Pakistan at a time is engulfed in many crises. The country is already in political uncertainty, power crisis is yet to be resolved, extremist and sectarian elements are increasing in the society, relations are tense with neighboring India, the pandemic is roaming over the head, graduated youth is looking for a job, commodities are out of control due to high inflation, and innumerable more documented and undocumented issues. One of these very concerns is water scarcity in the country.
In 1990, the country crossed the water-stressed line, since 2005 Pakistan is in the category of a water-scarce country with a per-capita of cubic meters below 1000, and if the water scarcity not addressed, Pakistan will become an absolute water-scarce country in 2035 as predicted by experts.
Much has been written and discussed on the importance of water for human beings and the planet. Life on this planet is not possible without the availability of water. Freshwater supplies in Pakistan are diminishing whereas the population increased at the rate of 1.95% in 2020, according to United Nations’ projections. In Pakistan, safe drinking water is only accessible to 36% and 21 million people travel for accessing water. The country’s per-capita storage capacity is 121 cubic meters, which can survive only for 30 days, less than the minimum requirements of 120 days. It means that if nature stops the generation of water, Pakistan can feed its citizen only for 30 days.
There are numerous issues that have caused the water crisis in the country. Pakistan is home to 220 million people, ranking fifth in the world. In the 1951 census, the population of the country was 33.7 (West Pakistan) and per-capita of water at that time was 5,260 cubic meters, double from the International standard, where minimum requirements were 1800 cubic meters per person. Now the population is over 220 million and per person capacity is 935 cubic meters, very low than the International standards. As the population of the country is increasing, per person of cubic of water is decreasing. The rapid urbanization and the use of water for commercial and industrial purposes has also caused the demand for water in the major cities.
The geography of Pakistan is one of the three regions, which is vulnerable to Climate change. Global warming is melting the high altitude glacier rapidly, on which the Indus basin system depends. The duration of winter is contracting from 4 to 2 months, which means not enough rainfall and snowfall. To avoid climate change a country needs 25% land of forest and the forest of Pakistan covers only 5% of land and unfortunately it is losing 27,000 hectares of area annually because of tree cutting. Climate change is also causing the soil to evaporate faster, which could consume more water for irrigation.
Pakistan is an agrarian country uses more than 90 percent of its water for irrigation purposes. Pakistan grows most water-consuming crops such as sugar cane, wheat, rice, and cotton. In the irrigation process, 60% of water is wasted due to low standards of irrigation infrastructure. The countries also use more water in crops growing than any other country. To shorten the use of water, a new variety of crops is a must which can be irrigated with minimum water.
Having water scarcity is not because of the country not getting enough water. The main reason is the mismanagement, incompetent governance, low standard of the irrigation system, politician self-interest over national interest, less number of the dams for the water storage capacity. There are only two dams Mangla and Tarbela which store water in a huge capacity but their strength also exhausted in 2018. Every year Pakistan receives 145 million acres of feet of water but it stores only 13.7 million. The needs of Pakistan are 40 million acres of feet while the country lost 29 million acres of feet only in flooding.
To addressed and resolve all these water problems, the Government of Pakistan introduced National Water Policy (NWP) framework in 2018. Its outline that federal and provincial government will undertake such measures to resolve the deteriorating water supply by improving the management and distribution of water among provinces, will restructure the irrigation system and, implement its policy according to National Climate Change Policy 2012. For the conserving of water, it recommended that small and big dams would be constructed in the entire country. The policy stated that the demand for water will be reduced, especially in the agriculture sector, which uses 95% of water.
However, NWP was considered as a breakthrough for the water crisis but certain lacunae were outlined by experts, more importantly, its regional mechanism, trans-boundary aquifer, and watershed management. Second, the water crisis is not on the priority list of the current government. In its initial days, the government was eager for Diamer-Basha and Mohmand dam construction but now they seem less interested in it. Under the umbrella of WAPDA certain dams are in the construction process while other has been proposed and much more must be discussed for water conservation as well as power generation for the future generation of the country.
NWP proposed mass awareness among the public about the significance of water through education, broadcasting, and by other means. Till to date, the government is incapable to start and pursue such kind of measures at a national level. The severity of water is less discussed in any talk shows or headlines. The country where 64% of people haven’t access to freshwater is vulnerable to many diseases but they are slighted on media. Water shortage is also causing the growth of foods due to climate changes which will mostly impact the poor. Expecting them to contribute to the country is a dream of fairy which is complete opposite to reality. For low-income families, the first priority will be health and food not education at these situations, an indirect impact on the country’s economy.