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October 15, 2017

Water fears

Editorial

 
October 15, 2017

Fears of water scarcity are nothing new for Pakistan but when the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) presses the alarm buttons it is something to take serious note of. We already know that the water distribution situation is highly alarming. The SBP has asked the government to formulate a comprehensive national policy for bridging the gap between water demand and supply. In its Annual Report on the State of Economy for 2016-17, the SBP has warned that delays would increase the water deficit on account of growing demand and declining supplies. The two major factors for a decline in supply are pollution and climate change – which are the factors that are most easily ignored. We have noted already how studies show that over 80 percent of the water supplied for household consumption is polluted throughout the country. Technically, this is water that should not be consumed by human beings, but such is the paucity of options that people have no choice but to keep using polluted sources of water supply. The SBP is clear that a top-down agenda that ignores the needs of populations, especially provinces, could create political discord in the country. Already, the issue of creating new water reservoirs is fraught with political opposition.

2This has left Pakistan in a situation where the country can only store 30 days of water consumption. The big three reservoirs, built in the 1960s and 1970s, have a rapidly declining capacity due to sedimentation. The standard water storage requirement globally is around 120 days, while a number of countries are able to store 1-2 years of water. The gap allows for the adjustment of water consumption if a crisis is likely. While the need for more storage is obvious, the biggest problems lie in the irrigation system used to supply Pakistan’s agrarian economy. Almost 90 percent of Pakistan’s water is supplied to farmers through the ageing Indus Basin water system. Farmers are often required to consume water when they do not need it, while the required water is often not supplied when they need it. This has led to a dependency of the ground water depleting tubewell irrigation system, which comes with high costs and renders the irrigation networks useless. Moreover, high levels of water seepage through unlined water passages not only reduces water supply, it also makes agrarian land unusable through water logging. The clock is ticking fast for us to respond. By 2020, Pakistan will face a high level of water stress. By 2030, the level of water stress will be extremely high. The need for a national policy to tackle the water crisis at an emergency level is immediate.

 

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