The absence of a water policy and the negligence of the authorities towards the issue has made Pakistan one of the countries most vulnerable to water scarcity.
The world is celebrating International Day of Water today, which is meant to focus on the importance of water. Pakistan, which was always been considered as a country with favorable geographic conditions, with a range of glaciers and connected rivers which are more than enough to fulfill its water needs, is currently rushing toward acute water shortage.
The United Nation Development Project’s recent report ‘Development Advocate Pakistan: Issues and Challenges’ depicts the alarming situation of water security in Pakistan. “Water associated problems are amongst the key challenges faced by Pakistan. Pakistan’s water profile has changed drastically from being a water abundant country, to one experiencing water stress,” it states.
According to the report, between 1990 and 2015, per capita water availability declined from 2,172 cubic metres per inhabitant, to 1,306 cubic metres per inhabitant. “Pakistan extracts 74.3 percent of its freshwater annually, thereby exerting tremendous pressure on renewable water resources. Despite remarkable improvements in the proportion of the population using improved water sources and improved sanitation facilities, 27.2 million Pakistanis do not have access to safe water and 52.7 million do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities,” the report reads.
It further says that the repercussions on health are severe: an approximate 39,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation.
The report highlights that with the increasing burden on water resources, threats will increase to Pakistanis’ well-being from unsafe or inadequate water supplies.
To cope with the water related issues, the federal government prepared a draft of water policy in 2005 which was further amended in 2010. During the last year, a draft was reportedly prepared for approval which is still in limbo. However, government officials claim that the draft will be passed after approval from the Council of Common Interest.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also said that Pakistan is one of the most water vulnerable country, listing it as is the third most water-stressed country in the world. The IMF in its report said that per capita annual water availability in Pakistan is 1,017 cubic meters and this is perilously close to the scarcity threshold of 1,000 cubic meters. In this way, Pakistan is the world’s fourth highest user of water.
According to recent research by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), the situation is even more devastating and the council warned that the country may run dry by 2025 if the authorities didn’t take immediate actions.
World Wild Fund (WWF) Pakistan Director General Hammad Naqi believes that water scarcity is a direct threat to the country’s security, stability, and environmental sustainability.
Talking to Pakistan Today he said, “With the rising population, the demand for water also has increased. Due to the increasing demand, enough water is not directed towards agricultural use and this may lead to food scarcity as well.” He added that another concern was that rivers, lakes, and ground water have been contaminated in many areas because industry and sewerage water is not being treated.
Talking about climate change, Naqi said extreme weather conditions are being observed in the country but a policy to counter its effects is still nowhere to be seen. “We must prioritise these issues before rushing toward other infrastructure. The ground water level has decreased upto 300 metres, a fact that clearly depicts the priorities of the authorities,” he said.
The WWF official was of the view that though the dams are necessary, there is a need to find soft solutions for water conservation.
Agriculture Department Director General (Ext) Dr Anjum Buttar has said that water scarcity has severely impacted the agriculture sector, decreasing the yields of a number of crops. He said that the agriculture department was trying to deal with the issue by encouraging crops that require less water. Buttar said that many crops rely on underground water which is no longer available.
Experts emphasise that all stakeholders need to be educated about the importance of groundwater to ensure sustainable management of water resources. Providing education and training to local communities about rainwater and runoff water harvesting for domestic use, agricultural use and for groundwater recharge will enhance the adaptation options to cope with current and anticipated future problems.
Randhawa, Samiullah. Pakistan failing to manage its abundant fresh water supply. Pakistan Today, March 22, 2017.