According to experts, water accessibility will decrease by 2020. Even when summaries or feasibilities are made to build new reservoir or dams, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to add any new natural water sources. It simply means we are utilising what we already have.
Pakistan’s population stands at 160 million (approx), which is predicted to double over next two decades, meaning less water per person in the future. With time, there will be a net decrease in water resources accessibility due to population increase, climate change, global warming and irregular exploitation of water resources etc.
International organisations declared Pakistan a water-scarce country in late 90’s. Yet no serious steps were initiated by the government. In 2003, water availability per capita declined to an all-time low, marking us as one of the most water stressed countries by World Bank. The New York Times clearly warned in a report that Pakistan will be facing another resource crisis after facing continuing fuel and electricity shortages major water shortages are on their way.
Another report by Asian Development Bank mentioned that a combination of global climate change; waste and mismanagement have led to an alarmingly rapid depletion of Pakistan’s water supply. Now, according to the ADB, it has fallen to 1,000 cubic meters per capita. In comparison, the per capita water availability in the US is 6,000 cubic meters, Australia 5,500 cubic meters and China 2,200 cubic meters. The ADB report further stated: “At present, Pakistan’s storage capacity is limited to a 30-day supply, well below the recommended 1,000 days for countries with a similar climate.”
UN’s World Water Development also summarised in its report that actual renewable water resources in Pakistan have decreased from 2961 cubic meters per capita in 2000 to 1420 cubic meter in 2005.
All such reports are highly distressing. According to the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), Pakistan has an assessed population of 187 million with an annual growth rate of 1.57 percent.
In distressing situations like this government first priority should be to establish water banks ensuring water security and minimising any chance of predictable drought or shortage. Our water reserves are rapidly reducing decreasing per capita water availability, which has almost reduced 80% since 1951.
Our neighboring country, India, stores about one-third of its water supply in reservoirs as compared to only nine percent storage practice in Pakistan. While India has built 4,000 dams, with another 150 in the pipeline, it’s been decades since the completion of Pakistan last water storage project. Kalabagh is one of such potential sites, which now needs to be taken seriously. Overdependence on groundwater has reduced its level to alarming limits, including excessive groundwater utilisation by mining industry as federal and provincial government continues to blame each other for the situation without comprehending the significance of the state.
Water tables or ground water depletion in Islamabad and Lahore have dropped to 50 and 20 feet individually. Swift populace growth, unrestrained migration and the formation of several industries have added to amplified water demand. Unmonitored industrial growth has placed massive stress on the nation’s water resources. Lahore alone has 2,700 registered industries. Out of which 75 % are consumers of ground water. As a result of this ground water depletion in central Lahore has diminished to 40 meters and is predicted to drop below 70 meters by 2025.
Pakistan also ranks fourth amongst the world’s top 10 countries in standings of water extraction. A report published by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission of NASA revealed that the Indus Basin aquifer in northwestern India and Pakistan is the world’s second most over-stressed. Unregulated groundwater extraction is causing a drastic lowering of the groundwater table depth. In 1987, the depth of water table ranged from 8 to 20 meters. This dropped to 51 meters in 2011.
Water pollution, discharge of waste and unclean drinking water are factors among others that pose a threat to human wellbeing and Pakistan’s water reserves. While some do not have water to drink, others waste it in vast amounts. The entire municipal waste of Lahore is collected through 14 main drains and discharged into River Ravi untreated. Industrial waste is also being directly discharged into canals by 271 industrial units. Unsafe drinking water is accountable for frequent diseases including dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, malaria and gastroenteritis. According to UNICEF approximations around 200,000 children in Pakistan die yearly due to diarrheal diseases alone. In more than 11 cities of Punjab over two million people drink unsafe water with high levels of arsenic chemical found in it. According to WHO the greatest threat to public health from arsenic originates from contaminated groundwater. Inorganic arsenic is naturally present at high levels in the groundwater of a number of countries, including Pakistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Chile, China, India, Mexico, and the United States of America. Drinking-water, crops irrigated with contaminated water and food prepared with contaminated water are the sources of exposure.
The food processing industry, pulp and paper, poultry, dairy, plastics, paint, pesticides, leather, tannery and pharmaceutical industries are also accountable for water contamination. According to estimations around 730 tons of Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) load is added to River Ravi per day. This is the quantity of dissolved oxygen required by micro-organisms to break down organic material present in any water body.
Our underground water resources continue to deteriorate because of pollution, atrophy, overuse of surface water and over-exploitation of groundwater. Large territories of land have been rendered barren due to water logging and salinity.
Scarcity of water is also affecting forests and trees in Pakistan. The Indus delta has been reduced to one active creek and there is no water flowing downstream of the Kotri Barrage from almost a year. Our mangrove forests, previously some of the largest in the world, have been reduced from 0.6 million acres to 0.25 million acres. The mix of sweet and sea water upholds a very critical balance in the coastlines. If that balance is destroyed, then the entire water system is affected. Pakistan is dependent on a single river system and we cannot afford to take any more chances with the water/sediment/salt balance of the Indus Basin. Irrigation Department had to provide water for 180 days annually but the supply of water had declined to 100 days. The scarcity of water had mainly hit Sheesham trees severely as the die-back disease had attacked the trees and stunted their growth. Recently, forest Department had planted 32,000 trees across Multan and Shujabad areas but abundant water supply is required for their upkeep.
Some procedures that will help regulate the water problem include developing a comprehensive water strategy, complete alertness to educate people setting up an authority for saving groundwater, building off-channel water reservoirs to preserve flood water, application of techniques of efficient use of water, efficient methods for treatment of sewage, building major reservoirs to save water focusing on emerging challenges such as climate change and desertification. Uses of water other than agriculture for domestic use for industry, for urban areas, and for the environment should all be combined for a robust water policy for Pakistan.