Water shortage in Pakistan

At a seminar in Karachi recently, experts spoke at length on the issue of increasing water shortage in Pakistan. Water is vitally linked to our future survival. The theme for this year’s World Water Day was ‘Why Waste Water?’ The theme’s relevance cannot be overstated because we are among the world’s most inefficient users of water. Water wastage is rampant in the domestic sector as well as in agriculture and industry. As we know, water is a key ingredient for agricultural production. Pakistan’s productivity per unit of water is only 0.13 kg per cubic meter, which is almost one third of neighbouring India where water productivity is 0.39 kg/m3. China’s productivity is even higher i.e. 0.82 kg/m3. Likewise productivity per unit of land is another ignored priority. Pakistan produces 2.65 metric tons of wheat per hectare which is lower than 2.91 MT/hectare of India. Ukraine and Uzbekistan produce 3.09 and 4.43 metric tons of wheat per hectare respectively. Pakistan produces 3.64 MT/hectare of rice compared to 4 MT/hectare in Bangladesh and 4.73 in Indonesia.
Pakistan is now facing extreme weather conditions, including frequent bouts of floods and droughts that cause severe damage to the country’s agricultural, livestock and water infrastructure. Much of these costs is attributable to lack of adequate storage capacity. The total dam storage in Pakistan represents only 30 days of average demand, compared to 1,000 days for Egypt and 220 days for India. While the population has been growing fast with a concomitant increase in agricultural and industrial activity has kept rising, we have done little to build reservoirs and dams to conserve water and prevent water wastage. To make a bad situation worse, climate change is threatening to damage and disrupt our agrarian economy.
Whereas storage is an important factor in easing the water shortage problem, it is not the only one. We can tackle the problem by adopting better management and conservation practices. The crisis is mainly due to “overuse and misuse” of water and can be tackled through efficient management. Pakistan’s ageing irrigation infrastructure and obsolete irrigation practices are another major area of concern. Official data shows staggering loss of 65 million acre feet (MAF) in the system. It includes 32 MAF seeping down in the saline water pockets, rendering it unrecoverable for any other use. This amounts to storage capacity of nearly five Kalabagh dams. According to a report, Pakistan’s first-ever water management policy is being formulated by the Ministry of Water and Power. To deal with the upcoming situation, there is a need to carry out research at various levels to find out the best possible solutions. The authorities concerned must take a panoramic view of the water challenge covering both demand and supply aspects. Any proposed line of action should encompass population control, water efficiency, water pricing, cropping pattern and policy reforms, storage, conservation of water resources, public awareness, etc.

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Mian Bilal