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LAHORE: If a bucket contained the entire world’s water, only one teacup of that would be fresh water, while just a teaspoon would be available for use from lakes, rivers and underwater reservoirs as groundwater.

Pakistan has the fourth largest groundwater aquifer over 1,137,819 km2 -- making it slightly larger than England. Across Pakistan, the groundwater contribution is estimated to be 60 per cent for agriculture, 90pc for drinking and 100pc for industry. But Pakistan is also the fourth largest country in the world withdrawing groundwater and ending up making the Indus Basin aquifer the second most “overstressed” groundwater basin in the world.

These facts were revealed in a documentary at an event held on Friday at the Governor House in connection with World Water Day. The event was organised by Water Aid UK in collaboration with the governor’s own Sarwar Foundation, Agahe and SPO.

The governor’s wife Perveen Sarwar, provincial ministers Mian Aslam Iqbal, retired Col Hashim Dogar and Dr Akhtar Malik, WaterAid country Head Siddique Ahmed, UNDP Assistant Country Head Shakeel Ahmed, water experts and national and provincial lawmakers attended the event.

Mrs Perveen said that around 80pc patients in hospitals were affected by waterborne diseases, while 30pc deaths were due to contaminated drinking water and unavailability of clean drinking water.

Dr Malik said: “We have to make a commitment to work towards preserving fresh clean drinking water.” Ministers Mian Aslam Iqbal and Colonel Hashim Dogar also spoke.

According to a report by WaterAid, Pakistan was running out of water. Since 1947, per capita availability of water has been decreasing -- in 1947 it was 5,300 cubic metre, in 2017 the levels fell dangerously low to 1,000 cubic metre, and it is expected that by 2047 the levels will reach less than 500 cubic metre.

Only 36pc Pakistanis have access to safe drinking water and 21 million people travel long distances to get water. Pakistan is among the top 10 countries with the lowest access to clean water near home.

The state of annual groundwater extraction in Pakistan is equally dismal. The annual figure for withdrawal in Pakistan is estimated to be 65 billion cubic centimetres (bcm), while every year groundwater is falling by a metre.

About 1.2 million tubewells extract water for agriculture out of which 0.8 million are located in Punjab. Eighty percent of drinking water is pumped from the ground as well; this is affected by the 92pc of sewage dumped into rivers and canals. Fifty million people are at risk of arsenic poisoning because of this untreated water mixing with groundwater.

Other issues and challenges include falling water tables, virtual water trade, no water metering and pricing, evapo-transpiration, population growth rate and increasing water demand, less recharging of the aquifers, unchecked drilling and gaps in governance.

Meanwhile, WWF-Pakistan organised seminars and workshops at various universities and textile mills in different cities to mark World Water Day.

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2019