The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) released a warning in May regarding the national water crisis. This has raised consternation among concerned citizens.
At this stage, Pakistan is ranked third among countries that are facing water scarcity. According to the PCRWR, the country may run out of water by 2025 if proper mitigation measures aren’t taken immediately by the authorities.
It is a widely acknowledged fact that only 2.5 percent of water across the world is fresh while the remaining 97.5 percent is saline water. Only a fraction of this fresh water is available for human and agricultural use. The rest exists in the form of glaciers, ice and snow.
Glaciers are melting rapidly due to climate change, resulting in a continuous increase in the flow of water in rivers. In Pakistan’s context, this water is often wasted by the time it reaches the Arabian Sea without being utilised in the inland regions due to the absence of efficient storage mechanisms in the country. In this regard, public opinion has leaned towards the creation of dams to store this water. But there are countless questions over whether building dams will solve the entire problem.
The answer is a resounding no. It will only solve the water shortage to some extent and incur an environmental cost. Instead, the government should initiate awareness campaigns across the country to make people realise the scale of the threat that they could face in the coming decades.
In addition to the recent water shortage, Islamabad is also at risk of becoming drier in the coming decade. According to a UN-Habitat report, titled ‘Cities and Climate Change Initiative’, groundwater is depleting at the rate of 1.7 metres per year on average in the Islamabad Capital Territory. Wells are also becoming dry due to rapid groundwater depletion. The report also states that “the drop in groundwater level correlates positively with the density of the distribution of wells in the area”.
Many factors are responsible for the water scarcity in the city. These include the unsustainable use of water, the rise in groundwater extraction due to the increase in population and, most importantly, a reduced water percolation in the soil due to urban expansion.
On average, 100 litres of water are wasted on washing a car with running tap water. Imagine the number of cars in all the service stations in the twin cities. Water wastage in a household through washing and cleaning is another issue that is triggered by the sheer lack of awareness about the need for conservation.
People still don’t know about the water crisis and its causes. If one well becomes dry, they dig a deeper one to extract groundwater without accounting for the consequences. The recent drought-ridden Rawal Lake exemplifies the alarming water crisis.
Another significant cause of the water shortage in the city is the proliferation of concrete and hard infrastructure, resulting in the rapid drainage of water through roads, streets and sewerage systems during heavy rain. As a result, the water doesn’t get absorbed in the ground as there remains a lack of suitable storage mechanisms to preserve water in the city.
The question that now arises is: how do we solve this problem? Many have answered this question by adopting different views about the water crisis. To address this issue, we need to observe the attitude of the people towards the seriousness of the crisis. A price mechanism would be one way to restrict people from using excess water. But this would depend on whether or not people are willing to accept a price for something that they have been using for free for a long time.
It takes time for people to accept a policy that offers an obvious disadvantage – at least in the short run. And if history is anything to go by, implementation has been the most vulnerable issue in our country. It will be beneficial if the Islamabad Metropolitan Corporation starts a door-to door campaign to increase awareness about the crisis.
A parallel mechanism needs to be developed to prevent rainwater from being wasted. For this purpose, manmade lakes can be built in F-9 and Shakarparian Park to initiate the process of percolation in the soil that will raise the groundwater level. It will also beautify the park and its ecosystem.
Spreading awareness about the process of percolation is also of great importance because citizens may act in their personal capacity to conserve water. They can dig deep holes in the ground to absorb water that is wasted during washing and cleaning. This will help conserve water for further use and save it from drainage. It will also solve many other problems pertaining to the environment.
This process needs official and public participation, and fewer resources to ensure water availability in the coming decades. It can also be applied in other cities of the country to deal with the water scarcity across Pakistan.
The writer is a Young Development Fellow at the Ministry of Planning Development and Reforms.