Water is the most basic necessity of life on the earth. The presence of water anywhere in the universe indicates the presence of life there. It simply means that depleting quantity of water and its poor quality is creating difficulties for life. Water is not only needed but also its quality matters. So life needs a big quantity of water with good quality and if an area meets both of these requirements, it is called water secure. Water security means the water should be available, accessible, affordable and portable. When we think deeply in this context, we find Pakistan a water-scarce country.
Pakistan is, basically, an agricultural country and we use about 80% of our total consumable freshwater for agricultural purposes and most of the remaining 20% is used to fulfill urban needs. According to a study of our urban consumption, 53% is used domestically, 13% is used in industry and the remaining for other purposes. With the increasing population and industrial growth, its usage is beefing up.
Read more: Water scarcity making country a wasteland
Pakistan as a water-scarce country
Pakistan is one of the world’s most populous countries where the number of people living per square kilometer is increasing with its increasing population. This uncontrolled rise in population is creating a lot of and numerous types of problems for the country. One of them is water insecurity and scarcity. According to IMF, Pakistan ranked third among the countries facing acute water shortages. This is obvious when we compare ourselves with the Falken Mark Indicator which is a relation between available water and population.
In Pakistan per capita per year water availability was 5260 m3 in 1951, which reduced to 902 m3 at present. It is projected that this will further reduce to 787 m3 in 2025. Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) says that water shortage in Pakistan was 11% in 2004 and this will increase in 2925 up to 31%. PCRWR conducted many surveys and found that 80% of our drinking water which is provided to the public is unfit for drinking. The most important pollutants detected in drinking water are Arsenic and Naegleria (brain-eating bacteria). They analyzed samples of water from a total of 29 sources and 20 out of them were found toxic for human health. So in Pakistan, the available drinking water is also of poor quality.
Many factors are responsible for this deteriorating situation of water in Pakistan. Most important is the high population growth rate and obviously, this needs to be controlled. The second one is the mismanagement of present water resources. The main sources of water in Pakistan are rivers, glaciers, lakes, rainwater and aquifers. Water from the River Indus and its major tributaries is not used to feed urban needs. The potable water is supplied from the lakes, dams and aquifers. In most of the urban areas, to fulfill water demand, underground water is pumped at large scales which is more than their capacity and its result is the falling of underground water table at an alarming rate.
Read more: Water scarcity in Pakistan
The deteriorating situation of water in Punjab
According to a study of LEADS, our underground water table is falling at a rate of one meter per annum which is a dangerous sign. In the plains of Punjab, our water table was, on average, just 10 meters below the earth’s surface in 1980 which is now about 40 meters deep and according to their projection, this will be about 70 meters in 2025 and about 100 meters in 2040. This falling water table is creating many problems for our people. Our underground water is already slightly saline and can be used for domestic, agriculture and industrial purposes and it is not fully fit for drinking.
This salt concentration in water is increasing making its use more difficult for common folks. Moreover, the cost of pumping it out is increasing. These aquifers need to be recharged quickly and continuously if we want to keep them in use in the near and far future. The main sources of their recharge are rivers and rainwater. After Indus Water Treaty in 1960, our annual inflow in rivers has decreased from about 115 MAF to 80 MAF annually. River Ravi, Sutlej and Beas have almost dried up. The inflow of River Ravi was about 1300 million m3 in 1960 which decreased to 175 million m3 in 2009 and now it is about 100 million m3.
It means that it has reduced about 13 times since 1960. This highly decreased amount of water in Ravi has greatly affected the underground water table of Lahore city and other areas on its banks. The reason is simply that that is, these areas have lost their most important source of recharge. Similar issues of recharge are being observed in the bar of River Sutlej (Ganji Bar) and around an old bed of River Beas. Moreover, our urban areas are jungles of concrete and our urban planners have never kept in mind the need of recharge of underground recharge. The rainwater has very little chance to absorb and recharge underground water. It is clear evidence of mismanagement of our water resources.
Global warming: another added challenge
Our glaciers are melting at a high rate due to global warming. Another study of LEADS shows that the Himalayan glaciers are melting at a rate of 3.3 feet per year. Ice bodies throughout the globe are melting but these glaciers are melting at the highest rate in the world which is an alarming situation to us. In 2010, Pakistan had 2400 glacial lakes but in 2020, this number increased to 3600 which is a clear-cut indicator of glacial melt at a high rate. Global warming is also affecting our rain pattern very strongly. According to Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), we are facing a 10-15% reduction in rainfall annually for the last ten years. It means that if it continues as such, we may lose a quantity of water in our rivers that will ignite the problem of water scarcity in Pakistan.
Water reservoirs are another important source of potable water in Pakistan. Lake Manchar, a natural lake in Sindh, is an example. We have built many dams in the past to fulfill the water needs of urban areas. Rawal dam was built for water supply to twin cities. Once it was enough for this purpose but now it is due to increase in population and spread of cities, more such reservoirs are needed.
How can we resolve these issues?
Pakistan needs to solve the problem of water scarcity on an immediate basis. The most important hurdle is the poor local government. All major cities need master plans to solve their issues but none of our major cities have such plans because our whole powers in government are concentrated in few hands, that is, our Prime Minister is like the clock tower of Faisalabad, having all powers in his hand. The remaining powers are in the hands of Chief Ministers who play the role of a clock tower in their respective provinces.
We need an effective and strong plan of devolution of power. The empowerment of local bodies is the need of the time just like China where more than 47000 municipal governments exist. Turkey is another example of it that has about 3000 city governments. If we are able to follow the Chinese and Turkish model of local governments, our problem will be solved more effectively and quickly because they will be able to develop strict guidelines and implementation procedures.
Read more: Water Scarcity: Pakistan’s dire condition
Private-Public-Partnership Model should be adopted which has generated valuable results globally. Our traditional irrigation method is responsible for wasting more than 60% of irrigation water, so this needs to reform on the modern lines. This will save a large quantity of water that can be used to fulfill our water demand and also be helpful in restoring the natural riverine ecology.
The author is a lecturer in Pak. Studies and Head of Social Studies Department at the University of Central Punjab, Faisalabad Campus. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.