Pakistan must look into measures to create awareness about the need of water conservation and address the pressing problem of dwindling water reserves. This is especially an urgent requirement at a time where Pakistan is undergoing numerous natural and man-made crises.
Pakistan, once green, water abundant and resourceful, has now been reduced to an energy-deficient and water-scarce country. The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) have each individually issued alerts time and again regarding water shortages in the recent years, warning that Pakistan will run dry by 2025 if no precautionary action is taken. Two thirds of Pakistan's 200 million people still lack access to clean drinking water and contract diseases spread by contaminated water. For them, getting hold of and accessing potable drinking water has become increasingly difficult. It is urgent to inform the general public of the decreasing water supply, rising residential water waste, and ensuing food insecurity and energy crisis.
However, sustainable solutions are still elusive. Pakistan must look into measures to create awareness about the need of water conservation and address the pressing problem of dwindling water reserves. This is especially an urgent requirement at a time where Pakistan is undergoing numerous natural and man-made crises. An intense concentration on water literacy and awareness should be a high priority. This piece aims to shed light on Pakistan’s water crisis and address the reasons behind an exigency for awareness and means to raise mass awareness.
Crippling Water Crisis
Pakistan’s shift from a ‘water-stressed’ to ‘water-scarce’ country is worrisome to say the least. Being an agrarian economy with a large portion of the energy mix comprising water resources, water becomes Pakistan’s most precious of resources. Presuming that the water crisis is left untreated, it will indubitably lead to a snowball effect. Amongst the list of 17 states facing imminent possibility of "extremely high water scarcity", Pakistan ranks 14th. If corrective measures are not taken, it is feared that by 2025, the entire nation might experience "absolute" water scarcity, with water availability falling as low as 500 cubic meters.
In 1951, Pakistan’s water availability per capita was estimated to be 5650 cubic meters. Today, it has fallen to 908 cubic meters per capita. The standard volume of water available per capita, as measured by the global standard, is 1,800 cubic meters. A state is deemed water scarce if the available volume is lower than 1,000 cubic meters. To further complicate the water crisis, 33 percent of the available water is dumped into the ocean.
If corrective measures are not taken, it is feared that by 2025, the entire nation might experience "absolute" water scarcity, with water availability falling as low as 500 cubic meters.
Rainfall, rivers, streams, glacier runoff and groundwater are some of the sources of water that Pakistan relies on, all of which are under growing stress. Over seventy percent of Pakistan receives under 250 millimeters (mm) of rain annually. The extreme dry spells in Sindh and Balochistan are a consequence of receding precipitation levels during the winter and monsoon. Environmental change has also impacted the pace of ice melt, causing high water cycle fluctuations. Approximately, 25-35 percent and 35-40 percent of the river fluxes in the Indus Basin are also a result of snowmelt and glacier runoff, respectively. Given that Pakistan is a lower riparian nation and 78 percent of its water supplies flow from India, the task of making Pakistan water sustainable becomes more challenging.
Worsening Food Insecurity
Over sixty percent of Pakistan's population is employed in the agricultural sector, and eighty percent of exports are generated by these industries. Pakistan’s agriculture takes up approximately 95 percent of the total water supplied. Large-scale losses are a result of deteriorating water supply and distribution system. With a general efficacy of just 39 percent, the nation's irrigation system ranks among the least effective globally. This indicates that just 49 percent of water accessible in canals is used while the remaining 61 percent water is lost in transportation and distribution system. If the government does not address the crumbling water infrastructure and water illiteracy of the masses, the country will eventually run dry. By 2025, there will likely be a 70 million tons’ food deficit according to estimates. This would aggravate food insecurity and result in drought and famine-like conditions.
Exacerbating Energy Crisis
Pakistan’s energy mix currently comprises 60 percent thermal, 29 percent hydel and only 4 percent renewable sources. If losses go unchecked in all three sectors (agriculture, industry and domestic), Pakistan will have to look for an immediate substitute for hydel power. This substitute would be an expensive thermal power, which would in turn worsen our climate variability.
Water Abuse at the Domestic Level
Although among Pakistan’s total water consumption, domestic usage only takes up 8 percent, yet it is wasted at a large scale. Domestically, water is used for drinking, laundry, washing dishes, bathing and showering, flushing, washing vehicles and watering lawns, among multiple other purposes. The majority of it is sadly squandered on a massive scale in homes while laundering clothes, cooking and cleaning kitchen utensils. Same is the case when taking baths, operating toilets, leaky faucets, and water supply pipe leakages. This wasteful behavior is due to the fact that water is a naturally occurring, cost-free and easily accessible resource. A worrying scenario of looming water crisis has been exacerbated by households' propensity of wasteful water usage all the time. Although everybody is openly worried and vocal about water shortages and fixated on building big dams, we keep wasting the resources we already possess. Freshwater will nonetheless continue to be squandered if there is a lack of education or understanding on how scarce our water resources are and how urgent it is to conserve them.
Water scarcity and waterborne illnesses are costing up to 1.44 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Combining this with the aggravating food and energy crisis, the percentage would escalate to dangerous levels. Water scarcity, food insecurity, and a non-optimal energy mix cannot be taken lightly.
Ways to Raise Awareness on Water Conservation
Water Literate Citizenry
Pakistan’s literacy rate currently stands at 62 percent according to Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training (MFEPT), which means that over 60 million people are deprived of education. Additionally, 22.8 million children between the ages 5-16 are not being enrolled in educational institutions, which represents the second greatest proportion of out-of-school children worldwide. With such a bleak picture, it will definitely be a laborious task to teach Pakistani citizens about water conservation techniques.
Tragically, even a large proportion of degree holders in Pakistan are ignorant of water-related issues and concepts in general. Finding water education resources that are written at a beginner or novice level is really challenging, but this is the need of the hour. If we start teaching the terminology related to water in the most basic terms, we can rapidly improve water literacy. This approach must start in primary grades and must be sustained across life. This also includes how news reports, documentaries and stories about water-related concerns are presented. Straightforward forms of communication are required in order to capture the interest as well as awareness of the general public. Should we fail to start from scratch; employing language and ideas that are simple for water-illiterate society to digest, it will be very arduous to engage them in discussions about important issues like water scarcity, water stress or environmental degradation.
A worrying scenario of looming water crisis has been exacerbated by households' propensity of wasteful water usage all the time.
Considering the escalating water challenges in Pakistan and the modern world, we will need a well-informed national citizenry that can assist us in achieving sustainable use of water.
Rallies and Campaigns
While there is still time, it is critical to raise awareness of water scarcity and insecurity. Repairing water leaks, taking fewer soaks and switching off the faucet while shaving, performing ablution and brushing the teeth can all help conserve quite a bit of water. It is urgent for the society as a whole to develop strategies to reduce wasteful use of water in both rural and urban areas, where freshwater is a readily available resource for them. Such an awareness can be brought about by organizing seminars, workshops and mass awareness campaigns. By doing so, the civil society can postpone or even avoid a raging water crisis from advancing without being completely reliant on the governing authorities.
Implementing mandatory water metering for all end users is the need of the hour, be those industrial, agricultural or household sectors.
Government ought to utilize media, be it electronic or print, to educate citizens about the prudent consumption of freshwater. Radio too, can work to create positive change in the society. In the countryside and remote areas, people can be taught via radio about the impact of water wastage, since radio is the primary source of information and news there.
Keeping Population Growth in Check
As per the United Nations (UN) estimate, the population of Pakistan is projected to reach more than 380 million people by 2050. In addition, a 191 million acre feet (MAF) supply of water is predicted to be insufficient to meet Pakistan's 274 MAF water demand by 2025. Water consumption increases exponentially along with the rise in population, as well as the amount of water required for the cultivation of food and industrial use. We are bound to pump groundwater resources substantially faster than the rate of replenishment for the purpose of satisfying the increasing demand for food production brought on by a sharp rise in population. Pakistan currently struggles with insufficient groundwater supply and may face additional difficulties as a result of this.
The government, bureaucracy and the educated segment of the society all bear this responsibility to educate the masses on the growing population rate and the damages it can incur. Children need to be taught early on in elementary and secondary schools so that they can comprehend the severity of the situation. Moreover, there needs to be a strict policy in place to keep the population under control. If left unchecked, the entire nation will have to suffer with absolute water scarce conditions.
Water meters must be installed in order to reduce the loss of freshwater, all the while improving the water supply chain and infrastructure. Implementing mandatory water metering for all end users is the need of the hour, be those industrial, agricultural or household sectors. Knowing how much of a resource is being used allows for improved planning and handling of this priceless resource. There is little incentive for users to reduce their consumption of water under present-day pricing structure. The monthly costs for water supplies are incredibly low as compared to electrical power, which makes the end users believe it to be practically worthless and infinite. Increased water costs will not only encourage end users to utilize water more sensibly, but will also bring in enough money for upkeeping of water-efficient infrastructure and innovations.
Increased water costs will not only encourage end users to utilize water more sensibly, but will also bring in enough money for upkeeping of water-efficient infrastructure and innovations.
It is important to note that inflation must also be taken into account. Prices need to be adjusted in accordance with the income level and groups. One-shoe-fits-all pricing approach will only agitate people into protesting and would place an unbearable burden on the destitute.
In conclusion, to help nation's peace and economic growth, water challenges must be quickly remedied. However, reliance on government officials to solve the water crisis for the public is idealistic at best and injudicious at worst. Pakistan’s citizenry needs to understand that a state cannot function without a unified approach of both the government and the public. To get rid of the water crisis, we need to reform ourselves and move towards water conservation. Not only do we owe water conservation efforts to Pakistan, but we owe it to every child, woman and man that does not have access to clean drinking water or even drinking water at all.
Save water, the entirety of planet Earth depends on you!
The author holds an MPhil degree in International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad. She writes for South Asian Voices, CISS Insight and CGSS.
E-mail: [email protected]
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