A recent study has shown a map highlighting areas of likely contamination based on water quality data from nearly 1,200 groundwater pumps tested from 2013 to 2015. The study determined that some 88 million people were living in high-risk areas.
Given that about 60-70 per cent of the population relies on groundwater, roughly 50 million maybe even 60 million could be potentially affected. This is an alarmingly high number and demonstrates the urgent need to test all drinking water wells in the Indus Plain.
Pakistanis also need to be worried as it is tops the list of countries which will soon become ‘water scarce’. If this alarming trend is not addressed by policy makers, the situation will be a tremendous threat to all spheres of lives.
At present, the issue of availability of clean drinking water in Pakistan is a major problem. An estimated to 200 million citizens do not have access to clean drinking water. According to a recent report from the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRW), 85 percent of the population of Pakistan lacks access to drinking water. The report further states that 40 percent of the deaths caused by disease in the country are caused by water-borne diseases.
According to the World Health Organization, we need 50 to 100 liters of water daily. Therefore, Pakistanis require 9 million to 18 million liters of water on a daily basis. Does Pakistan have enough water to meet the daily needs of all people? The answer is no. Add an ever-burgeoning population to the equation and we have the makings of a disaster on our hands.
According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2016-17, Pakistan’s population growth rate is 1.86 percent annually. (Pakistan’s population has increased by 35m every year). By 2030, it is expected to increase by 37 percent and it will increase to 24 million. That means more water needs.
According to the UNDP Report 2009, Pakistan is counted in the top 10 countries of the world with the highest water usage. The list also includes India, China, America, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mexico and Russia. Pakistan’s water print is ranked second in South Asian countries; Maldives tops the list, followed by Pakistan, then Sri Lanka, Nepal, India and Bangladesh. According to the National Institute of Water Education, Unesco Institute for Water Education 2011, Pakistan’s water print printed 1331 meters per annum. Whereas the world’s water footprint is 1385 cubic meters per year. In this situation, in this pre-water scarcity situation, we cannot afford to waste water.
Millions of Pakistanis use hazardous water sources such as wells and ponds for drinking water. That is why thousands of people every year suffer from diarrhea and other diseases. Life is dependent on monsoon rainwater. In many areas such as Tharparkar there has been no government policy to solve the problem of water scarcity. This region has suffered severe drought in recent periods.
The question is: why is the shortage of water increasing every day? One answer is that the population is growing rapidly, while Pakistan’s water resources are decreasing alarmingly. When 200 million people change to 400 million as the century progresses, the fallout is too alarming to contemplate.
As the population grows, the demand of water for agriculture and industry will also increase. Due to the increase in agricultural production, the use of water has increased and will continue to increase in the coming years.
Since there is no legal mechanism to regulate groundwater, people can extract as much water as they need owing to land ownership and sufficient financial resources. The unplanned pumping of groundwater has posed serious management and equity challenges and the government needs to act to reverse this trend. There is a need to build local community and institutional capacity based on indigenous and local research. Productive and rigorous arrangements should be made by the government to educate people about the harmful effects of contaminated water.
Undoubtedly, water is a blessing to all and access to clean and safe drinking water is a fundamental human right. The scarcity of clean water poses a massive threat to Pakistan’s survival and must be resolved with immediate effect. It is necessary to take bold steps to remove this water deficit. Environmental change will have to be overcome, the rapid growth of the population needs to be balanced and government and non-governmental organisations will have to create awareness and define practical concepts to change behavior – on both the individual and policy levels.
The writer is a freelance journalist.