WATER FOR THE FUTURE

Water security for people, agriculture and industry

By Muhammad Bashir Chaudhry
May 05 - 18, 2003

The World Water Day, urged the people to save water- a fast diminishing natural resource. This year the theme of the World Water Day is "water for the future". Sindh EPA message reminds people: water is a valuable resource without which life is impossible. Water is in danger due to population outburst, lavish life style and wastage. Sindh EPA has called upon the people take all possible steps to conserve water for future generations. Sindh EPA has suggested conservation ways: (i) turning off the tap while brushing our teeth or shaving, (ii) saving the water running off before getting hot water to be used for washing, (iii) promptly fixing the dripping taps and (iv) avoiding hose for car washing, watering the lawns, etc. Sindh EPA concluded that these seemingly insignificant activities would result in saving millions of gallons of water every day. The Sindh EPA message is apt and we should all join the campaign for saving water.

The speakers, observing the World Water Day in Pakistan touched different aspects of water such as: (i) Need to amicable resolve the water dispute between the federating units; (ii) Amending municipal laws to make instrumental for water conservation in homes and industry; (iii) Recycling of water to meet shortage; (iv) Softening of seawater for domestic use; (v) Building new dams and reservoirs; (vi) Collaboration among the universities to help increase water supply and agriculture production; (vi) Less availability of clean water, more due to irresponsible usage by the consumers/civic agencies; (vii) Cities not getting sufficient quantity of water to meet the demand and widening of demand-supply gap; (viii) Fundamental flaws in the national water policy; (ix) Quality of drinking water was a major concern and most of the population was deprived of safe drinking water; (x) While water in the urban areas was infected because of contamination during its transportation, the rural population is exposed to health hazards caused due to pollution at sources, including ponds, rivers and other channels; (xi) Mixing of sewerage in the water supply, which could be due to seepage; (xii) Reports of arsenic pollution of ground water in the country; (xiii) Access to safe and hygienic water remain majors issues; (xiv) Almost all rural areas depend upon pumped underground water that often is contaminated; and (xv) Failure of the policy to ensure adequate number of water reservoirs, recycling plants and desalination plants.

At the occasion of the World Water Day, the 3rd World Water Forum was organised at the three neighboring Japanese cities of Kyoto, Shiga and Osaka from March 16-23, 2003 to explore interlocking themes dealing with water, especially on how to bring safe water and sanitation to the entire world. Representatives from over 170 countries including Pakistan attended the forum, which also afforded a unique opportunity to form partnerships, join networks and learn from the experience of others.

The Minister for Water and Power, who represented Pakistan in the Third World Water Forum, held a press conference in Islamabad, on salient features of the forum and how it would help the world overcome problems faced in water-related issues. He told a questioner that by 2007, Pakistan would have a number of water reservoirs for which the government was following a long-term policy, but hinted at not entering into any controversial project. The minister disagreed that Kyoto conference would pave way for the privatisation of water resources to benefit rich nations. It may be mentioned that at Kyoto forum, the protesters who opposed water privatisation were chanting "water for people, not for profits".

In a press conference at the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto Ian Johnson, World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development, said that the Forum itself "can be a milestone in launching a new approach combining sorely needed investment with improved governance to harness the potential of water as a driver of responsible growth and of a better life for billions of poor people." While acknowledging that policy change is the result of a consensus building process, the position paper underscored that it is necessary to create the right incentives to move the water sector forward. This includes increasing transparency and involvement of all interested parties, introducing pricing of water and water services, and defining water rights and obligations.

At the forum it was noted that Poverty and Water were closely linked and that: (i) Water demand is increasing three times as fast as the world's population growth rate; (ii) Some 1.2 billion people lack a safe water supply and 2.4 billion live without secure sanitation. Some 5-7 million people die yearly from water-related diseases, including 2.2 million children under the age of five; (iii) It is well established that investments in water resources management and the delivery of water services are central to poverty reduction; (iv) Experts say that 20 per cent of the world's population in 30 countries faced water shortages in the year 2000, a figure that will rise to 30 per cent of the world's population, in 50 countries, by 2025; (v) In many countries, a lack of water is not the problem. Rather, water shortages stem from inefficient use, the effective loss of available water too polluted for use by humans or nature or by the unsustainable use of underground water in aquifers, which can take thousands of years to replace; and (vi) One major factor is the illness and death that water and sanitation problems bring.

The forum and the World Water Council believe that the three steps for urging the global community towards meeting its commitments to the poor are: (i) Building on people's energy and creativity at all levels, requiring empowerment and building the capacity of people in households and communities to take action, and applying technologies that respond to actual needs; (ii) Acknowledging hygiene, water and sanitation as a human right, and relating it to human development, the elimination of poverty, environmental sustainability and the integrated management of water resources; and (iii) Committed and compassionate leadership and good governance, changing long-accustomed roles, leading to new responsibilities of authorities and institutions to support households and communities in the management of their hygiene, water and sanitation, and in being accountable to users as clients.

Other key issues identified at the forum are: (i) Good water governance requires effective and accountable socio-political and administrative systems adopting an integrated water resources management (IWRM) approach with transparent and participatory processes that address ecological and human needs; (ii) The need for capacity building, education and access to information for enhanced effectiveness in water management is unquestioned; (iii) Financing infrastructure for the water sector comes mainly from the public sector of developing countries and is "topped-up" with contributions from foreign aid, international financial institutions, commercial loans and private equity; (iv) In many regions, countries and local communities have come to realize that water is a multi-stakeholder issue, and that partnerships of all interested and affected parties are a viable mechanism to translate IWRM into practice; and (v) Asia and the Pacific face a main water challenge due to the growth in both water demand and population.

At the forum a number of commitments were made, including: (i) The World Water Council committed to developing and implementing with a consortium of International Financial Institutions, UN agencies, international non-governmental organizations, and research institutions a program aiming to precisely identify and highlight the benefits brought by sound water management and provide governments with appropriate tools and analysis so that they may be considered in priority setting, planning, development, management, and budgeting for the water sector; and (ii) UNESCO and the World Water Council committed to promote, develop and support the establishment and operation of an independent, easily accessible facility that can help solving problems related to trans-boundary waters by providing on request access to experienced technical advisers, tools, training sessions and mediators.

 

WATER SITUATION IN PAKISTAN

WATER FOR THE PEOPLE: Pure water is life and the government must take measures to remove the problems listed earlier in the context of the World Water Day. If water is free of water-borne diseases, the people will be less prone to illnesses and would have much higher productivity. Water in the urban areas is supplied by the municipalities, which must be financially supported to implement new projects of tapping more water, treating existing waste water/effluents for reuse by industry or to be recycled for enhancing the supply of drinking water. In order to promote water conservation, the government may consider installing water-meters in the towns and cities.

Water usage and management shall have to be improved and new ideas tried for overcoming the shortages. Presently, lot of water is used in flushing the toilets. Presently, potable water is used for this purpose. The hotels in Hong Kong, are supplying seawater for flushing the toilets. Karachi has brackish ground water and it could be supplied as a pilot project for toilet flushing in the Defence Housing Authority area, which usually is facing water shortage. This should make big difference in meeting the sweet water deficit as well as the need for additional investment for enhancing water supply to Karachi. The idea can be considered for other areas in Karachi and even other cities.

Water utilities, in cities having sweet ground water, use tubewell to draw out water that is distributed to the citizens. Due to excessive drawing of water over the years, the water table has receded considerably. This has made the hand-pumps useless and the people have entirely become dependent on the utilities. If the ground water recedes beyond certain depth the use of tubewells becomes exorbitantly costly. In such cases the water utilities go out of the city limits and install tube-wells in the suburban areas where ground water is available at relatively lower depth. It was reported in the press few months ago that the villages around Chiniot fiercely protested attempts by the Faisalabad water utility for installing additional tubewells for drawing water for distribution in Faisalabad area. These villagers were protesting because, due to the existing tubewells, the water table had receded and they were finding it difficult to draw water to irrigate the crops. Excessive usage of water by the utilities may be causing similar problems in other areas.

Estimates of water for Karachi are reportedly made using 54 gallons per capita per day. As against 630 mgd estimated on this basis, at present Karachi is drawing about 500mgd. Deducting wastage and leakage during transmission and distribution, the city is getting considerably less water than its requirements. Careful scrutiny of two variables can improve estimates for Karachi. First, the per capita standard used is excessive. In some countries people do not get more than 7 gallons per day. In Karachi there are some localities or hutments that get even less than 7 gallons per day. Second, a number of industrial units are operating within Karachi limits. Besides, SITE, Korangi and North Karachi Industrial Areas, numerous medium and small industries scattered within the city are presumably fed through the same water system that serves the citizens. Moreover, the quality of water needed for usage by the people would not necessarily be the same as that of industry. Water desalination plants may also be explored for enhancing water supply to Karachi.

Bottled mineral water easily established in Karachi and other cities/towns, as the piped water supplied is sometimes not of the desired quality. The number of mineral water companies quickly increased and they minted money. Common citizens in these difficult times can hardly afford mineral water. However, due to fear of water-borne diseases, many families are obliged to buy and use the 'mineral' bottled water, in spite of the reports that it is not according to national standards and unfit for consumption.

In most desert areas, drinking water is scarce. The women folk are obliged to bring water from wells or water sources located often away from the villages. Most of their time is used up in this activity. In order to lessen their sufferings and to provide sufficient drinking water, certain NGOs and charity organisations are helping the villagers dig up wells nearer to the homes or are installing water pumps. Some of these wells are being dug under " Food for Work" Programmes being implemented by Baanhn Beli in Tharparker villages with support of the World Food Programme.

WATER FOR AGRICULTURE: It is said that in developing agricultural countries 70% water is used for irrigation of crops, 20% for industry and the rest 10% for the domestic use including for drinking purposes. Water use for irrigation purposes in Pakistan is quite high and inefficient, rather wasteful. Flood irrigation is normally used for irrigation, which is said to be one of the causes for water logging and salinity. Drip irrigation needs to be introduced in a big way. This would save lot of water that could be used to irrigate additional areas or to be diverted for drinking or industry. Crop varieties needing less water but yielding more produce may be introduced.

Agriculture in Pakistan may perhaps face shortage of canal water for the next season as has recently been advised by the concerned authority. In areas where ground water is sweet, shortage of canal water is partly met through sinking tubewells but as more water is extracted than the recharge, the water table is receding. After a few years, the well is required to be dug deeper to be able to extract water. This is happening at a large scale though the actual receding of water table might not be the same in different areas. India has faced this problem in certain areas and water table receded so deep that it became uneconomical to extract water through this means. The crops could not be irrigated properly. Through building of small dams in the rural areas they have started harvesting rainwater. This had positive results and improved water table. Pakistan may also consider such techniques to recharge the aquifers and enhance supply of water.

Water for Industry: Industries are large user of water of different quality depending upon the manufacturing process and the number of people employed. Generally, more industries are located near cities and towns and are provided water through public water utilities. It is apprehended that as the industries have more clout, more water is diverted to the industries, to the disadvantage of the inhabitants living within the areas served by the utilities. The government subsidizes most public utilities. As the industries get water rather below cost, they mostly are not frugal in water consumption. Moreover, they do not treat the effluents before discharging in the sewerages. Industrial discharges are also harming the quality of ground water as the aquifers are getting contaminated. There are reports that some effluent treatment plants would be put up with assistance from the ADB. This is a step in the right direction and many more such plants may be set up to combat gigantic problem confronting the industry and the country.

NEED FOR INTEGRATED WATER CONSERVATION EFFORTS: Based on the observations made in connection with the World Water Day it is evident that water situation in Pakistan is not very happy. Chances are it would deteriorate fast in future in the absence of concerted campaigns for water conservation at every level and in all sectors. Pakistan might also carefully consider the points/initiatives that have emerged from the discussion at the World Water Forum. Accordingly, the policy for water for the rural and urban areas may be modified particularly for the large cities such as Karachi. The country must jealously guard its water resources including seawater and the inflows of sweet water from other countries. The government, public water utilities and the people should take measures to augment availability of sweet water, minimize wastage, promote more efficient and economical use, penalize those who pollute water by discharging untreated effluents in to the rivers, canals or other water ways. Through more forests, more rain can be induced and the rainwater harvested for the purpose of domestic use, agricultural crops as well as for recharging the underground aquifers. Awareness for water conservation has to be developed and conservation actually practiced at all levels.