WATER scarcity is the biggest threat to fertile lands in the country which, in turn, means serious consequences for the industrial sector. Pakistan is already a water-scarce country as owing to the poor state of infrastructure about two-third is lost due to poor transmission and seepage. Water scarcity hurts the entire agricultural chain besides creating problems for farmers, households and industries, thus causing food insecurity and unemployment.

Almost 145 million acre feet (MAF) water passes annually through the country of which only 14MAF could be stored and that too for one month, while the international standard stands at 90 days of storage. Country’s population would be 250 million by 2025 and the demand for water would be at 338 billion cubic meters while the availability would be 236 billion cubic meter. Hence, the government should try to take due steps.

Pakistan’s storage capacity is a mere 150 cubic meters per person which is much lower than many other economies. By 2030, according to the World Resource Institute, Pakistan will be faced with extreme water shortage owing to lack of water storage capacity and unsustainable groundwater utilisation.

Pakistan ranks seventh among countries at risk from global warming, thus flooding alone accounts for 77 per cent of all natural disasters, costing Pakistan heavily.

The groundwater table in and around Islamabad and Rawalpindi is falling at an alarming rate. While in 2000 drinking water could be pumped out at a depth of 20-40 feet, now even sinking pumps down to 200-300 feet fails to bring up water. According to present indications, after a decade or so the groundwater table may become impossible to reach unless and / or until some big projects to recharge ground water are undertaken. The present trend of sinking groundwater level indicates that in another two decades the twin cities may become totally devoid of groundwater.

A show of political will, coupled with sustainable long-term efforts, will help develop policies to pave the way towards a brighter future for Pakistan and its people.

Alarmingly, the crop yields and water resources are declining, leaving large tracts of barren land and making farmers debt-ridden. Unemployment is increasing and the groundwater table is fast depleting.

As the canals become old, the wastage through seepage rises, and sometimes water rarely reaches the tail-ends. In the process, some areas have become over-irrigated, causing water-logging, salinisation and degradation of soil, knocking off field productivity. In other areas, farmers resort to pumping groundwater.

Farmers must be educated about matching their withdrawals with recharging of aquifers, sowing crops that do not guzzle water, adopting irrigation techniques that use water efficiently, budgeting water bearing in mind that over half of it will go in evaporation.

Water resource management requires policies to ensure more productive, equitable and sustainable uses through reallocation across sectors.

The latest national water policy was announced in April 2018 according to which, Pakistan’s river-flows are heavily dependent on glacial melt (41%), snowmelt (22%) and rainfall (27%). The Indus system receives an annual influx of 134.8 MAF of water. Pakistan receives snowfall only in the Northern Areas of the country during winter.

The policy argues that water availability can be enhanced through a reduction in water loss, additional water storage through large, medium and small dams, recycling used waters, desalinisation of sea water and more efficient water use. The main targets proposed for 2018-30 are: to augment the dwindling irrigation deliveries into the existing canal systems on account of ever decreasing existing storage capacity of Mangla and Tarbela dams due to sedimentation and to develop new cultivated area on canal irrigated water, the existing water storage capacity of 14MAF must be increased by immediately starting construction of the Diamer-Bhasha dam having 6.4 million acre feet storage capacity; and to have Mohmand Dam with capacity of 0.676 million acre feet and other countrywide medium and small dams having cumulative storage capacity of at least 2MAF up to year 2030.

As global temperature rises, so does the fraction of the human population that is affected by either water scarcity or river flooding. Global warming over the 21st century is projected to reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources. So, taking initiative, the government should come out with revolutionary policies and refworms in the agriculture as well as water sectors.

There is a dire need to promote efficient use of water through vigorous advocacy campaigns aimed at reducing wastage of water at both commercial and the household levels to raise awareness. It is with awareness that water resource conditions may change. It is time Pakistan’s water resources became part of mainstream discussion. A show of political will by the country’s leadership, coupled with continuous efforts to help achieve long-term energy, water and food security, will help develop synergetic policies. Increased water, food and energy security will help pave the way towards a brighter future for the country and its people.

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