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Pakistan faces threat of water scarcity

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The United Nations has placed Pakistan among the ‘water hotspots’ of Asia-Pacific region, saying that the country is facing major threats of increasing water scarcity, high water utilisation, deteriorating water quality and climate change risk.

Changes in weather patterns across the world have increased occurrences and intensities of extreme events of rain, floods, droughts and cyclones, such as those afflicting Australia, China, Myanmar and Pakistan, according to the Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2011 published by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) on Wednesday.

The report says climate change has affected hydrological patterns and freshwater systems, thereby posing a risk to overall water security. Climate change results in changes in spatial distribution and shifting of precipitation patterns, such as the start of rainy season and snowmelt.

Asia and the Pacific have the highest annual water withdrawal of all the world’s regions because of their geographic size, population and irrigation practices.

Pakistan faced an economic loss of $7.4 billion because of last year’s massive floods, reflecting a damage of 4.9 per cent of GDP. Figures show that Pakistan’s economy has been facing damages from natural disasters since 1991-95 when this loss was $248 million or 0.4 per cent of GDP.

The period of 1996-2000 was relatively calm and the loss was only $59 million. It was also a period when the country faced drought-like situation due to El-Nino factor.

However, natural disasters started denting the national economy from 2001-05 when economic losses rose to $1.1 billion and $1.8 billion in 2006-10, statistics reveal.

Over 2,100 people were killed and over 18 million affected by the 2010 floods. In terms of number of mortality, data calculated mortality from natural disasters at 2,186 people per annum in 2010, 7,919 between 2001 and 2010 and 675 in 1991-2000.

Asia-Pacific countries continue to suffer disproportionately from disasters caused by natural hazards. The region is vulnerable to many types of disasters, including floods, cyclones, earthquakes, drought, storm surges and tsunamis. During the past decade, on average, more than 200 million people were affected and more than 70,000 killed by natural disasters annually.

The region is undergoing major demographic transformation.

Gender inequalities in the Asia-Pacific region are also evident in education, employment and property ownership and decision-making. Female participation in the labour force in the region has remained unchanged for almost 20 years, with 65 employed women per 100 employed men.

The report also reveals that for the first time in recorded history, the Asia-Pacific fertility rate was equal to the replacement rate of 2.1 (live births per woman).