Paulo Coelho, the author of the bestselling book The Alchemist once said that every blessing ignored becomes a curse. This is actually what is happening with Pakistan at the moment. The country has been hit by the worst floods in its history in the last two years, particularly, in 2010 when the flood affected over 14 million people forcing the United Nations (UN) to declare it as the worst in living memory.

Similarly, in the year 2011 extensive monsoon rains heavily affected areas in Sindh and Balochistan provinces. Yet after all this extensive downpour during monsoon, Pakistan is still categorised as a water stressed country. As per the projection of International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Pakistan will face physical water scarcity by 2025, if appropriate measures are not taken accordingly. Physical water scarcity is a situation in which the water demand surpasses the land’s ability to supply the required water.

From this definition we can see that physical water scarcity is directly related to exponential growth in population and unsustainable use of water at the user’s end. As per the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the population of Pakistan was around 174 million in 2010 which is expected to grow to 275 million by the year 2050.

Consequently, Pakistan is categorised amongst the top 10 most populous countries in the world.

“Pakistan Strategic Country Environmental Assessment Report” published by the World Bank reflects that the per capita water availability in the country decreased from 5,000 cubic metres in 1951 to 1,100 cubic metres at present. It is further expected to drop down to 700 cubic meters by 2025. According to Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index, Pakistan is 8th among the countries most affected by climate change during the last two decades (i.e. 1991 – 2010). As per the report “Pakistan: Country Water Resource Assistance Strategy” compiled by the World Bank, climate change will likely increase the glacier melt and monsoon rainfall intensity in the country. As a result, more areas are likely to be affected by floods in the coming years.

The next decade will provide Pakistan an opportunity to prepare for a situation in which there will be plenty of water until a time comes when water availability would reduce considerably. It predicts that the country will face a chain of interlinked problems. On the one hand, the population will grow exponentially which means that demand for food and water will increase sharply. On the other hand, water availability will decrease which will directly impact agricultural output and consequently per person food availability.

As a counter strategy, the country is likely to import dietary products which will add further to the import bill. Not to mention the fact that Pakistan is already spending 14 to 15 billion dollars of its annual budget on the import of oil.

Similarly, water accessibility for industrial purposes will also significantly reduce. Most industried are water intensive; for example, the textile and leather industry in the country, which consume huge amounts of water, will have a severe impact. A report  titled “Assessment of environmental concerns in the leather industry and proposed remedies: a case study for Pakistan” compiled by professors at GIK Institute of Engineering Science & Technology states that usually 50-150 litres of water is used to transform one kilogram of raw skin into leather.

There are almost 596 tanneries in operation in country which export 90 per cent of their output. Likewise, as per the programme for Industrial Sustainable Development (PISD), initiated by the Cleaner Production Institute (CPI), the textile sector consumes 70 – 400 litres of water per kg of finished fabric. It not only forms 8.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) but also employs 38 per cent of the total manufacturing labour force. Just imagine how many people will lose their jobs as a result of this decrease in water availability and how many households will actually be able to sustain this shock.

This brings us to our third point, i.e. water supply to households. As per the World Bank report referred earlier, all large cities except Karachi and Islamabad get their water supply through tube wells. Lahore with a population of almost 10 million gets water through 300 tube wells. The situation is even worse in Karachi and Islamabad where one of the main sources of supply is through water tankers.

Water is vital for our survival as we cannot imagine life without it. It is important that we show respect towards water and take steps on immediate basis for its conservation. Time is running out of our hands and it’s for us to decide that what we want to pass on to our coming generations.

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