Water crisis

Published April 8, 2024

PAKISTAN is starting its new summer cropping — kharif — season with a whopping 30pc water shortage caused by lower-than-normal snowfall last winter. However, water regulator Irsa is hopeful that the monsoon rains will plug the shortage in the latter part of the kharif season. This pattern is not unfamiliar to most of us as it repeats itself every year without exception. Only the quantum of water scarcity varies from year to year, and is sometimes followed by discord among the provinces, particularly between Sindh and Punjab, over the formula used to share these shortages. It is also worrisome for smallholder farmers living at the tail-end of the canals. The water scarcity is predicted to worsen going forward, owing mainly to climate change unleashed by rapid global warming, which has already altered weather patterns significantly, as well as social and economic factors. Pakistan has been facing a severe water crisis that is putting millions of lives at risk. A UN report Global Water Security Assessment last year had placed Pakistan in the critically water-insecure category, indicating that the country is facing a water emergency that requires immediate attention. It said that Pakistan is among the most water-stressed countries in the world, with rapidly declining per capita water availability, owing to an unbridled population and environmental factors. As the factors responsible for the shortage of water and its inefficient use are likely to get worse in the coming years, unless immediate action is initiated to ward off the apocalypse, poverty and food insecurity are forecast to surge.

Many insist that the country can, indeed, avoid this disaster and overcome increasing water insecurity through the efficient management of its water resources, and by improving its inadequate infrastructure. For example, the early adoption of modern environment-friendly irrigation technologies could save much of this resource from being wasted in agricultural fields, which consume nearly 97pc of freshwater, because of inefficient flood irrigation. Likewise, investments in infrastructure could minimise the massive loss of water — estimated to be around 40pc — available in the system to evaporation and pilferage. This requires the formulation of a long-term holistic water management policy in line with our national economic growth and development priorities. Unfortunately, political instability, economic uncertainty, and interprovincial discord on water apportionment continue to impede water sector reforms and perpetuate water insecurity for millions of people.

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2024

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