Good quality water is crucial for sustainable socio-economic development

Dr. S. M. Alam
Mar 14 - 20, 2005

Water, which is composed of two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen, is the principal resource that has helped agriculture and society to prosper and it has been a major limiting factor when not properly managed. Water is basic ingredient of life. Fresh water is a finite resource, which is essential for human existence, agricultural productivity and industry. Without fresh water of adequate quantity and quality sustainable development is not possible. Therefore, it is obvious that the good quality water is crucial for sustainable socio-economic development. In Pakistan, the available water resources of the country are rapidly becoming insufficient to meet the demand for agriculture, industrial and municipal supplies throughout the country.

Water is a life source and a major constituent of health and a productive environment. Life without water is inconceivable. Of the 0.25% water available on earth for drinking, agriculture and industry, we get a minimal share for drinking only. With global warming, and over use of this natural resource, the situation of water availability has become grim, and more so in the developing countries. At present, about 500 million people worldwide are suffering from diarrhea and other water borne diseases. To top all this, quality of water is not of a standard that is fit for human consumption. Consumption of water by human beings is enormous as drinking water, in food, irrigation, as coolant and in numerous other applications.

Living things need water for their survival; plants are no exception. In addition to other uses, water molecule is necessary for the fixation of carbon dioxide in photosynthesis beside other metabolic process. Although 7/8th of the earth's surface is covered with water, its availability for human consumption is small 97% of the total water is in the oceans, 2% is retained as snow and 1% retained as groundwater, or water in the lakes, rivers and the biological systems. The snowmelt and rainfall provides 110,000 km3 of water per year but 70,000 km3 is lost in evaporation. Of the remaining 40,000 km3, 26,000 km3 is lost as surface run off leaving 14,000 km3 as net available; 70% of this is used in agriculture and 30% in domestic and industrial use. Every country has a finite amount of water. Pakistan is located in the semi-arid sub-tropics but is lucky to have a proportionately better share (about 0.3%) of this water yet it is a scarce and precious commodity.

Water availability in the country depends particularly upon both summer and winter rainfall in plains and snowfall over the northern mountains. Climatically, the country being located in subtropical region, the major amount of rainfall is in monsoon season, which extends from July to September. Incidentally, the deficient or surplus rainfall years are dependent upon intensity of monsoon current. The same monsoon current is also responsible for rainfall over the catchment areas of eastern rivers, i.e. Sutlej, Ravi and Chenab. The rainfall pattern determines the agriculture output and the type of crops to be sown along with the area determination. Successful crop production depends on the availability of timely and adequate supply of water for the plant growth. Scarcity of water is a world-wise problem, and the gravity of which can be assessed from the fact that the next world war may be fought between nations on distribution of water. Of the 71% water on planet water, only 3% of this is fresh. Most of this water is either in the form of ice and snow or in deep ground water acquires less than 1% of this water, which comes to about 0.01% of the earth water, is considered to be available for human needs and much of it is far from the requirement of large population. More than 1 billion of the earth population do not have access to safe drinking water, and about 2.5 billion people lack adequate sanitation at the present situation.

In Pakistan, like in many other countries, precipitation exceeds that of rainfall and availability of water from the mountain tops and the reservoirs is depleting day by day. The situation, however, is not as bleak as it seems as with proper management of the available water, we can still manage to cope with the water shortage. Generally, major cities of Pakistan are facing problems of shortage of municipal water supplies as the water requirement is increasing due to rapid urbanization.

Pakistan as well as the neighbouring countries, are faced with critical water shortage for the last three decades. The demand for water has outstripped its supply, making the availability of safe water resource an issue. Also conflicts over water sharing are expected in many regions of the world. Thus, because of this glooming crisis, water problems are getting increasing attention all over the world. Water quality degradation and quantity shortage are problems of gigantic nature and therefore could be solved through inter-organizational efforts. Scarcity of water is one of the alarming issues of the present day. All the country's newspapers are replete with controversies on water resources and of their distribution, the disastrous drought and water shortages. The water supply and water cycle in the universe is a phenomenon so commonplace, and yet so wonderful.

Pakistan faces the acute shortage of water for both irrigation and for domestic and industrial purposes. In Rabi season, the crops need around 36.4 million acre feet of water, while the reserve stock is 18.73 MAF. The extent of water shortage in big cities where water is usually supplied for two to four hours. Many parts of Karachi, even some posh areas, remain without water for days together. Tankers are generally hired to meet essential requirements.

Irrigation has been the main tool for advancement of societies for centuries. Today farming accounts for some 70 percent of the global water use. With the population explosion all over the world, especially in the developing countries, irrigation has been badly affected. In several parts of the world, water demands are exceeding the supply limits. Rapid urbanization, technological advancement, deforestation, global warming, decline in economic graph, climatic changes, droughts are floods, water logging and salinity, soil conversion, inappropriate handling of the existing technologies etc. have caused substantial shortage of the water.

Due to limited water supply and lack of appropriate management practices about 28 million acres are lying as culturable waste. Normally 2 acre feet of water are annually needed per cultivated acre. While a little more than an acre-foot of water per acre is annually available for plant consumptive use. Water of the Indus river and its tributaries is of excellent quality, with total soluble salts (TSS) ranging between 60 to 375 ppm. Although, the investment in drainage have been significant in Pakistan during the last 25 years, but water logging still affects large chunks of land. In fresh groundwater areas, excessive pumping by private tubewells leads to mining of the aquifer and deterioration of the groundwater quality by intrusion of poor quality of water. The limited water supplies not only adversely affect crop productivity, but also lead to inter provincial disputes over its distribution. The solution lies in developing additional water resources through the construction of as many as storage reservoirs as possible near the banks of the rivers or in the adjoining areas of its surrounding.


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 nowadays, 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 efficient control and management for its continued development much needed. Without proper management, the self-sufficiently in food will not possible for the country. 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 all hydropower generation. The standard of living improves the demand for water increase as well. Since water cannot be easily exported from a water-surplus country to a water-deficient country due to a post of economic, political and environmental reasons.

Safe and clear drinking water is essential for good health and is a prerequisite 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, food 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 counties and regions begin to press against the limits of water supplies, the competition between cities and the countryside increases. And the cities almost always win. As water is pulled away from the agriculture scenario, production often drops, forcing the countries to import grain. Importing a tonne of grain is, in effect, importing a thousand tonnes 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 nonfarm 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. Add the volatile factor of how to share water when underground sources are diminishing in all three nations and they have the potential for nuclear conflict. 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 per cent of the available water is used for irrigation purposes, while the rest 10 per cent 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 per cent 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 Muslim 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 per cent 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.