Is the water crisis technical or political?

Dr. Hassnain Javed

July 12, 2018

 

 

 

Water constitutes 70 percent of our planet. However, fresh water, safe drinking water, the water we bathe in, the water we use to irrigate our farms is in reality rare.

Water is an essential component that connects with every aspect of life. Approximately 1.1 billion people across the globe lack access to water and a total of 2.7 billion find themselves water insecure for at least one month a year. Moreover, insufficient sanitation is also a problem for 2.4 billion people who are exposed to diseases like cholera, typhoid and many other water-borne illnesses.

According to recent statistics, nearly two million people, the majority of them children, are dying each year due to diarrheal diseases only. Furthermore, one of nine people around the world lack access to safe drinking water; one of three people in developing economies lack access to a toilet.

Moreover, many of the water systems that keep ecosystems blooming, and can potentially feed a growing human population, have become stressed. The beautiful rivers, lakes and aquifers are becoming dry and polluted over time. Also, more than half of the world’s wetlands have vanished. In reality, agriculture is consuming a major chunk of water, and due to inefficiency in the methodology adopted, a lot of water is wasted. Besides this, climate change and its altering trend is another element causing shortages and drought in some areas.

With the given situation and ever-increasing consumption rate, it is believed that this situation is going to get worse and by 2025 more than two-thirds of the world population may have to face water shortages.
Thus, besides all the challenges that Pakistan is currently facing, the water crisis is a major issue that requires immediate attention and meaningful regulations. According to the World Resource Institute, Pakistan is ranked among the top five countries that are suffering from extreme water scarcity and very low access to safe drinking water and sanitation. According to the latest report by the United Nations, Pakistan ranks on the list of countries where shortage will destabilise and endanger its existence in the next few years. Moreover, three-fourths of Pakistan’s population lacks access to safe drinking water. There are issues of water scarcity and its interlinked diseases in both urban and rural settings.

This serious issue is generally left unaddressed even by the political parties who don’t give heat to this important issue in their designed manifestos. Likewise, whenever there is a discussion about the constructions of dams as a proposed solution and gateway to this crucial problem, it gets politicised. Indeed, beyond the construction of new dams if we have a look at the current dams they are not even properly managed. The mega dams of Pakistan at Tarbela and Mangla were constructed more than 40 years ago, and over time their storage capacity is falling short primarily due to slitting and sedimentation. Currently, these dams can only store 30 days of average water demand in contrast to 220 days in India.

There is a long list of factors that have contributed to water crisis which include lack of proper management of existing dams, the old traditional system of canals and barrages, mismanagement of water resources and policy flaws.

Apart from this, the research conducted at Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources estimates that Pakistan may run dry if the current situation is not addressed. Pakistan is an agro-based economy and is in dire of water for agricultural lands in rural settings. The mounting water crisis has severely affected the agriculture sector of Pakistan, and according to a latest economic survey of Pakistan, agriculture is currently contributing 21 percent to total GDP of Pakistan. Furthermore, 47 per cent of employment generation to the total population of Pakistan is from the agriculture sector. Likewise, the majority of Pakistan’s export goods rely on agriculture like 70 per cent of the export share is from the agricultural sector. It implies that agriculture is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy and the agriculture sector is dependent on water. Therefore, water scarcity results in severe economic distress to the country’s economy. Moreover, a research conducted by Water Resources of Pakistan has found that approximately $70 billion worth of water is wasted every year due to the non-availability of water reservoirs.

The water crisis is also affecting the urban areas. Other than the administrative flaws in water regulations, Pakistan’ s all-time enemy is also adding salt to the wound. On many occasions, we have experienced serious violations of the Indus Water Treaty, such as when India built dams on western rivers that flow into Pakistan; the Baglihar and Kishanganga dams, built on Chenab and Jhelum, may lead Pakistan to lose a significant share of water.

Besides this, politicians and analysts attach all loopholes in water resource management to the policies made by the serving government or previous regimes. There are very few economists and policymakers who address this concern.

China, despite ranking among the world’s largest populations, has effectively implemented the reforms to take care of the matter. Likewise, Singapore has followed the strategy of four taps and Japan has invested heavily in water-saving technology. Now, Pakistan also has sufficient water around the year which needs proper storage to be filtered and reused rather than being spoiled. Internationally, many economies are adopting the strategy of water-pricing. Pakistan can also take this note.

To conclude, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has proposed the development of lesser levelling technology and furrow bed irrigation which translates into 30 per cent water saving and also can drive the productivity by 25 per cent in Punjab. Pakistan as a nation has to make a collaborative effort and widen its scope and horizon to achieve water availability.