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March 26, 2021

Pakistan facing severe groundwater crisis, says WB

National

March 26, 2021

WASHINGTON: The World Bank (WB) has warned that Pakistan is facing a severe groundwater crisis due to the lack of a reliable system for measuring groundwater extractions and their impact on the resource base.

In a lengthy report titled 'Groundwater in Pakistan's Indus Basin,' the WB summarised that "in the face of rising population, the effects of climate change, and the considerable natural lag in groundwater response to management interventions, the failure to tackle these challenges is already impairing national water security and drinking water quality."

The report concluded that the lack of good-quality, long-term groundwater data in Pakistan’s Indus Basin greatly complicates the task of numerical modelling and reduces the reliability of the results.

Groundwater is arguably the most poorly understood water resource in Pakistan, a country in which matters of water resources are hotly debated on a regular basis, the report said adding that groundwater has the potential to be the most reliable water resource for Pakistan, providing a buffer against the unpredictability of climate change and the failure of infrastructure designed to deliver surface water.

"The Indus Basin groundwater aquifer in Pakistan holds in storage at least eighty times the volume of freshwater held in the country’s three biggest dams. In the 1960s, large-scale extraction from this underground storage began and has expanded to become an essential input to agriculture and the backbone of domestic water provision," it said.

The report highlighted that more than 70 per cent of Pakistan's drinking water comes from groundwater, with most rural households accessing water through handpumps, motorised pumps, and manually from wells. "Most of the major cities in Pakistan rely on groundwater for domestic supplies, as do 90 per cent of rural households in Punjab and Sindh," it said.

Given the great value of the Indus Basin aquifer to the Pakistan economy, and to the health and wellbeing of the majority of its population, a renewed focus on groundwater is warranted, the report further argued, "attention on data and information, combined with institutional support and reform, promises to deliver improvements to the management of this resource that will benefit the whole country. The cost of such planning interventions is likely to be significantly less than the increasing economic burden and health outcomes of poorly coordinated and unplanned groundwater use."

The report also provided recommendations for institutional reforms as well as resource planning and accountability at both the federal and provincial levels to satisfy agreed responsibilities for managing groundwater. "Groundwater projects conducted by the federal government must be conducted in close coordination with provincial governments and with the aim of building capacity in the provinces," the report recommended adding, "the purpose of this coordination is to remove overlaps and gaps in groundwater management and to ensure a common goal for interventions." It also asked to create interim arrangements until permanent ones can be put in place so that the most pressing groundwater issues can start to be addressed immediately.