Monday February 06, 2023

Mismanagement or scarcity?

February 20, 2020

There has always been confusion with regard to the prevailing water challenges in the country.

There is literature that shows how scarce water is in Pakistan as compared to studies outlining how poorly water is mismanaged in the country. However, a recent World Bank report combines the two phenomena and states that, despite being rich in water resources, Pakistan continues to face water scarcity. This is driven by the country’s inability to properly manage, use and protect water resources for socioeconomic and environmental sustainability.

Pakistan’s poor water management is conservatively estimated to cost the country nearly 4 percent of GDP or around $12 billion annually, according to the World Bank. These costs are dominated by the cost of poor water supply and sanitation as well as floods and droughts.

The report also suggests that Pakistan is well endowed with water but per person water availability remains low when compared to other South Asian countries. Home to nearly 210 million people, Pakistan has had no concrete national policy to gauge its water resources until very recently. The World Bank report, titled ‘Pakistan Getting More from Water’, suggests that Pakistan does not make the best use of its water endowment. Water use is heavily dominated by the agriculture sector, which – as the report also highlights – contributes around one-fifth of the GDP.

Water wastage is high and agricultural productivity is low in Pakistan as compared to most countries. The four major crops – wheat, rice, cotton and sugarcane – that use nearly 80 percent of all water generate less than 5 percent of the GDP which is around $14 billion per year.

Water security is reaching a critical point in the country, demanding urgent reform. It is not only that the country has to increase water productivity, it also has to pay attention to the social and environmental aspects of water mismanagement. Although scarcity comes from the high-paced climate change and tense transboundary relations, improving internal water use efficiency and productivity are some of the key opportunities in this regard.

In order to meet its growing water demands, Pakistan must strengthen water governance and long-term water planning – ensuring strong collaboration between the central and provincial governments and other stakeholders like think tanks, NGOs, academia, industries and so on.

Being blamed for decades, the industrial share of exploiting the country’s water resources has been estimated to be minimal – less than 5 percent of the total water used in the country. Bound to many national and international guidelines, reputable industries still strive to ensure utmost water use efficiency.

The Alliance for Water Stewardship is important to mention here. The Standard also called the AWS an international tool that helps organizations improve their water use not just individually but also collectively with other organizations and partners.

The Standard is useful in terms of its collective action approach towards optimally ensuring water management not just inside the organizations but also in outlining how organizations may help save water outside their premises. It emphasizes a collective action approach to deal with the prevailing water inefficiencies, not specifying any one sector or industry as being responsible for saving water alone.

Although Pakistan’s National Water Policy, which was formed only some time back, provides a sound basis for reform. But tools such as AWS should be on the government’s radar to leave no chance for error on the policy level. As suggested, we should always take help from the wisdom existing already because it saves time and adds value.

Additionally, these tools can be leveraged by the government until the National Water Policy is adopted and implemented across the board. We as a nation not only have to work hard to do better but also have to work smart to achieve the most in less time.

The writer is a public health expert with specialization in health economics.