The demand for water in the recent years and will continue to increase

By Dr. S.M. ALAM, NIA, Tandojam
July 07 - 13, 2003

Water is a substance of paramount ecological, economic and social importance. Water provides life to plants? animals and humans. Water is used in a variety of ways at different levels. Fresh water, though currently abundant in most parts of the world, is likely to become increasingly scarce in coming decades, because of its greater net consumption and pollution. Even now a days, scarcities and conflicts are becoming more acute, and by the year 2005, economic survival in many industrial regions may become closely linked with water quality or water quantity or both.

For Pakistan, which is located in arid and semi‑arid region with sporadic and erratic rainfall patterns. The demand of water in the country is going up steadily, because of expansion in development activities and populations. More and more water required for domestic purposes, agriculture, industry, and for hydropower generation. The standard of living improves the demand for water increase as well.

Safe and clear drinking water is essential for good health and is a pre-requisite to the control of chronic diseases most common in developing countries. One of the main objectives of management of water is to provide safe water to population in adequate amounts for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene. Sound and good management of water resources has a positive impact on economic development. It can increase cropping patterns and substantially enhance the profits to poor farmers. Through water saving more can be brought under cultivation, this will require more labours.

Many countries are likely to run short of fresh water within a few decades, according to most experts. Today, approximately one‑third of humanity must cope with impure water or inadequate amounts of fresh water; a new United Nations report predicts that figure could double within thirty years. More than 97% of the earth's water is too salty to drink. Two‑thirds of the rest is frozen in glaciers and inaccessible snow fields. Rivers, lakes and groundwater hold the tiny remainder. Irrigation claims 67% of the fresh water and industry takes 23% more. Since the turn of the century, our rate of water use has soared along with the growing population.

Agriculture now uses five times more water; industrial use has grown 26 times; and municipal use 18 times. A billion people today lack access to pure drinking water. The expanding demand for water is pushing beyond the sustainable yield of aquifers in many countries and draining some of the world's major rivers dry before they reach the sea.

As the demand for water for irrigation and for industrial use and residential uses continues to expand, the competition between countryside and city for available water supplies intensifies. In some parts of the world, meeting growing urban needs is possible only by diverting water from irrigation. As countries and regions begin to press against the limits of water supplies, the competition between cities and the countryside increases. As water is pulled away from the agriculture scenario, production often drops', forcing the countries to import grain. Importing a ton of grain is, in effect, importing a thousand tons of water. For countries with water shortages, importing grain is the efficient way to import water. Just as land scarcity has shaped international grain patterns historically' water scarcity is now beginning to do the same. Like land, water is also being diverted to non-farm uses. With water scarcity now constraining efforts to expand food production in many countries, raising the efficiency of water use is emerging as a key to expanding food production. A shift in the water markets, requiring users to pay the full cost of water would lead to substantial investments in efficiency.

World Bank officials also advocate the management of water as a rare resource. Such a shift could result in considerable savings. In some third world countries, for example, 60% of the drinking water is lost because of rusted pipes or illegal tapping of the supply system. Leakage in Manila's water mains has reached 58% of the total water supply, but in Singapore, a better managed city, 8% losses are the norm. A UN survey reported waste levels as low as 12% in Britain and the United States. As the need for water grows the source of the available water becomes a point of increasing focus. Twenty‑two countries around the world are dependent on the flow of water from other nations for much of their water supply, a dependency which can lead to friction. Among the areas with the potential for armed conflict over water are: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh already these nations face tensions over nuclear explosions and other difficult, related matters. The Middle East one ruler said, water is the one issue that "could drive the nations of this region to war." Egypt Is almost totally dependent on the Nile and 85% of that river's water comes from Ethiopia. As Ethiopia's population doubles and demands more and more water, how will Egypt respond? China Two‑thirds of China's agriculture is in the North, four‑fifths of its water is in the South. Of the five watersheds where most of the country's people and farms are concentrated, four containing 550 million people are in the arid North.

There are more than 200 river basins in the world shared by at least two countries. More than a dozen nations get most of their water from rivers that cross the borders of neighbouring countries which can be viewed as hostile. By the year 2050 nearly half of the world will have insufficient water. As much as 42% could be facing either water stress or scarcity. From a global perspective the overview is daunting. On a very personal level water is life. More than 70% of the human body consists of water. It takes less than a 1% deficiency in our body's water to make us thirsty. A 5% deficit causes a slight fever. An 8% shortage causes the glands to stop producing saliva and the skin to turn blue. A person cannot walk with a 10% deficiency and 12% brings death. The United Nations authorities note that 9500 children die every day from lack of water or more frequently, from diseases caused by polluted water. Population control, land and water management, pollution control and modifying the effect of consumerization are the significant milestones which require policies and agreements to affect change. For us at Distech, water is a valuable resource not a commodity. A resource that requires our direct attention and commitment to improve for the benefit of our planet. We dedicate our talents and skills to make the world a better place, developing and applying technology to maintain quality water supplies wherever required. Could water replace gold or oil as a currency for the next millennium?

Some one said that the water conference is being held at the most appropriate time when the shortage of water, particularly due to drought, has created famine conditions in Cholistan (Punjab), Tharparkar (Sindh) and some parts of Balochistan in Pakistan. This is a warning for the leaders at the helm of affairs to take momentous decisions about the construction of reservoirs, dams as well as water management programmes. That also said engineers have been continuously giving proposals to the governments and leadership for the development and management of water resources, but they did not pay any heed, perhaps because of lack of political will to tackle this national issue. Some one said, it is unfortunate that for the last 23 years, Pakistan has not added any water storage system and it is the unanimous and considered opinion of the engineers that Kalabagh Dam is a must and should .be taken in hand in right earnest. They pointed out that almost 90 percent of the available water is used for irrigation purposes, while the rest 10 percent is used for industrial and human consumption. If water is not available or its supplies are not increased, there would be no agricultural production, no water for human beings and no water for the industries. All available water resources should be tapped, while proper management of water should be done without any loss of time.

The agriculture is almost wholly dependent on irrigation. Agriculture in most areas is not possible without irrigation, because of the arid climate with low and variable rainfall. The average rainfall over much of the country is not more than 400 mm, while evaporation is very high ranging from 1,250 mm to 2,800 mm per annum. Under these circumstances, Pakistan has to depend on irrigation system which over the years has deteriorated and on the other hand, it is creating new problems like the salinity and water‑logging. Water problem is assuming an alarming situation with the increase in population and industrial development in the country.

There are abundant water resources in Pakistan's Indus Basin and annually river inflows average 17.5 million hectare meters of which 12.5 million hectare meters are diverted to canals. But unfortunately, some 45 to 50 percent of this water is lost in the conveyance and at farm levels. Per capita requirement of water is about 300 litres per day and at this rate of consumption, annually 4,270.5 million cubic meters of water is required for the urban population of 39 million, besides the additional requirements for the rural areas. There is a deplorable economic condition of the Muslim world, which represents one‑fifth of world population, but produces only 5 percent of the world GNP. The combined output of the 57 Muslim countries is about $950 billion which is even less than the GNP of France which is $1,200 billion. Besides, the trading capacity of the Muslim world stands at a very low level, only 7 percent of the world trade is shared by the Ummah, which mainly comprise raw materials with no value‑ added share. One would consider ways and means to increase the trading share of the Muslim countries especially in the field of value‑added goods.

The water usage is rising with the increase in population and a minimum of 1,700 cubic metres is essential, but at places it has gone down to 500 cubic metres and in some areas it has just vanished. If the water availability is below 50 cubic metres then there is every possibility of a situation like African countries as well as Tharparkar, Cholistan and certain areas of Balochistan. A recent study shows that Pakistan, by the year 2025, would be needing 53 percent more water. This increased demand can be met with the construction of new dams, reservoirs and proper management of the canals system. We are already consuming the precious underground water resources with the installation of more and more tubewells. We are extracting three million acre feet of water with the help of tubewells. The capacity for extraction of water through tubewells should be 48 million acre feet, while we are extracting 51 million acre feet. In this way we are quite rapidly consuming our underground water resources. The situation is becoming alarming as we are facing a shortage of water every two years by one million acre feet. Drinking water issue is also accentuating. Quetta, it is feared, would be a ghost city if water supply is not replenished soon. Karachi has its own drinking water problems while in Lahore the supply is declining rapidly.


Water is one of the most fundamental of natural resources. The demand for water in the recent years and will continue to increase in view of the scintillating pace of population growth, urbanization and industrialization. Therefore, a comprehensive water resource management is necessity.