Looming Water Crisis in Pakistan

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Water is the most precious thing on earth which distinguishes it from rest of the planets. Water and Oxygen made the existence of life possible on earth.  Seawater makes up 71% of total area of the earth. Other sources of fresh water in the form of glaciers, rivers, lakes, and underground water contribute a lot in meeting our daily life needs. It is necessary for the accomplishment of our daily domestic routine works, irrigation of our agricultural lands, and also for generating electricity from hydropower stations. With the increase in the population of world demand for water is also increasing. It is now a challenge for the world leader to fulfill the demand of water for their ever-growing population. This can only be accessed by adopting a proper and comprehensive water strategy.

Pakistan is one of those countries which are facing constant lowering of their water levels. NASA’s researchers found that of the planet’s 37 largest aquifers studied between 2003 and 2013 the Indus Basin aquifer is the second most overstressed and was being depleted while receiving little to no recharge. It is also on the World Resource Institute‘s water stress index. According to a report published by UNDP Pakistan has only one-fifth of water that was available in 1947. In 1950, 5260 cubic meter water was available for each Pakistani. Now, this level has down as there is only 1040 cubic meter water is available for a citizen. Estimates show that if the same situation continued then only 659 cubic meters of water will be left for a person living in Pakistan.

According to a report by Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), Pakistan touched the Water stress line in 1990 and crossed water scarcity line in 2005. It is stated in the report that if urgent steps were not taken on war footings then Pakistan will be dry in 2025 and it will be most stressed country in the region and 23rd in the world. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization measures the pressure on national water resources by calculating water withdrawal as a percentage of total renewable water resources (TRWR). Stresses are considered high if the TRWR value is above 25 percent. Pakistan’s water pressure amounts to a staggering 74%. This level of pressure is high, even when compared with neighboring countries, such as India at 40%, Afghanistan at 31%, and China at 19.5%.

This water shortage has adversely affected the country household. Pakistan is facing climate change. Temperatures shot past 40 degrees Celsius in March and 50Celsius in April in parts of southern Pakistan.  Scientists warn that such odd spikes in mercury will be the new normal in the changing weather patterns. There are severe droughts in the southern part of the state, especially in Tharparker. Pakistan’s rain pattern is already that of high magnitude and low frequency, which means we have more rain but for a shorter time, which does not help percolation and raise the groundwater level. So, climate change is causing longer spells of drought, which is complicating our water scarcity problem. Due to high temperature caused by global warming water demands is also increasing due to the high rate of evaporation. According to a simple calculation, one degree Celsius increase in annual temperature causes ten percent decrease in Crops yield. More than two million acre agricultural land has become barren due to this water shortage.

Pakistan is an agricultural country. Water shortage is harshly impacting on crops yield. The amount of water available for Kharif crops has declined by 42 percent. The Indus River System Authority says water inflow decreased from9.32 million-acre-feet (MAF) to around 7.9 MAF, the worst in five years. These are the consequences of very low water storage capacity of Pakistan. According to international standards, a country must have water storage capacity for minimum 120 days. While in Pakistan it is just for 30 days which is very low as compare to other neighboring countries, for example, India which has 220 days water carry over capacity. Egypt which is a lower riparian state like Pakistan also has water storage capacity of 900 days.

This is due to a very small number of water reservoirs in Pakistan. Out of 35,409 million acre feet (MAF) reservoirs in the whole world, 1,577 MAF is in South Asia and only 145 MAF in Pakistan China and India stand at first and third according to the number of dams in the world. Pakistan has only 22 dams which can store water more than 1000 acre.ft and seven barrages. Pakistan is surrounded by 7,259 glaciers with 2,066 cubic kilometers of ice in the three mountain ranges of the Himalayas, Hindukush, and Karakoram spanning 11,780 square kilometers. These glaciers feed Indus River and its 1.12 million square kilometers basin. Total river flow in Pakistan is 145 million acre-feet, only 13% of it is stored. Annually 20 million acre-feet of water go wasted due to the low number of dams.

Pakistan must have to increase its water storage capacity. Unfortunately in past policymakers did not show polarity towards this important issue. No big dam was constructed after Terbela. On the other side, India has constructed more than 60 dams on Pakistani rivers: Indus, Chenab, and Jehlum, in the violation of Indus Water Treaty. Urgent steps on war footings are needed to cope up the future water demands. If Pakistan constructs three Mangla size dams or even a dozen of smaller dams till 2025 then it will only be able to increase its water storage capacity from 30 to 60 days. Remaining 60 days storage capacity to meet the global minimum standards of 120 will still need to be abridged.

At the same time, we are draining our last resort – the aquifers – faster than we can replenish them. The water table is falling at an alarming rate from one to ten feet per year at the canal command areas and almost all the urban centers. In 1960, there were about 20,000 tube wells; today there are over one million. Nearly 50-55 MAF is pumped out, while 40-45 MAF is recharged. In the 1960s only about one MAF was pumped out.

There is a dire need for starting mega-dam projects. Kalabagh, Dasu, and Bhasha Dam can help us in halting water crisis. Kalabagh dam will increase water storage capacity to 6.1 million acre-feet. Agricultural land of an area more than 800,000 acres in KPK and 1,000,000 acres in Sindh will be irrigated from Kalabagh reservoir. Dasu and Bhasha Dam will also have water storage capacity of 11.4 and 6.4 million acre-feet respectively. These dams can also help us to defeat looming energy crisis which has broken the backbone of our industrial production.

Measures should also be taken at grass route level. We should control wastage of water in our daily routine life. German envoy Martin Cobler tried to bring the attention of Pakistani Nation towards wastage of water. In his tweet, he said that he uses a bucket for washing his car as 100 liters are wasted in washing a car with running tap water. There are many other ways to save water in our daily life.

Although Pakistan is facing dangerous threats related to water scarcity, these threats can be nullified by proper steps from upper level to ground level. Otherwise, Pakistan can be converted into a desert. The government must take urgent steps for completion of mega dams projects. All conspiracies against these projects should be countered through proper utilization of media. Active diplomacy should also be used for the awakening of the international community against Indian violation of Indus Water Treaty. Public awareness programs should also be launched to control wastage of water. Through these steps, we can easily halt the future drought and conserve greenery of our motherland.

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