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Clean water insufficiency, where do we stand

Potable water is scarce across Pakistan. One comes across the news from almost all major cities and even small towns and villages at times such as Toba Tek Singh, Landi Kotal, Badin, Layyah, Sargodha, Lahore, Sahiwal, Nawabshah, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Kachha area of Johi taluka,

Sialkot, Peshawar, Multan, Gujrat, Cholistan, Bahawalpur, Haripur, Tharparkar, Lower Dir, Mansehra, Gwadar, Mianwali, Bahawalnagar, Narowal, Skardu, Vehari, Rajanpur, etc. where there is either paucity of potable water or water contains high arsenic content leading to water-borne diseases. The relevant authorities need to take immediate action sooner rather than later to the statements circulating such as ‘Pakistan is now a severely water-stressed country’.

It was scary to read the following recent statement regarding agro-based Pakistan. Statement reads ‘The year 2025 has been marked as the year when Pakistan — if it doesn’t mend its ways soon — will turn from a water-stressed country to a water-scarce country. Warnings about water running out have been issued separately by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR). Per capita surface water availability of 5,260 cubic metres per year in 1951 turned into around 1,000 cubic metres in 2016. This is likely to further drop to about 860 cubic meters by 2025. The PCRWR describe that Pakistan reached the water stress line in 1990 and crossed the water scarcity line in 2005.’

It is a wake-up call which has not woken up anyone, to say the least. The question is what has been done since 1990 in particular.

 

Some allege the tanker-mafia and others deem water-intensive crops responsible for this ordeal to some extent. One could witness protests in large cities by the denizens of both upscale and downscale localities alike giving the same utterances. It is staggering to know that one could buy potable water at any time in large cities whereas the departments accountable for the provision of water seem to be paying no heed to the acute dearth of potable water across the country. If the statement regarding tanker-mafia holds true, where is the writ of the government? If the conundrum of potable water scarcity is in the wake of water-intensive crops, what is being done to utilize efficient irrigation methods? Has anyone at the helm of affairs ever noticed that greywater is being used for toilets or irrigation in many countries to tackle the issue of fresh water availability? In a deluge of countries water from sinks, showers, baths, clothes washing machines or dish washers, the major source of greywater, is being reused for toilet flushing, crop irrigation etc.

Around 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water of which only around 3 percent is fresh water leaving around 97 as saline for which a lot is being done across the globe keeping in view the future demands by virtue of burgeoning population of the world which is expected to reach around 10 billion by 2050 from the current 8 billion. Through desalination, saline water could be turned into potable water which is being used for human consumption or irrigation in various countries. Kuwait is one of the leading countries in terms of 100% of its water for drinking and cooking use through this process.

There is a likelihood that around 15 percent of the global population may face dearth of potable water five years down the road. There are many countries across the globe which have worked on the concept of greater water self-sufficiency. Singapore is a palpable instance in this regard which has done it through an integrated water management approach including water reuse and desalination of seawater. There are thousands of desalination plants across the globe since potable water is becoming scarce with every passing day. There is anticipation that in the Himalayas, retreating glaciers could reduce summer water flows by up to two-thirds which could bring havoc to millions of people in the region.

The incumbent government of Pakistan must ponder over this urgent and emergent issue since the dwindling water resources may pose massive challenges in the not too distant future. Only having an institution such as Karachi Water and Sewage Board with over 14,000 employees and an annual budget of Rs6 billion is not ample. One has to hold the derelict organizations accountable for the widespread havoc across the city or the country. Millions of citizens may not even get groundwater which is also going to deplete owing to the activities of so-called mafia operating in particularly large cities of Pakistan.

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