Water scarcity is a pressing issue not only in Pakistan but in the world as a whole. Numerous factors such as climate change, global warming, water and air pollution, and inadequate water resource management contribute to the global water crisis.
Water scarcity is a significant threat to food security. Without water security, there can be no food security, because the agricultural sector which contributes 22.7 percent to the national GDP in Pakistan, is dependent upon water. Similarly, water insecurity also has a significant impact on energy security when it comes to hydroelectric power generation.
Understanding the Matter Better
At present, Pakistan is ranked among the top seventeen countries facing severe water stress. According to the Chairman of WAPDA’s statement, the per capita water availability in Pakistan has drastically declined from 5,650 cubic meters annually in 1951 to 908 cubic meters annually in 2022. He emphasized that Pakistan can only retain 10 percent of its annual river flows, whereas the global average is 40 percent. This indicates that Pakistan is on the brink of water scarcity.
Given the above data, Pakistan seems on the brink of facing severe water scarcity unless immediate actions are taken to tackle the problem. However, the situation is not so bleak as there is another optimistic perspective to consider. For instance, a World Bank article titled “Five myths about water in Pakistan” debunked five persistent misconceptions regarding water security in Pakistan.
To begin with, Pakistan is often regarded as a water-scarce nation, but it possesses abundant water resources, surpassing thirty-five other countries in terms of renewable water availability. Secondly, Pakistan’s requirement lies not in large reservoir storage, but in enhancing its capacity to store water in order to mitigate the within-the-year fluctuations associated with the monsoon season. Thirdly, a significant decline in river flows is not anticipated until 2050, despite the melting of the Indus basin glaciers. Fourthly, irrigation practices in the Indus region are projected to achieve an efficiency of over 80 percent at the basin level. Lastly, the outflow to the sea should not be considered wasteful, as the diminishing flows contribute to the deteriorating condition of the river water downstream of the Kotri Barrage.
This assessment seems valid as we witness floods during the monsoon season and droughts in other seasons. Consequently, the issue seems to be linked to the management and conservation of water resources rather than absolute scarcity. Considering these factors, Pakistan can turn into a water-secure country by implementing short-term measures like sustainable and effective management of water resources, enhancing distribution networks, and adopting advanced risk mitigation strategies.
Way Forward: Short-term Water Resource Management
To overcome Pakistan’s water crisis, the foremost priority should be water resource management. The government must develop a comprehensive water management strategy that focuses on preserving and efficiently utilizing water resources. This strategy should encompass all sectors, including households, industries, and agriculture. Instead of relying solely on large dams and reservoirs, which require significant investments, time, and also have potential political ramifications, Pakistan should strive to balance the fluctuations in water flow caused by the monsoon.
In this regard, constructing small-scale water storage structures like ponds, tanks, and check dams can be considered. These measures will aid in retaining rainwater, preventing soil erosion, and replenishing groundwater, thereby enhancing overall water availability, and ensuring improved water security.
Another essential measure in addressing Pakistan’s water problem is the conservation of water and the adoption of improved irrigation practices. Both the government and the community at large should initiate a nationwide campaign to promote water conservation, soil moisture preservation, drip irrigation, and sprinkler irrigation. Additionally, it is crucial to encourage the adoption of better irrigation techniques like precision irrigation, and climate-smart agriculture to minimize water usage.
Minimizing water losses is a vital measure in combating Pakistan’s water crisis. The government should allocate resources to enhance and modernize the water supply and distribution infrastructure, thereby reducing conveyance and application losses in irrigation and water channels. Additionally, the implementation of leak detection technologies is essential to identify and rectify leaks and prevent water theft in the municipal water distribution system.
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Since Pakistan heavily depends on extracting groundwater, it is vital to prioritize sustainable groundwater extraction. Unfortunately, we are not sufficiently recharging the aquifers, leading to a decline in groundwater levels. Urgent and concerted efforts are required to address this unsustainable situation. Encouraging practices like rainwater harvesting, aquifer recharge, and implementing aquifer storage and recovery processes are necessary steps in resolving the issue.
To summarise, addressing the problem of water insecurity requires a focus on effective water resource management and conservation. Decision-makers should prioritise investments in modern water management practices, advocate for water conservation, adopt improved irrigation techniques, minimise water losses, and encourage groundwater recharge. Rather than engaging in debates about the justification of large dams and waiting for political consensus, it is high time to prioritise immediate short-term actions concerning water resource management and conservation.
Dr. Ghulam Mohey-ud-din is Director of Economic Affairs at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS), Lahore, Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.