Acute water shortage looms large in Swat

22 Mar 2020

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A boy gets water from a pipeline in Malookabad, Swat. — Dawn
A boy gets water from a pipeline in Malookabad, Swat. — Dawn

Besides its other hazardous effects on environment, the climate change has also affected the underground aquifers in Swat where the groundwater table has dropped considerably, leading to acute water shortage in the district.

The residents of various areas in Swat including Mingora, Saidu Sharif, Guld Kada, Manyar, Khwaza Khela, Barikot, Matta, Kabal and others have been hit hard by shortage of drinking water.

Experts say that multiple causes have led to water shortage in Swat that must be addressed before the situation gets worsen.

“Rise in global temperature, melting of glaciers, vast scale forest cutting, change in the rain pattern, population blast and sinking of a large number of tubewells are the major reasons of water shortage in Swat,” said Saifullah Khan, the assistant professor at institute of social science and anthropology, Bahauddin Zakariya University.

Mr Khan, who has conducted several studies on Swat, said that plantation of eucalyptus tree on the mountains also baldly affected underground water table.

The residents of the affected areas said water shortage had made their life miserable.

“Every summer brings us heat and shortage of water. In this season, we are not only disturbed by the scorching heat but also by the water shortage. We received water supply for more than 30 minutes in the past but now the duration has reduced to 15-10 minutes,” said Arshad, a resident of Gul Kada.

He said that many people, who didn’t rely on the water supply line of Water and Sanitation Services Company (WSSC),

had dug their own wells to get nonstop water. However, majority of the wells have dried as the underground water table has dropped.

“When we dug our first well five years ago it was 170 feet deep and it gave us enough water but two years ago it dried and we further dug it and the water came out at 220 feet. But it did not work for a year and dried soon,” said Fazal Rabi, a resident Gulkada.

He said that that presently underground water was available at a depth of 500 feet.

An article “Climate change endangers half the world’s groundwater supply” written by an environmental reporter Zoë Schlanger, states that two billion people in the world rely on groundwater- that’s seeped through layers of soil and rock to become stored in underground deposits called aquifers.

“Some aquifers are closer to the surface, and can recharge more quickly. These respond fast to rainfall, for example; a good soak will replenish them. But being closer to the surface isn’t without its drawbacks. They’re more accessible to humans, so they’re already likely to be withdrawn faster than they can be filled up,” states the report.

It says that water proximity to the surface makes them more vulnerable to drought and contamination-- two things on the rise amid climate change and population growth.

The article states that climate-related changes to rainfall in the next century will make it harder for 44 per cent of the world’s aquifers to recharge, particularly the shallower ones we rely on to fill up faster. That means within the next 100 years, nearly half the world’s groundwater supply will become less reliable.

Apart from acute water shortage in the district, waterborne diseases have also increased in Swat the reason of which, according to doctors, is mainly contaminated drinking water.

“During the past few years, water borne disease have increased two-fold. Among them scabies, cholera, diarrhoea, hepatitis and malnutrition are on the top. Majority of the cases come from Gul Kada, Saidu Sharif, Rang Mohallah, Malookabad and suburbs,” said Dr Arif, who practices in Mingora.

A research study on the quality of drinking water in Mingora city was conducted in 2018 by Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) in collaboration with United Nations Children Fund (Unicef).

During the study, 502 water samples were collected from Mingora city, covering water supply sources, consumer ends and household private water sources. “Out of 502 collected water samples 279 (55 per cent) were found contaminated whereas 223 (45 per cent) were found safe,” says the study.

However, the study found through its analytical findings that drinking water at sources was almost safe but the contaminations entered in the distribution system through damaged and unprotected pipelines.

Not only ground water level decreased, leading to acute shortage of drinking water, but the climate change had its worst impact on glaciers, rivers and streams in Swat.

“There is an ample decrease of water in almost all the streams of Swat which has caused shortage for irrigation of agricultural land. About 10 years ago, the Jambil and Marghuzar streams flew with high tide but now both the streams have limited to small drains as the water flow have receded. The main cause of water receding is that almost 90 per cent of water springs have dried which are the main sources of the streams,” said Shah Wazir Khan, a farmer in Marghuzar valley.

The climate changes have also negative impact on thousands of glaciers located on the high mountains. The glaciers are the major source of the Swat River and its tributaries. Melting of the glaciers due to global warming causes frequent flooding, which ultimately washes away agricultural land as well as destroys residential areas.

Engineer Mian Shahid Ali, the manager operations of WSSC, said that there were several factors causing underground water depletion including climate change, rapid increase in population, huge number of digging bore wells, vast scale concretisation of Mingora city and deforestation.

“The underground water table in Mingora is dropping fast. According to our survey this year, it will drop down by 30 feet. Owing to the ever-increasing population in Mingora and its suburbs, the population is in dire need of water,” he told this scribe.

He said that the issue could only be resolved if a gravity scheme from the Swat River in Gashkor area was executed with a cost of Rs6 billion. He added that WSSC was working on various projects to cater to the needs of people, including replacement of rusted pipes and redistribution of the system, developing of new water sources and rehabilitation and replacement of the damaged tubewells.

“A budget of Rs213.6 million is allocated for the water supply related activities in the year 2019-2020 for nine union urban union councils of tehsil Babuzai,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2020