Tuesday October 19, 2021

Looming drought

July 07, 2021

Till the 1950s, Pakistan was a water-abundant country with the capacity to provide enough food to its people through adequate food resources grown along its agricultural belt. This has changed. According to the World Food Programme and the Borgen Project, in research carried out over the last three years, only three percent of Pakistan's population has access to clean water and 20 percent are food-deprived or lack sufficient food to sustain themselves. This figure is amongst the highest in the world and puts Pakistan at the same standing as Sub Saharan African countries which are unable to grow sufficient food due to drought and a lack of arable land.

So, how did Pakistan reach the situation. Partially the problem is a global one, with only three percent of the global population having access to fresh water – and much of this water stored in freezing glaciers which are unusable. Pakistan had a sufficient supply of water but the pollution of groundwater through agricultural waste, industrial effluents, and the similar pollution of water stored in lakes, streams and other freshwater supplies has led to a situation where fewer people have access to safe water to drink or for daily use. This is also true in major cities where poor sanitation systems mean sewage water mingles with supplies meant for drinking purposes.

Climate change has led to consistent droughts in Pakistan, with less rain experienced in the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan over the last 50 years, as compared to the past. This has brought successive droughts and the lack of food to these regions. In 2019, a lack of rain followed by floods created a shortage of food in Sindh and also in other parts of the country. The problem is aggravated by the fact that, while Pakistan produces enough food for its population, it exports much of these supplies leaving too little for its own population. This is an imbalance which needs to be corrected. Pakistan also needs to re-examine how it handles food and water in the country. Today it is ranked by the WWF as a water-stressed country, among one of the 10 countries in the world which suffer the worst water shortages and water supplies. By 2025, it is estimated that it will move into the range of countries which are water-scarce. The impact of this is visible among the people, with poor distribution of water and food resources also clearly apparent. Twenty percent of people are malnourished, nearly 30 percent of children suffer stunting. We have to look after our people and provide them with the basics of life. And nothing after all can be more basic than food to eat, and water to drink.