We are a strange nation with numerous emotions, complex behaviors, and unique attitudes. Our leaders on one side of the corner are fighting for a mere political mileage while local media are dancing on the will of their respective masters. Our common people are as usual running after their next bread like a rat whereas our intellectuals and affluent segments are praising the increased modernism and changing dynamics in economic and political structures of the country. In these hues and cries, a graver issue of severe Water Management Crisis never gets its due attention. I have used the word “Water Management Crisis” because our country is facing more of a man-made water crisis than a natural calamity.
This country, when it comes to the current water crisis, has never been like that. In fact, Pakistan at the time of its independence was a water affluent country. It had around five thousand cubic meters of clean water available for each citizen. Conversely, in today’s circumstances, this country only manage to provide far less than one thousand cubic meters of clean water for each citizen. Even African countries like Ethiopia are far better in providing the clean water to her citizen as against Pakistan. This comparison with African country shows how graver the situation of water scarcity has become in Pakistan. Our politicians and rulers are every now and then threatening regional leaders with grave consequences on different regional issues but forget to realize that this social-economic bomb of the water crisis is ticking fast to blast off soon under their own comfortable chairs.
Since independence Pakistan has seen almost seventy years. During these years our both mainstream political parties have enjoyed more than three and half decades of their respective power shows separately. These reigns of decade’s long power shows have always been used for corruption, developing an alternative arm force of their own slave to serve their purposes, establishing a state within the state to implement the agendas of their respective foreign masters and transferring these reigns successfully to their successors to enslave the future generations of the country. It is sorry to say that water crisis has never been considered as grave issues by these so-called leaders and rulers during those time periods.
According to many experts, the core reasons behind Pakistan’s water crisis are that of poor distribution of water within the country, climate change, the poor strategy of the government institutions in managing the water, and brutal policies of the neighboring countries. According to the latest international surveys, if this current situation persists, there will be no or very little water available in our country by the end of 2025. Pakistan finds itself in the list of 3rd worst country in providing the clean water for its citizens. Only countries which are worst than Pakistan are that of Syria and Palestine which are actually war-torn countries.
Many believe that Pakistan’s water crisis has many complex reasons and one such major reason is the rapid and high rate of urbanization in the country in the past few decades. Pakistan has the highest rate of urbanization of over 3 percent annually as compared to South Asian Nations. Thus the cities of the country have a very pressing issue in facilitating the basic services and/or maintaining the basic infrastructure. The population and area of shanty town (Kachi Abadi) of Karachi has been considered as the one of the biggest in Asia. Many similar shanty towns have been fast developed in another major metropolis of the country with similar faiths.
Developing economies like Pakistan entirely depends on agriculture which requires huge water reserves. To make the situation even worse, the country has to face around 80 percent of the rural agriculture-related crimes which are committed on the matters related to the distribution of water. The more the powerful and influential a person more likely chance of getting the lion share on this scarce resource. Such incidents show the rotten and out-dated irrigation system. Pakistan has almost $20 billion of foreign reserve whereas we annually throw water into the sea which has approximate economic values of $70 billion, according to a research study. This shows how efficient we are in managing our water as a scarce resource.
Pakistan has the fourth highest rate of water use in the world and Pakistan has only 30 days capacity of storing water which is worst among its South Asian Counterparts. Similarly, Pakistan has the highest water intensive economy than any country in the world. This means that the GDP of the country, directly and indirectly, depends on the availability of water. It is believed that around 90 percent of the country’s water has been used for farming and agriculture. This can also be proven from the fact that 60 percent of the country’s population involve in agriculture and livestock sectors and about 80 percent of the exports of the country depends on agriculture-related textiles goods.
Only 30 percent population of the country has direct or indirect access to clean water. According to some experts, about 81 percent of water in Sindh is undrinkable. In many cities like Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, around 70 percent of water is being considered unsafe for consumption. According to The Water Gap— The State of the World’s Water 2018, about 21 million Pakistanis do not have access to clean drinking water. Pakistan according to international surveys is the ninth worst country with the least access to clean drinking water.
Why is this water not drinkable? It is due to the fact that huge amount of polluted and poisonous water is being dumped in canals and rivers and the sea every second of every day from big cities and industrial units. The province of Sindh does not have a single Sewerage Water Treatment Plant working in its entire area. These steps not only destroy the environment sharply but also create health hazards by exposing the common people to different disease. Currently, Pakistan has the highest cases of Hepatitis C in the entire world. Pakistan also has the highest no. of water-related disease. Every year thousands of people die after consuming polluted water. People also contract diseases such as Typhoid, Diarrhoea, Cancer, Hepatitis A, B and C and other teeth and bone-related diseases.
The underground water level of the country has also seen a sharp decline due to over tapping this resource. According to one study conducted by Pakistan Council of Research on the water resources of Pakistan (PCRWR), this rapid depletion of groundwater may soon worsen the water crisis in Pakistan’s major cities causing a drought-like situation. According to the surveys, Pakistan has a surface water of 152 MAF and underground water resources of only 24 MAF. This means the country may face the water shortage of 33 MAF after 2025. This excessive pumping of underground water is not safe for human consumptions as it has heavy metals which are the root cause of many diseases like Hepatitis, especially in big cities.
This water crisis in Pakistan is no longer a sole internal matter anymore. Many experts believe that this souring crisis in the country may soon escalate tensions at international level too. According to experts, there is the high chance of war in near future over the valuable water resource in South Asia. There is always a sword hanging in the case of India and Pakistan in the form of the Indus Water Treaty which formulates the ratio of Himalayan water between the two countries. Pakistan has always considered herself at the disadvantage of being the lower riparian country against India in utilizing scarce water resource. In the year 2016, the Indian Prime Minister said, “Water that belongs to India cannot be allowed to go to Pakistan.” The Foreign Affairs Advisor of Pakistan Mr. Sartaj Aziz responded, “The revocation of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) can be taken as an act of war.” These can be seen as the mere political statements but one must keep this thing in mind that many wars have been fought over far less and irrelevant matters.
Initially, Pakistan and India had consented on the Indus Basin Treaty. According to this treaty, the water of the two rivers namely Chenab and Jhelum would be available for Pakistan whereas the availability of the water of the remaining three rivers Bias, Ravi and Sutlej would depend on the will of India. India started the construction of dams and barrages over the river of Jhelum and Chenab and clearly violated the Indus Basin Treaty. This violation, in turn, created the water shortage crisis for Pakistan. Pakistan currently ranks 7th position in the list of countries with the worst water crisis, according to United Nation Organization report.
This current grime situation of Pakistan is the result of many decades of lethargic and non-serious attitude by our ruling elite and it cannot be resolved in few steps in few years. In fact, this crisis can be resolved with comprehensive and step by step short, medium and long-term concrete and realistic policies which must be according to the ground realities of the country.
In short run, our policymakers must devise a comprehensive mechanism according to the population and agricultural usage of water and its treatment at all district levels. All the stakeholders must be invited and given the awareness as to how to get the optimum benefits with the given water share. New and smart ways must be devised at all levels to guide each user how to be efficient in using water and this awareness can be given at household, industrial, and agricultural levels. A comprehensive and complete water policy must be formulated by involving each and every stakeholder. There must be some or complete restriction overpumping of underground water and misuse of irrigation practices. Many incentives must be developed to switching the conventional agricultural practices to more conservative agricultural practices. The more efficient methods of irrigations such as Basin, Drip, and Sprinkler must be encouraged for the masses. Similarly, more proactive steps must be taken in order to control the losses through seepage, leaching and percolation by the lining of Canals, Distributaries, and Water Channels.
Similarly, medium-term strategies must include developing new and smart reservoirs spreading over every corner of the country so that water can be equally distributed among the stakeholders in a more sustainable and efficient way. At international Pakistan must broker a new River Water Treaty with India by inviting the arbitration of institutes like WB, IMF and/or International Court of Justice.
In the long-run, Pakistan must set up the desalination plants to convert the sea water into drinking water. In the first phase, Karachi and Gwadar can be turned into model cities and private sectors must be invited to participate in turning the sea water into drinking water. Big dams and reservoirs must be constructed with long-term planning and crystal clear visions. These steps can be saved many future generations of the country.