JUST three years... That’s the time left before taps in the country probably run dry as Pakistan faces “absolute water scarcity”, warn experts. With over 80pc of the population already facing “severe water scarcity” for at least one month a year, by 2040, the UN predicts, critical shortages will affect each and every person in the country. The warning is not new. Neither is the fact that the water level in Tarbela dam has reached dead level well before summer. And yet, there is no sense of urgency or even a half-hearted attempt at salvaging matters. Our own National Water Policy states that the “water crisis is descending like a thunderbolt”. It highlights the fast depletion of our groundwater, which is responsible for meeting 70pc of our national and 50pc agricultural needs, according to the World Bank. The extent of reliance on groundwater for water-intensive farming can be assessed by the fact that over 95pc of the total water available is consumed by this sector alone, with 5pc left over for domestic use.
Depleting groundwater resources are also the focus of this year’s World Water Day, being observed today. An outdated approach to water conservation and use, obsolete and water-intensive agricultural practices, and unchecked urbanisation have contributed to Pakistan’s severe water crisis. Climate change has aggravated the situation as have the poor coping mechanisms of the federal and provincial water management bodies that remain ill-equipped and under-resourced. The fact that, in all these years, these bodies have failed to curb even the high transmission losses of 60pc of surface water speaks volumes for their inefficiency. These circumstances cost the national exchequer at least $12bn a year, with implications for food and economic security. The government must act fast by, first, realising the gravity of the crisis and making the public aware of it. Secondly, alternatives must be found to water-intensive crops and farmers should be incentivised to accept the shift. Lastly, expert consultation is needed to upgrade and implement the National Water Policy immediately.
Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2022