AMONG all the looming challenges that Pakistan is facing, water crisis is the most critical problem of the country. According to the world resource institute, the country is among the leading five that face extremely high water scarcity and low access to safe drinking water and sanitation. The United Nations Organization has categorized Pakistan amongst those few unfortunate countries where water shortage destabilizes and jeopardises its existence in the next few decades. In Pakistan, quarter to third of Pakistan’s population lacks access to safe drinking water. Both the urban and rural areas suffer from water scarcity, water contamination and water-borne diseases.
The serious crisis of water has remained unheeded and even the political parties do not bother to make this issue in their manifestos. When the water crisis is talked of, the managing and construction of dams get politicized. However, beyond the construction of new dams, the already constructed dams are mismanaged. The mega dams of Pakistan at Tarbela and Mangla are 40 years old and their storage capacity is falling because of silting and sedimentation. They store only 30 days of average water demand compared to 220 days for India. There are numerous reasons that have given rise to water scarcity like lack of proper management of existing dams, the antediluvian system of canals and barrages, mismanagement of water resources and policy flaws.
According to the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, Pakistan may run dry if the prevalent situation continues. Water is desperately needed for agriculture in rural areas. Moreover, Pakistan’s water crisis is also glaringly apparent in its urban areas. Besides the administrative flaws, Pakistan’s all-time enemy is all adding salt to sorrows. India has violated Indus Water Treaty many times by building dams on western rivers. Its projects such as Bughlier and Kishenganga Dam on Chenab and Jhelum rivers may eat up substantial portion of Pakistan’s share of water. In this regard, Pakistan has lost its case in international court few days ago. Water crisis has badly affected the agriculture sector of Pakistan. The agriculture sector, according to latest Economic Survey of Pakistan, contributes 21 percent to total GDP of Pakistan.
Moreover, agriculture sector provides 47 percent employment to a total population of Pakistan. Similarly, the majority of Pakistan’s export goods rely on agriculture i.e. 70 percent of the export goods are agriculture products. This means that agriculture is the backbone of country’s economy and agriculture sector is dependent on water. Thus the water scarcity results in severe economic distress to country’s economy. Historically, the agriculture sector has played a very monumental role in making country’s economy stabilized. This became possible due to uninterrupted water availability in the country. According to a research study on water resources of Pakistan, approximately water having economic values of $70 billion is being thrown into the sea every year due to non-construction of water reservoirs. A water-starved country, which has the foreign reserve of only $20 billion, can’t afford to throw water of mammoth economic value.
The politicians and analysts give credit to the policies of the then government. Few economists and policy makers cite this in another way. Firstly the Indus Water Treaty was materialized in 1967 between arch-rivals India and Pakistan that facilitated water availability. Secondly, tube wells were initiated to overcome water deficit. Pakistan is not only facing water scarcity but the safe drinking water is also a dream in many urban areas. According to the recent report of UNICEF, 53,000 Pakistani children die of many lethal diseases such as diarrhea after drinking contaminated water each year. However, the worsening water crisis needs to be resolved for economic stability and development. Far deeper changes are required to mitigate the water deficiency.
For instance, Singapore follows the strategy of fours taps and Japan has invested heavily in water-saving technology. Similarly, Pakistan has sufficient water around the year that needs to be reserved rather it is left for spoilage and wastage. Many developing countries are adopting a strategy of water-pricing that needs to be implemented in the country for better and efficient use of water. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the development of lesser levelling technology and furrow bed irrigation has resulted in saving 30 per cent of water and has led to increasing water productivity by 25 per cent in Punjab. Its scope needs to be widened across Pakistan to achieve water availability.
Besides this according to Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resources Pakistan has lost water worth $90billion since 2010 due to floods. This can be attenuated by constructing mega but undisputed dams so that the country may get the track of development ,progress and prosperity.
— The writer is staff member at Daily Times, Lahore. He is Graduate of Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.