous governments or India for the water crisis while at the same time doing nothing to solve the problem.
Albert Einstein once described insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So maybe it is our time to let go of the traditional approaches to water and energy which have failed to solve the problem for us.
Many countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia, USA, UK, Greece, etc. are forging ahead with innovative ideas and cutting-edge technologies to make water an easily accessible resource.
In addition to creating reliable and safe water supplies, we also need to gather the real-time data to manage the overall use and treatment cycles of water, a feat only possible through embracing the latest technologies.
It is fitting to reject the conventional approaches to water and move towards innovative solutions to ensure water for our future generations.