Tackling scarcity

September 26, 2021

According to the UNDP, the problem of water shortage has worsened due to the alarming rate of water usage in Pakistan

Tackling scarcity

When we’re told that water covers 70 percent of our planet, it is easy for us to think it will always be plentiful. However, fresh water – the water we drink, bathe in and irrigate our fields with – is very rare. Only three percent of the world’s water is fresh water, and two-thirds of that is in the frozen glaciers and not available for our use. It is important to understand that according to the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, only 39 percent of Pakistanis have access to safe drinking water, and water pollution causes 40 percent of all deaths.

Pakistan’s largest province, Balochistan, is facing severe drought and famine. It is in a zone where there is hardly any rain and that has greatly affected people, land, water resources and wildlife. Poor management of water conservation and absence of national water policy has led to a water crisis even in big cities like Karachi. According to studies, the first case of Naegleria fowleri, also called “brain-eating amoeba”, was reported in 2008 and since then, the cases have been rising in Karachi every year. This amoeba lives in warm, fresh water and enters the human brain through the nose, possibly during water activity or ablution for religious purposes. Extended summers and prolonged humid conditions due to climate change provide an ideal environment for amoeba to flourish in bodies of water. Due to this reason, scientists have been trying to study the genome of N fowleri in order to identify emerging strains in Pakistan, which will help in early prevention and diagnosis of disease. Moreover, there is an urgent need to educate people on the importance of using boiled water at home in order to protect themselves.

According to the Indus River System Authority, Pakistan is extremely short on reservoirs and can only save water for 30 days. Pakistan currently needs 40-million-acre feet of water, but 29-acre feet is wasted due to lack of dams. The Tarbela and Mangla Dams are the only big dams in Pakistan which can store flood water. By 2018, both had reached their “dead levels”, meaning that they do not have enough water to operate. The government must invest in large-scale dam projects and at a domestic level, the use of technology-based methods to prevent leakage in pipes should be used in order to keep the water usage in check.

In 2019, former chief justice Saqib Nisar’s Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dam Fund, an initiative born out of a fantasy to ‘save Pakistan’, managed to raise Rs 9.8 billion. It is time that Pakistan’s leaders and stakeholders took ownership of this challenge and declared their intention to tackle it. The authorities should work on the implementation of national environmental quality standards and provide incentives to the industrial sector in form of subsidies and tax relaxation against the installation of wastewater treatment plants. Water pollution is a major issue and a source of many diseases including cholera, hepatitis, typhoid and intestinal worms especially in rural areas and by treating this water, we can prevent these.

While we may be lucky to have access to clean water, the truth is that 785 million people in the world (21.7 million in Pakistan) live without clean water – that is nearly one in 10 people worldwide. 

At farm level, laser leveling, drip irrigation and smart irrigation systems such as sprinklers with nozzles can be used to improve coverage and conserve water. Other methods to trap rainwater and use it to recharge underground aquifers can also help in ensuring more water for the future.

Pakistan is considered to have crossed the “water scarcity line” in 2005. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the problem of water shortage has worsened terribly due to the alarming rate of water usage in Pakistan – the fourth highest in the world. Population growth, lack of awareness about the water crisis and urbanisation are the main reasons behind this. Making simple changes in our daily lives can have a huge impact. Here are small and effective methods to save water that can be implemented at home:

Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth and you can save 200 gallons of water per month.

Check faucets and pipes for leaks as a small drip can waste 50 or more gallons of water a day.

Use your automatic dishwasher and washing machine for full loads only and that can save 35 gallons of water.

Don’t leave the water running for rinsing dishes or while you clean vegetables.

Limit your showers to the time it takes to soap up, wash down and rinse off. It is hard to believe but taking a bath saves more water than taking a shower.

It is essential to talk about this crisis and create awareness about the fact that one day in the future, we may not have the liquid which allows the chemistry of life to continue. While we may be lucky to have access to clean water, the truth is that 785 million people in the world (21.7 million in Pakistan) live without clean water – that is nearly one in 10 people worldwide. The majority of the population lives in isolated rural areas and spends hours every single day walking to collect water for their family. Not only does walking for water keep children out of school, it also takes up precious time that parents could be using to earn money.

For a developing country like Pakistan, access to clean water means education, income and health – water can change everything.

The writer is a doctor, a violinist, the general secretary of the Zain Ul Haq Foundation, Lahore, and a TEDx motivational speaker

Tackling scarcity