he 2023 monsoon rains left a deep mark on the country. Last year, Balochistan and Sindh were the most affected provinces. This year, the monsoon rains hit the thickly populated Punjab. On July 5, 291-millimetre rainfall was recorded in Lahore in a matter of ten hours.
Despite unprecedented precipitation, water shortage in the country has increased to 30 percent. It stands at 14 out of 17 extremely high-water risk countries. The demand for water is 274 million-acre feet whereas the supply remains around 191 MAF.
In 2022, the rainfall during the summer season was 87 percent more than the past years. This resulted in losses amounting to $30 billion, according to the United Nations. Keeping in view the rains and flash flood trends in the past couple of years, one may think that Pakistan ought not be a country deficient in water. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Despite the record-breaking downpours, it remains on the list of ten-most water-stressed countries. If the depletion of water resources continues, Pakistan shall face severe water scarcity by 2025.
Why do parts of the country face acute shortages of water despite the heavy rains? To begin with, it should be realised that groundwater withdrawal in every corner of the country is excessive. In cities like Quetta and Karachi, mafias extract water from the ground and sell it at a heavy price.
Pakistan is an agrarian country. Many of the farmers rely on groundwater for irrigation. 94 percent of the groundwater is used in the agriculture sector. 80 percent of the water is consumed by merely four crops: rice, cotton, sugarcane and wheat. These crops contribute only 5 percent to the GDP of the country.
Most famers are used to traditional methods and have little knowledge about the modern irrigation techniques.
There is no strategy for treating wastewater and making it usable. According to a report published by the PIDE last year, Israel currently treats and converts 90 percent of its wastewater into usable water.
Climate patterns are changing fast and can accelerate the deterioration of water security. The impact of El Nino — the warming of the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, especially the surface water — can further exacerbate the water problem.
The people of water stressed districts of Pishin, Quetta, Khanozai, Turbat, Gwadar, Panjgur, Dera Bugti, Sui and Kohlu can teach others the worth of groundwater. Water is drawn from various levels. The people of Gwadar travel long distances to fetch water. In Pishin region, wells have to be 800 feet deep to reach groundwater.
These water scarcity issue should be dealt with on an emergency basis. The problem is multi-faceted and different strategies are needed in different provinces. The matter is as important as the menace of terrorism.
Climate patterns are also changing fast and can accelerate deterioration of the water security situation. The impact of El Nino — the warming of the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, especially the surface water —can also exacerbate the water problem. President JF Kennedy of the US once said, “Those who solve the problem of water are worthy of two noble prizes – one for peace and one for science.”
The government must lead from the front in the management of water resources. They must prioritise this issue. The reservoirs that are built to store water should not fail as they did during the rains in Balochistan in 2022. Incompetence among engineers should not be tolerated at any cost.
Farmers should be taught the latest techniques. This will have dual benefits. One, wastage of water will be reduced. Two, the production of the agriculture sector will increase. The agriculture department of Pishin has initiated work on ameliorating the overall production of grapes and fruits. A project funded by an international NGO found that the area that had supported 70 apple trees can actually support 500 trees. Modern techniques can uplift the people living below the poverty line and improve the socio-economic indicators.
Political will and efficient management of water resources are the key to solving the water problem.
The writer tweets DawoodKhanHere. He can be reached at dawoodkhan0666gmail.com