“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water” Benjamin Franklin
Widespread water shortages caused by rising global temperatures could lead to food shortages and mass migration, an expert has warned.The head of the World Meteorological Society, Michel Jarraud has warned that of all the threats posed by a warming climate, shrinking water supplies are the most serious.It is predicted that by 2025, some 2.8 billion people will live in ‘water scarce’ areas – a huge rise from the 1.6 billion who do now.Parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia will be worst affected, with pockets of Australia, the US and southern Europe also predicted to suffer.
Pakistan, one of the world’s most arid countries, with an average rainfall of under 240 mm a year, is heavily dependent on an annual influx into the Indus river system. About 180 billion cubic meters of water of the system emanate from the neighboring country and is mostly derived from snow-melt in the Himalayas. According to the World Bank, Pakistan became a water stressed country (1,700 cubic meters per capita per year) around the year 2000. According to a government source, Pakistan reached 1,700 m3 in 1992 and became a water-short country, and then declined further to 1,500 m3 in 2002.Water scarcity (1,000 m3 per capita per year of renewable supply) is expected in about 2035.
However, a United Nations Development Programme source gives Pakistan’s current water availability as 1,090 m3 per capita per year. This is because the terms “water shortage” and “water scarcity” are often used interchangeably— while both use the 1,000m3 per capita measurement as a benchmark, “shortage” is anabsolute term and scarcity is a relative concept. A report issued by Asian Development Bank stated: “Pakistan is one the most water-stressed countries in the world, not far from being classified as ‘water scarcity’, with less than 1,000 cubic meters per person per year”
Water scarcity situation in Pakistan is worsening because of Indian obstruction of western river’s water. The signing of Indus Water Treaty in 1960 was no doubt a ‘remarkable achievement’. It brought an end to the long standing dispute between Pakistan & India and it survived in the midst of wars and border clashes. But at present Pakistan is very much concerned with the Indian projects on the western rivers which would allow India either to reduce the water flows to Pakistan or to release store waters and cause floods. India building chains of dams on Pakistani rivers is clear violation of the treaty and the exploitation of western rivers is creating water shortage in the country. Management of water resources has also become problematic as there have been massive failures at the governance levels over the last four decades, allowing the water issue to become heavily politicized. Experts have again and again pointed out that the country’s water storage capacity be increased significantly so as to manage periods of low snow-melt and low rainfall. They have also called for improving the distribution system for agriculture to reduce the mounting water losses.
In this backdrop, some measures that will help control the problem include a comprehensive strategy to tackle this issue before it gets completely out of hand, the government should raise the issue of India violations of IWT at international forums and to build the dams so the wastage of water can be reduced. This is a serious issue which can’t be overlooked, because if done so its consequences will be worse than we can imagine.