From water stressed to water scarce

Water is becoming scarce in Pakistan by the day. The situation is likely to worsen over the next seven to eight years

From water stressed to water scarce


akistan is facing a severe water crisis. The country is fast transitioning from “water-stressed” to “water-scarce.” The annual water availability has already fallen below 1,000 cubic metres per person. This means that the amount of water used annually by an average individual in Pakistan is not enough to fill even half an Olympic pool.

Many areas in Pakistan have long faced the problem of water scarcity and inadequate facilities for supply of safe water and sanitation. Pakistan is one of the 37 countries of the world with extremely high levels of water stress, a condition when the demand for water exceeds the available water or when poor quality restricts its use. It is estimated to reach absolute water scarcity by 2025.

The Economic Survey of Pakistan 2017-2018 notes that in Pakistan, supply of drinkable water and sanitation services (WSS) requires special attention. Currently a large number of households do not have access to enough potable or shallow water and proper sanitation systems are lacking.

Poor sanitation leads to sickness as well as negative impacts on the ecosystem. The report notes that due to water scarcity in the country, waste water treatment is imperative for continuous supply of water for agriculture in future. Despite having the potential and capacity of our industry for designing and fabricating waste water/ sewage treatment plants locally, only a meagre portion of industrial wastewater is being treated before re-use.

According to the 2017 Population Census, the Punjab is Pakistan’s most populous province, with roughly 110 million people. Rapid urbanisation and a rising population will drive up demand for civic amenities including water and sanitation services. This situation is particularly grim as Pakistan is already one of the countries with the lowest access to clean water. It is estimated that Pakistan is to rank at 23 out of 33 countries facing water stress by 2040.

Approximately 95 percent of Pakistan’s water is used for agriculture. Agriculture and livestock sectors employ 60 percent of the population and account for 80 percent of the exports. Water demand is expected to far outstrip supply as the population grows rapidly.

As a result of this, and strained relations with the country’s neighbours over trans-boundary water resources, the country’s future security, stability and sustainability are jeopardised.

Lack of safe drinking water leads to diseases caused by contaminated water, poor sanitation and hygiene. Diarrhea is already the second leading cause of death among children under five in the world, killing more children under five than AIDS, malaria and measles put together.

According to a UNICEF study, bacterially contaminated water is consumed by more than two-thirds of Pakistani households. Every year, 53,000 Pakistani children die from diarrhea. Drinking polluted or contaminated water has also been related to cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, typhoid and polio. Over 80 percent of the water supplied is unsafe. water scarcity and water-borne diseases cost up to 1.44 percent of the GDP.

Treatment plants need to be installed for municipal and industrial effluents prior to their disposal into water bodies. Local governments and the relevant departments need help with capacity building in this job.

In Pakistan, provincial governments are in charge of water supply and sanitation. The authority was devolved to local governments in 2001. A number of institutional actors are engaged in water control and governance in the Punjab. The Public Health Engineering Department builds drinking water supply infrastructure. Municipal committees/corporations are in charge of water and sanitation services. In metropolitan areas the duty has been delegated to Water and Sanitation Agencies (WASAs).

Authorities/ agencies like the Punjab Aab-i-Pak Authority, Punjab Municipal Development Fund Company (PMDFC) and Punjab Rural Municipal Services Company (PRMSC) are also working for the provision of safe drinking water to citizens.

Schemes built and run by government do not provide water and sanitation to all citizens. Self-provision is prevalent in the Punjab. The facilities built by the PHED serve only 32 percent of the province’s 60 million rural residents.

Water scarcity is increasing by the day. In the next seven to eight years, the situation will worsen further. Given the growing scarcity, it is critical to understand the causes and solutions to these issues.

Nature provides us with water through the water cycle. The process has been going on for millions of years. All we have to do is not disturb this water cycle.

Other than messing with nature, there are three major caveats. The first is the irrigation system. Twice the amount of water needed is currently used in agriculture. Another problem is pollution in our cities, industries and agriculture. These combine to pollute natural water and make it unusable. The third problem is corruption in the water distribution as influential landlords control large amounts of water.

Innovative approaches are needed to solve these problems. These include adoption of technologies like drip irrigation to avoid excessive water waste and building of dams. This can significantly improve the amount of water available for urban and industrial use.

To control water pollution, water treatment plants need to be installed for municipal and industrial effluents prior to their disposal into water bodies. Last, but not the least, there is a need for capacity building at local governments and relevant departments so that they can function effectively to provide and conserve precious water.

Pakistan is one of the 189 United Nations’ member countries committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sustainable Development Goal 6 is about “clean water and sanitation for all”. The theme for the 2023 World Water Day is “accelerating the change to solve the water and sanitation crisis”.

This encourages people to take action in their own lives to change the way they use, consume and manage water, aimed at accelerating progress toward internationally agreed-upon water and sanitation targets.

To achieve the objective of resolving the water crisis, everyone can contribute by saving and securing water. One effort could be to take shorter showers and not leave the water tap running while brushing your teeth, doing dishes, or preparing meals. You can also repair leaking water pipes, empty overflowing septic tanks and report sludge dumping.

One can also avoid the practice of disposing of food, oils, medications and chemicals into rivers and drains and take part in cleaning the beaches, waterways, canals and lakes. These are small steps one can take to secure and save water for the future. If we do not think about it seriously today and take no action, we may confront a severe water crisis in the near future.

The writer is a media and communications professional. He has been working in the development sector. He tweets @Idrees_Haider

From water stressed to water scarce