Drinking
Op-ed

Deprivation of potable water

 

Hassan Ahmad

Water crisis is one of the biggest issues of Pakistan. Pakistan is at the 17th position in the list of the countries, which are facing water crisis. Some people do not have water to drink and they are compelled to drink unsafe water, which is full of darts. These small dangerous bacteria make the people sick and it is more painful to say that if some people in Pakistan have a small amount of water they start wasting it; they do not bother to save water for the poor. An arid country, Pakistan depends heavily on annual glacier melts and monsoon rains. Water from these sources flows down the rivers and out to the sea. In route, there are seepages into the ground, where water-bearing rocks or aquifers absorb and store this water. Pakistan Water Partnership (PWP) states that in Pakistan the total available surface water is about 153 million-acre feet (MAF) and the total ground water reserves are approximately 24 MAF, of which a substantial part has been mined without allowing for natural recharge. Currently estimated at 160 million, the population of Pakistan is set to double in 2.5 decades. This means that the per capita availability of water will decrease. There is likely to be a net decrease, rather than an increase in the country’s water resources, due to a number of factors including population growth, climate change, and exploitation of water.

By international standards, Pakistan was already a water-scarce country in 1992 at 1700m3 available per capita, according to UNFPA/Ministry of Population Welfare. By 2003, Pakistan’s per capita availability of water declined to the extent that it was categorized as a water-stress country by the World Bank, surpassing Ethiopia and on par with African countries such as Libya and Algeria. Pakistan is now a water-scarce country at 1200 m3 per capita per year. According to water specialist Simi Kamal, based on current projections, water availability (per capita) will be 855m3 by the year 2020. Unsafe drinking water is responsible for numerous diseases including dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, malaria and gastroenteritis. UNICEF estimates that 200,000 children in Pakistan die annually due to diarrheal diseases alone.

The Indus delta has been reduced to one partially active creek and there is no water flowing downstream of the Kotri Barrage for almost the entire 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, said Simi Kamal and Jairath at the Asia Pacific Regional Consultation in Dhaka. The mix of sweet and sea water maintains a very critical balance in the coastlines. If that balance is destroyed, then the entire water system is affected and will, over time, be felt right up to the watersheds. 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. Pakistan has the largest contiguous irrigation system in the world. However, owing to the poor state of infrastructure, about two-thirds is lost due to poor transmission and seepage. This means that about 68 MAF is potentially usable water if the canal system is adequately repaired and maintained.

The seeds of conflict on water in Pakistan, therefore, are sowed by nothing more than hydrology and this needs to be recognized. We cannot solve a very complex geographical, hydrological, economic and environmental problem through politicking. The discussion on water distribution, therefore, should be in relation to uses and users, not among political or administrative units. This means, a discussion in terms of head, middle and tail farmlands in irrigated areas; and in terms of water for survival, subsistence and pastoral livelihoods in non-irrigated areas. Rainfed and arid areas should also be a part of the debate on water equity and water use. In addition, uses of water other than agriculture – for domestic use, for industry, for urban areas, and for the environment – should all be incorporated for a robust water policy for Pakistan.

There is a need to recognize that just because certain water-related practices have gone on for centuries does not mean that they are allowed to continue in the face of a world in turmoil. We need to change the way we think about water, the way we use water and the way we dispose off wastewater. A Collective Approach is Needed Individuals and corporate citizens must engage with decision-makers across the board regarding rational and responsible use of water. Industries, agricultural industries and corporations must move to pollution control, micro-irrigation, recycling and reuse of water on bigger scales. Once these can be demonstrated, only then can the gigantic problems of wastage through the irrigation system and through leakages in municipal water supply be taken up. Our first hurdle is the unfortunate habit of laying everything at the door of “the government”. But what is this government? At the level of the home, you and I are the government; and at the level of a company or private enterprise, the heads are the government. The political process itself should hence be the will of the citizens. In the end, it is the amalgamation of policies, regulations, guidelines and actions that will help us solve water problems, which are likely to get more complicated due to climate change and environmental instability.

 

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Mian Bilal

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