Wednesday August 17, 2022

No time for water politics

September 23, 2020

Our glaciers are shrinking, droughts are intensifying, and oceans are acidifying with methane plums rising up from the ocean floor. This is all happening decades ahead of scientific projections.

More alarmingly, as Earth’s climate is warming at an unprecedented rate a new pattern of more frequent and intense weather events has unfolded around the world. The recent torrential rainfall in the South Asian region shook people from all walks of life, while millions lost their livelihoods in the process. Climate change is indeed exacerbating rainfall patterns.

However, another disaster in the making – which will even cause more havoc – is that of the impending water crisis. The good news is that through certain constructive measures taken during the heavy showers, a huge amount of rain water can be stored – while there are other long-term solutions to counter this existential threat as well.

Ecological disruption is intensifying Pakistan’s water crisis, which is having a severe impact on Pakistan’s public health and the economy. Over 80 percent of water supplied in our country is considered unsafe. According to the IMF, water scarcity and water-borne diseases are resulting in a loss of up to 1.44 percent of GDP. The World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) states that inadequate sanitation causes Pakistan economic losses totaling $5.7 billion (Rs343.7 billion) each year. This is equivalent to 3.9 percent of the country’s GDP. Surely, these numbers must not be neglected.

During the heavy rainfall, the Met Department said that Karachi received 223.5 mm of rain in just 12 hours – the highest amount of rain ever recorded in a single day in the city. As global warming continues to show its destructive potential, rainfall patterns – especially during the monsoon season – will break all previous rain records in the coming years. However, through rainwater harvesting water can be stored efficiently to curb our precipitous water shortages.

Storing water in overground or underground tanks is a practice that was common even during the pre-Roman times. With unprecedented levels of rainfall and pressure on water supplies, the demand for rainwater recycling systems is rising again and must be followed in practice. The UK Rainwater Harvesting Association says that, “they are the simplest and most economical thing to do”.

Rather than investing billions in building big controversial dams, Pakistan must turn to smaller dams, which the rest of the world is also moving towards. Small dams provide a simple, cheaper, reliable and manageable solution to water storage issues. Small dams are extremely important to store and conserve water for increasing irrigation and drinking water sources and improving socio-economic conditions.

According to the World Bank, Pakistan has the potential to build another 750 small dams to meet water requirements of growing local population. If we look at the track record of South Asia in this initiative; Sri Lanka has constructed some 12000 small dams while India has built 19134 small dams. In the past, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) have already shown interest in financing small dams in Pakistan.

More important than anything else, national unity is imperative when it comes to solving the water conundrum once and for all. Only with all provinces on the same table can we tackle this impending threat. In 2018, the Council of Common Interest (CCI) formally approved the National Water Policy (NWP) with the consensus of the provinces. The NWP decided to increase the development budget for water resources from 3.7 percent to 10 percent by 2030 in line with the National Climate Change Policy 2012.

Another most vital practice to curb our water crisis will be through the use of water desalination plants. Blessed with a coastline of 994km, investing in water desalination plants is the need of the hour. The Middle East has been a leader in desalination so far. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait rely heavily on desalination as a source for clean water. The UN predicts that 14 percent of the world will rely on desalination to meet their water needs. With human population expected to balloon another 50 percent by 2050, Pakistan must immediately adapt measures to manage our resources efficiently.

Water crisis is one of Pakistan’s most crucial internal security challenges. The UN has already predicted that Pakistan will dry up by 2025 if we do not take any action. While torrential rainfall will cause havoc in the coming years, with effective measures we can definitely store a huge amount of water to meet our rising demands.

The effect of our water crisis is already being felt among people, but it will be even worse if we do not start investing in constructive solutions, especially when climate change is already adding fuel to fire. There is simply no time for water politics. National unity is the urgent need of the hour.

The writer is a member of the Sindh Assembly.