In 2016, the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) issued a report that suggested the country had touched the water-stress line in 1990 and crossed the water-scarcity line in 2005. The council delivered the grim warning that the country would run out of water by 2025 if positive action wasn’t taken.
“Despite having the world’s largest glaciers, Pakistan is among the world’s 36 most water-stressed countries. As the population rapidly increases, water demand is projected to far outstrip supply. Immediate coordinated planning and implementation is required to avert disaster”.
Without measures to save our rapidly-depleting water resources, climate change, coupled with rapid urbanisation and population growth, will further impact the availability of water. With a drought-like situation likely in the near future, the gravity of the problem can be illustrated from the fact that the per capita availability of water in 1947, which was over 5,000 cubic metres, has shrunk to just 1,000 cubic metres today.
Experts believe that population growth and urbanisation are the main reasons for this crisis. The issue has also been exacerbated by climate change, poor water management and lack of political will to deal with the crisis. Apart from the water-storage issue, experts suggest that water wastage is also a pressing issue in the country.
In Pakistan, the signs of water stress are ubiquitous in the form of water scarcity, resource depletion, and contamination. The catastrophe implicates the country’s incompetent leadership and their poor management of available natural water resources. This has made Pakistan vulnerable to long drought spells and extreme floods. The climate change-led water crisis has not only posed a threat to the summer cropping season, but has also adversely affected hydroelectricity generation.
Such a crisis is inevitable in a country where political leaders are busy slinging mud at each other in a lust for power and lack vision. These leaders also oppose the construction of new infrastructure to store water. The fact that the word ‘dam’ has been made highly controversial and that its use often spurs heated discussions between the provinces aptly highlights Pakistan’s predicament.
Pakistan ranks third among countries facing water shortage. One major reason is excessive use. Around 100 litres are wasted on washing a car with running tap water. Water shortage as well as the incidence of flashfloods could be dealt with by simply adopting the 3Rs to save the environment: reduce, recycle and reuse.
We must reduce water use at the household level by turning off taps when we brush our teeth and using a limited amount of water to flush toilets and bathe. Recycling at the household level can also help solve the problem. Instead of using the shower to take a bath, we should replace it with a simple water bucket. We should use simple rainwater barrels for gardening purposes as rainwater barrels are aboveground water-storage vessels that capture rain runoff from a building’s roof through the gutter and downspout system. In addition, a rain garden could be constructed to reuse water that would otherwise runoff into the sewage systems. The installation of a grey-water system would be beneficial in diverting water from your shower drain to flush the toilet.
The incumbent government is privileged to have the support of the country’s history. Imran Khan’s government should benefit from this and take concrete measures to overcome the water crisis as Pakistan’s National Water Policy has already been approved by the cabinet last year and all four provincial governments and the federal government also agreed on it. Such a consensus on a national policy document is unusual.
This water policy must be implemented in letter and spirit for efficient water-resource management. Furthermore, commissions must be set up to monitor the efficient water-resource management at all levels and offer timely recommendations.
Given the limited capacity of state institutions to manage the water sector and because repeated attempts and investments to fix the existing infrastructure have failed, the country must think outside the box. Innovation, particularly the participation of the private sector, could be useful in managing water resources efficiently. Debundling services and encouraging the private sector to manage water resources can be an excellent initiative to address these issues. The agriculture department ought to keep facilitating farmers in shifting their focus towards modern and efficient irrigation technologies in lieu of outdated flooding methods.
Pakistan needs to learn from countries that have even fewer water resources but enjoy higher GDP growth rates and better quality-of-life indicators. For example, Israel has been able to reuse effluents to irrigate around 40 percent of its agricultural land.
It is a challenge for the state to save water, not only for agricultural purposes but also for human consumption and to meet rising water demands in other social and economic sectors. This demands improved water governance, management and investment in scientific knowledge – all of which require commitment and resources. It is time for decisive action.
The writer is a freelance journalist and is associated with the development sector.