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The Monster We Made: Pakistan’s Water Insecurity By Zile Huma

Imagine a life without water…. dried and barren land, parched throats, dirty faces everywhere giving an overall hideous, grim, and lifeless picture. Water is one of the most important commodities of nature. The distribution of water in the world, according to United States Geological survey as follows 97 percent of earth’s water is in the oceans. The remaining three percent of water is fresh water. Out of which 69 percent is locked in glaciers and 30 percent is groundwater. Only 0.3 percent is accounted for surface water and 0.9 percent for other sources.

The water cycle plays an important role in balancing the distribution of water on earth and maintains the equilibrium in ecosystem. However, today, the world is facing water scarcity challenges due to many reasons that include climate change, extravagant usage, and poor management.

The water cycle is disrupted by climate change, causing uneven distribution of water among various resources. Moreover, global warming is causing an increase in glaciers melting around the world. This melted water joins the rivers, lakes and streams. The lack of enough reservoirs to save this water causes wastage of water, running into sea and oceans. The glacier melting can also become a cause of flooding and lead to severe disasters.

Similarly, increased global temperature causes more evaporation from water resources on earth and dries them up. Climate change is further affecting rain patterns in form of delayed rains or unpredicted rains. This imbalance of water distribution is negatively affecting the agriculture industry. In cities like Cape Town, a water emergency has already been declared. In an effort to mitigate the low levels of water, residents have been permitted to use only 13 gallons of water per person a day since Feb 1, 2018. This is a serious alarm bell for the rest of the world to take steps to conserve water and fight against climate change.

Pakistan is a country that has huge mass glaciers in the North and the Arabian Sea in South. According to a study of United Nations Development Program titled Water Security in Pakistan; Issues and Challenges (2016), Pakistan uses 91.6 percent of its water for agriculture, 2.5 percent domestic, 3.3 percent industry. Our population is completely dependent on the Indus river system for its freshwater needs.

Pakistan is among the top ten countries most affected by climate change and water availability per capita has already been reduced from 5,000 cubic metres to 1,000 cubic metres per year. According to the World Bank, we are heading towards water availability of less than 1,000 cubic meters per year per person by 2035. Federal Minister for Water told the National Assembly on May 21, 2018, that Pakistan could store only 10 percent of the water flowing through its rivers. He also said that the average storage capacity of our country for the past five years was 1.421 MAF and for the past ten years was 0.58MAF. A little more than 50percent of that water comes from melting snow and glaciers. Cities like Karachi, Rawalpindi and some areas of Islamabad are already facing water shortages.

According to Al Jazeera TV report 2018, about 200 million Pakistanis face running out of water within the next 10 years. There are certain reasons behind this increasing danger of water scarcity. First, Pakistan is among top ten countries most affected by climate, which is leading towards rapid glacier melt and drying up rivers. Pakistan is facing the issue of water management not water availability. Pakistan could not build large water reservoir in past to store water.

Moreover, sedimentation has further decreased capacity of already constructed reservoir. The rapid increase in population is a biggest pressure on natural resources including water. Another problem had been provincial differences on distribution of water, royalties and right on power generation that also hindered construction of dams like Kalabagh. Moreover, Pakistan is still relying on a 100-year old irrigation system that is causing huge water loss every year. The old techniques and lack of awareness among farmers is the main cause of loss of water. The rapid population explosion is increasing pressure on water resources of Pakistan

The water reservoir must be completed at a fast pace. The dialogues and discussions should be arranged to search for a solution for provincial differences on water issues. We need to develop more coordination between all federating units on the water crises

Pakistan is also facing water challenges due to speedy construction of dams by India on Northern Rivers, which are reducing flow of water into Pakistan. Under the Indus Basin Treaty, water in these rivers namely, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum has been allotted to Pakistan. India is using water as a weapon against Pakistan. Another issue is wastage of water in domestic consumption, while bathing, washing and cooking.

A life cannot be imagined without water. It is high time to learn from other water scarce cities like Cape Town and save waters. On other hand, goal six of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calls for ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, water use efficiency, and integrated water resources management.

In line with the SDGs, Pakistan’s vision 2025 addresses the issues of water security and aims to increase water storage capacity, improving agricultural efficiency by 20 percent, and ensuring the availability of clean drinking water to all Pakistanis

According to a statement given by Federal Minister for Water Resources in National Assembly on May 21, 2018, there are 26 water reservoir projects under construction and only two would be completed in the next fiscal year. The country’s first-ever water policy has been approved to address water scarcity issues. The Ministry of Climate Change has already formulated the National Drinking and Sanitation Policies as well. However, the government needs to implement these policies on an emergency basis before it is too late.

The water reservoir must be completed at a fast pace. The dialogues and discussions should be arranged to search for a solution for provincial differences on water issues. We need to develop more coordination between all federating units on the water crises. We need to be more proactive at diplomatic and legal fronts on water issue with India to stop this use of water as a weapon.

The government can also make an effort to introduce campaigns to save water by sensitising people of the impact of water wastage. It must take an initiative to research and implement innovative methods in water conservation, recycling, wastewater management, water treatment, and rainwater harvesting in cities and towns.

This is high time for us to act, and if we fail to do so, we will find ourselves in a gargantuan mess.

The writer is based in Islamabad and works on environmental issues. She can be reached at tweets at @zilehumma_1

Published in Daily Times, June 12th 2018.


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