I have a confession to make: I used to brush my teeth while keeping the tap running. Yes, every morning and night, the tap would gush out clean drinking water into the basin, while I brushed away. I still wince when thinking about the waste.
Today, I no longer take for granted my access to safe drinking water. I am constantly reminded – every time I brush my teeth, drink my morning coffee, or cook dinner with my family – that such activities consume valuable clean drinking water.
Water is a precious resource in Pakistan, the United States, and worldwide. We must do everything we can to conserve our water and keep it clean, since safe drinking water is critically important for supporting healthy societies and prosperous economies.
As a signatory to the Millennium Development Goals, the government of Pakistan has recognised the need to increase access to safe water and sanitation, and is taking steps to address the current shortage. Just last month, the Punjab provincial government began implementation of the Saaf Pani project, which aims to provide sustainable, safe drinking water solutions for a rural population of more than 40 million. Initiatives like this will decrease the number of water-borne infections and diseases and economically benefit thousands of families who would otherwise pay a premium for the basic right of potable water.
The importance of access to clean drinking water cannot be understated. That is why the US government is partnering with the Pakistani government to increase this access for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis. In Jacobabad, for example, the US Agency for International Development’s Municipal Services Project is repairing and expanding pipelines, constructing water reservoirs, and building treatment plants so more than 250,000 citizens can have potable water.
Through this same project, USAID has partnered with Unicef to educate and inform the residents of Jacobabad about safe hygiene and sanitation practices through radio and television ads, as well as with community engagement.
The health benefits of improving sanitation systems and practices are clear, and the need for clean water will continue to grow. Pakistan’s estimated population is on track to exceed 300 million people by 2050, increasing pressure on the nation’s finite resources. Population growth, coupled with the effects of climate change and water exploitation, will increase water scarcity in the country.
To tackle this challenge, the US and Pakistani governments have collaborated to establish the US-Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies in Water. This centre, located at the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology in Jamshoro and the University of Utah in the United States, will nurture the next generation of scientists, engineers, and policy makers through innovative academic programs in water.
Already, six faculty members from the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology have departed Pakistan to spend a semester at the University of Utah, where they will conduct cutting-edge research in water resources, hydraulics, and irrigation and drainage engineering.
The centre plans to award at least 250 degrees to Pakistani students and employ at least half of them in the field of water resources. By seeking to attract a diverse student body, the centre aims to not only find creative solutions to Pakistan’s water needs, but also to ensure women and economically disadvantaged students are given the opportunity to contribute to this process.
We at USAID are proud to work alongside our Pakistani partners through both the Municipal Services Program and the US-Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies in Water. Through a combination of capital and intellectual investments and behavioural changes, the United States and Pakistan can find solutions to water challenges together.
However, our governments can’t address these issues alone. Businesses, schools, and families worldwide all have important roles to play. Each one of us can do our part to conserve resources and improve sanitation practices in our communities.
The writer is the mission director for USAID Pakistan.