What happened to water scarcity?

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Acute shortage

Pakistanis have a very short memory and an even a shorter attention span. Just few months ago there was apparently a national furore about the extreme shortage of water in the country and the entire nation was up on its feet demanding urgent measures to address the issue. Tall claims of building dams and securing water were made in which all segments of national life appeared fully involved. Then the traditional inertia took place and there is hardly any activity seen on this vital front.

It is just three years ago that Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources emphasised the impending scarcity of water and pointed out that the country had touched the water-stress line in 1990 and crossed it in 2005. This official body issued a grim warning that the country would run out of water by 2025 if corrective measures were not taken without realising that it was issuing this warning 11 years after the country had crossed the water-scarcity line!

The water scarcity facing the country is very surprising because Pakistan is home to some of the largest glaciers in the world and despite their presence it is now rated as the world’s 36 most water-stressed countries. As the population rapidly increases, water demand is projected to far outstrip supply. The report of the agency emphasised that immediate coordinated planning and implementation is required to avert disaster from the country.

Drought-like conditions

It was reported that the per-capita water availability in 1947 was 5,000 cubic meters that has now shrunk to just 1,000 cubic meters. Such shortage is nothing short of drought-like conditions prevailing in the country but nothing concrete has emerged to take care of this situation. The rapidly-depleting water resources are the result of climate change, rapid urbanisation and population growth.

The main reason for shortage of water is rapid growth in the size of population that shows no signs of abating. The problem was compounded when large-scale urbanisation took place completely disrupting the demographic matrix. The climate change also played a role that put pressure on glaciers that started melting and, without adequate provisions for storing water, flowed down and was wasted in the Sea.

Pakistan also suffers from poor water management with the vast departments established to take care of it have completely failed to deliver. The lack of water management has also resulted in vast water wastage and there are no exact figures estimating this wastage. Water management agencies deliberately hide the extent of water wastage and try to keep actual figures under wraps. The signs of water stress are ubiquitous in the form of water scarcity, resource depletion, and contamination.

The continuous neglect has wasted incalculable natural resources and has made Pakistan vulnerable to long drought spells and extreme floods. The climate change-led water crisis has not only posed a threat to the summer cropping season but has also adversely affected hydroelectricity generation. The difficulty is exacerbated when there is hardly any effort for the construction of new infrastructure to store water. Pakistan has made the word ‘Dam’ very controversial and most political elements treat this subject for their survival.

One major reason is excessive use as around 100 litres are wasted on washing a car with running tap water. Water shortage as well as the incidence of flashfloods could be dealt with by simply adopting the ‘3R’s to save the environment: reduce, recycle and reuse. Water use could be controlled at household level by turning off taps when brushing our teeth and using a limited amount of water to flush toilets and bathe. Recycling at household level can also help solve the problem. Instead of using the shower to take a bath, it must be replaced it with a simple water bucket.

Simple rainwater barrels for gardening purposes are required to be used as rainwater barrels are aboveground water-storage vessels that capture rain runoff from a building’s roof through the gutter and downspout system. In addition, a rain garden could be constructed to re-use water that would otherwise runoff into the sewage systems. The installation of a grey-water system would be beneficial in diverting water from your shower drain to flush the toilet.

In short supply

Pakistan’s National Water Policy has already been approved and it also contains the agreement of all four provincial governments. This consensual agreement is the strong base to develop further measures to conserve water and manage its usage well. It is also required to institute water monitoring units as was recently set-up in Sindh though it was disbanded later. Given the limited capacity of state institutions to manage the water sector and because repeated attempts and investments to fix the existing infrastructure have failed, the country must innovate measures and involve private sector in managing water resources efficiently.

A lot depends upon the agriculture department that should devise new policies to keep facilitating farmers in shifting their focus towards modern and efficient irrigation technologies and stop following outdated flooding methods. Water conservation and its re-use is now an established method of agriculture and it should be employed in Pakistan. TW

Abdul Basit works in finance and industry and is well versed in commercial affairs

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