As the world marked World Water Day on Friday, realisation of the extent of Pakistan’s water problems remained low within the country. According to a new report released by international organisation WaterAid to mark the occasion, Pakistan has the fourth largest groundwater aquifer in the world, but is depleting it rapidly, with one of the highest rates of withdrawal globally. Almost all of the water we use for agriculture, drinking and industrial purposes is pumped out from the ground. The quality of this water is also on the decline as toxins and heavy metals leach into it. Essentially, the rapid growth in our population and the failure to preserve water resources means that Pakistan is at risk of running dry by 2025, according to IMF experts. The consequences of this would be very grave indeed. We are in fact already seeing them in Tharparkar, where years of drought has claimed the lives of hundreds, especially the very young, and in cities like Karachi where there is simply not enough water to meet the needs of the 20 million residents of our largest metropolis. There have been scenarios drawn up by international organisations which forecast urban battles between gangs for control of water resources in the future in our major cities.
This is not something we should simply be waiting for. Action is required now – in fact, today. Awareness about the dearth of water, the need to save it and the consequences of failing to do so has to be spread across the population. There is certainly no recognition of this in any city of the country. In Lahore, running taps, the use of freshwater to wash vehicles or to water lawns is a common sight. People do this from habit, and need to be taught more about what these habits have led to amidst a population explosion and what they could lead to in the future. Cape Town in South Africa is predicted to be the first city to run out of water. It has been able to push back the date, labelled ‘Day Zero’, from August 2018 to later this year by taking drastic measures such as putting in place rules about the use of greywater, freshwater and recycling water as widely as possible. We will at some point need to follow suit. We simply have no more time to wait. A water crisis is no longer something to be thought of in just theoretical terms. It is very real, and we must now confront this terrifying reality.