More than two billion people worldwide live in regions facing water scarcity and in Pakistan this is a particularly acute crisis. Millions of Pakistanis currently lack access to clean drinking water, and the situation is only getting worse. Pakistan has approximately 35 million acres (140,000 km2) of arable land irrigated by canals and tube wells, mostly using water from the Indus River.
Pakistan luckily had the largest irrigation system, but water losses from the system were the highest in the World, due to which its agricultural sector has been affected badly as the population of country increases rapidly, but as compared to the population growing capacity of agricultural sectors reducing rapidly due to water shortage. Timber mafia and rapid industrialization are also playing an important role in the reduction of the agricultural sector. Chashma, Mangla, and Tarbela are mainly used for irrigation purposes but the gross capacity of these dams has decreased because of sedimentation, a continual process. Per-capita surface-water availability for irrigation was 5,260 cubic meters per year in 1951. This has been reduced to a mere 1,100 cubic meters per year in 2006. The water shortage will cause a wheat deficit of 12 million tons per year by 2012–13.
No doubt Pakistan’s water crisis is predominantly a manmade problem. Pakistan’s climate is not particularly dry, in fact it is semi arid to arid, nor is it lacking in rivers and groundwater. Extremely poor management, unclear laws, government corruption, and industrial and human waste have caused this water supply crunch and rendered what water is available practically useless due to the huge quantity of pollution.
According to a World Bank report of 2006, Pakistan was fast moving from being a water-stressed country to a water-scarce country, primarily because of its high population growth, over-exploitation of ground water, pollution, poor repair in water infrastructures and financially no sustainability of water management system. Interestingly, the country’s has good soil, and sunshine.
The most water-rich country in terms of the run-off from rain-fall to population is Iceland, with more than 500,000 cubic meters per person per year; the most water-poor is Egypt, with just 0.02 cubic meters. Water is absolutely essential for plant life. It is pertinent to mention here that the major source of drinking water in Pakistan is groundwater, so water availability is the second most serious issue.
Future water demand will be affected by many factors, including population growth, wealth and sharing. Globally, it is estimated that between half a billion and almost two billion people are already under high water stress, and this number is expected to increase significantly by 2025, due primarily to population growth and increasing to climate change.
We live in an agricultural region where water is key for survival, yet water is being lost mainly through mismanagement. A big investment in the repair of existing dams and the large scale construction of new water storage is simple solution of problem. In managing water resources, the Pakistani government must balance competing demands between urban and rural, rich and poor, the economy and the environment.
(Naseem Sheikh, Lahore)