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Fighting water shortage, The Nation, Dr. M. Tahir Rashid, 23/9/2002


The difficulties of our troubled nation continue to multiply. In counting our difficulties, where should one begin? The nature is even in no mood to forgive us for our sins. The drought we are experiencing for the last two years is the number one problem as water is life and we have created this problem by ourselves. Any way, the dilemma is further complicated by the fact that we are not even ready to face this problem. One can hear people discussing drought at every corner of any city or village. They contend that God Almighty is angry with us, but instead of making efforts to cope with the problem, we are even wasting this precious bounty of God at a greater rate, and ironically every one is involved in it. On one side, there is no water for drinking and on the other, the people living in the vicinity are wasting it on cleaning their garages and even the front roads of their house.

The major reasons for this drought are the natural cycle, that is, the Alninio effect and the human effect. Scientists' opinion is that droughts are part of the natural adjustments and the period of drought varies in its severity and duration. California faced this drought in 1987 and the period stretched over ten years, but people made efforts to overcome this problem and evolved many water conservation strategies and survived. Can we do that? I am doubtful.

The nation that is fighting on the question whether Kalabagh Dam should be built or not for the last 40 years with zero outcome, what can one expect from such a nation? Forgive us our God. Mistakes of an individual can be ignored, but the mistakes of a nation are never forgiven. The only welcome change was smattering rains came early in 2001 as Monsoon generally starts in mid July but this time we have got early monsoon rains. This seems more like a blessing than the reason given by scientists that Alninio effect is over. Even if it is over what is our contribution to that?

The second reason is the irresponsive attitude towards Mother Nature. We are cutting our forests for the past 54 years, and the biggest culprit is the government itself. The past governments were giving permits to influential people to cut the forests as political bribe and no body cares. In India if some one wants to cut a tree even from his own farm has to apply the government and is bound to plant and establish two trees for one to be cut down. The total area claimed by the government is more than four per cent but my doubt is that it is not the correct figure. We made some efforts to establish some artificial forests but that is of limited success. We have planted the trees like Eucalyptus, Wild toot, etc., that are not our indigenous plants. One can imagine the effect of planting Eucalyptus by the fact that a four year old Eucalyptus transpires 7-10 KGs of water a day and we stupidly planted it every where even on the motorway, where some ornamental plants or fruit plants should have been planted. The plantation of Eucalyptus was only allowed in marsh and water logged lands and even it is suggested that the trees must be cut down after the waterlogging problem is over. A strict action by the law authorities must be initiated against planting Eucalyptus everywhere. Instead, our indigenous species be planted.

If we want to save our next generations we have to address this problem on war footing and increase the present forested area by 15 per cent to start the natural water cycle. To achieve this target we have to utilise our human resources like student force available even at no cost, the police, the army and even the farmers provided they are given some incentives. The richest nation in forest resources, "the Canadian government uses the student force to plant trees in the North and pays them during summer vacations." I am of the opinion that we have to realise and analyse the situation and then we have to be on the move to fight this problem.

From space, the Earth looks blue. It contains an amazing water wealth of 1360 million cubic kilometres, if spread on earth, it would cover a height of 2.7 kilometres. The distribution of this wealth is as follows: 97 per cent is in the sea, two per cent is in the glaciers and icecaps and one per cent is underground, too far to exploit. Out of this total amount, 0.5 million cubic kilometres is evaporated by the solar power system (86 per cent from the sea and 14 per cent from the earth's surface). Equal amount falls back but its distribution is different as the continents evaporation
is equal to 0.07 million cubic kilometres gain by precipitation is equal to 0.10 million cubic kilometres and the amount of renewable fresh water is equal to 0.04 million cubic kilometres, that is, is equal to 7400 cubic meters per person per year. Although we have this huge amount of water present on earth but at least 26 countries are categorised as water scarce as the total amount of water available in these countries is less than 1000 cubic meters per person per year. There are many countries that fall under water stressed category, including Pakistan. The limits of water availability under this category fall between 1000 - 2000 cubic meters per person per year. In the 1950's, the amount of water available was 5650 cubic meters per person per year, and now in year 2001, we have only 1400 cubic meters per person per year and in 2012, our country will also be among the water scarce countries. World Watch Institute in its recent report (2002) stated that the 2/3rd of the total world population would fall under water stress (1000 cubic meters per person per year).

At the time of independence, we had total river water was 173 million acre feet and we lost 33 million acre feet to India due to Indus water treaty by giving three rivers (Ravi, Satluj and Bias). What a deal and got Tarbela and Mangla with a storage capacity of 14.6 million-acre foot and still the net loss was 18.4 million-acre foot. These dams will complete their life in the next few years. What will happen in the future even if we build Kalabagh Dam we will be only storing the water, which we are loosing due to silting in Tarbela and Mangla. After Indus water treaty we had only 140 million acre feet flowing in our rivers out of which total water available for crop use is only 69 million acre foot including the underground water pumped by private and public tube wells (44 million acre foot). We are wasting 79 million-acre feet in canals, distributaries, farm water channels and even in the field. In the last few years, pumping of under ground water is increasing rapidly and it was 51 million acre foot in 1998-99 and if we consider the current year, it is almost equal to the amount of water available for recharge (million acre feet) and might have surpassed this figure. Due to this over exploitation, ground water levels are decreasing in 26 canal commands out of 43 canal commands.

Even the quality of ground water varies considerably in various parts of the country both vertically and horizontally from completely fresh to extremely saline. In Indus basin the area underlain by different water quality having soluble salts < 1500, 1500-3000 and > 3000 mg per litre is 20, 4.8 and 15.8 million acres, respectively. It can be depicted that only in about 50 per cent of the area, the groundwater has less than 1500 mg per litre salts. The indiscriminate use of even this water has deteriorated soil properties, especially in the SCARP areas where soils are turned from saline-sodic to sodic soils. This is grim situation and if no serious action is taken to conserve our available water resources, Pakistan could be another Somalia or Ethiopia.

If we look into the annual rainfall in the country, it is decreasing continuously. Annual rainfall in Rawalpindi, Peshawer, Faisalabad, Bahawalpur, Hyderabad, Quetta and Jackobabad has decreased by 15-40 per cent since 1994.

What can be done when surface water is decreasing, we are over exploiting the ground water and rainfall is also decreasing? Under these prevailing conditions, being Muslim, the first step is to pray to our God and ask for his forgiveness and his blessings. But remember, the Almighty can ignore the mistakes of individuals but the sins of nations are never forgiven.

The second step is management for the conservation of our existing water resources. Benjamin Franklin said that, "we know the worth of water when the well is dry." A 12th century king of Sri Lanka, Parakrama Bahu told his nation that "let not even a small quantity of water go to the sea, without benefiting the man." Other nations have conserved their water resources and saved their future. We can also save enormous amounts of water by taking right steps in the right direction. Water conservation can be done in these following areas by proper management. 1. Efficient use of irrigation water through efficient irrigation systems, 2. Recycling industrial wastewater, 3. Utilisation of municipal wastewater to irrigate crops, 4. minimising household water use and 5. Building small and Big Dams.

Now, let us see that how we can conserve and save water in these areas by adopting efficient and even very simple techniques..

1. Saving in Agriculture:

Farmers irrigate as their ancestors did 5,000 years ago (Flooding) and irrigation efficiency < 40 per cent. They also apply much more water compared to the actual requirement of the crop. For example they apply 20-24 irrigations to sugarcane. After constructing Mangla and Tarbela, the warabandi system was not also rescheduled or improved. New technologies can reduce the wastage of water in irrigation by 10-50 per cent. Thrifty irrigations like Surge, Low energy precise application (LEPA) and Drip irrigation can save 15-50, 95 and 95 per cent respectively.

Industrial waste water recycling:

In Pakistan, all industrial wastewater is thrown in rivers. Twenty five percent of the total water is used in the industrial sector and by recycling the used water can save 40-90 per cent of the total water use in the industry. For one kg of paper 700 kg water is used and Germany has reduced the quantity of water to seven kg and saved 99 per cent water by recycling the water. To produce one kg of steel 280 kg water is used and USA has saved 95 per cent water by reducing the quantity of water from 280 to 14 kg. ZUARI Agro-chemicals GOA (India) reduced its water consumption by 50 per cent. Brazil has saved 62, 49 and 42 per cent of water in dairy, pharmaceutical and food industries.

Urban waste water

First "Sewage Farms" was established in Edinburg England in 1650 and the second was established in Melbourne, Australia in 1897. At least 600,000 hectares of cropland are irrigated with wastewater in 15 countries. Urban wastewater can be used to irrigate crops and one billion dollars can be saved (in terms of fertiliser savings) if the wastewater of USA is used to irrigate crops. A city with 500,000 people with 120 litters per person per day released to sewerage system can irrigate 6670 acres. The municipal corporation of Los Angeles (USA) plans to reuse 40 per cent of municipal wastewater for toilet flushing. WINDHOEK (Namibia) became the first city in the world where reclaimed municipal wastewater is added in water supply for drinking. Can we only recycle our water just to recharge the declining ground water levels, using it for other purposes will automatically come after words with the growing economy and understanding of the problem by the society.

Stop the drop at home:

We can save 33 per cent of water at home by its judicious use. Mexico, a city of 18 million people, changed the conventional flush tank of 16 litter capacity with newly designed flush tank of six litter in 350,000 houses and saved 3.5 million litters of water per flush (10 litter saving in every home per flush). San Jose (California) used water saving devices in 220,000 households and water use dropped 10-17 per cent and 5.5 million cubic meters were saved. Waterloo (Canada) distributed water saving devices in 50,000 homes and saved 10 per cent water. City of Toronto has recently launched a program to replace the old flush tanks with new more efficient ones and provided to people on subsidised rates. The landscaping practice of "Xeriscape" can reduce water, fertiliser and herbicide use by 54, 61 and 22 per cent respectively.

Dams - yes or no?

The World Commission on dams reported that 46 per cent of the world's water sheds have one or more big dams to control water for agricultural and energy purposes. Japan has 109 rivers and water is controlled except Nagara. Libya built the largest man made river project. Turkey had the "Anatolia Scheme" 22 dams and 19 hydropower stations. The Turkish government is also laying water pipe lines (Peace Pipe Lines) to provide drinking water to almost all the Middle East countries. Colorado river, which was remembered as a river of sorrow was made to be river of joy due to the construction of Hoover dam (USA) in 1935 and its construction converted California desert into agricultural heaven. India is constructing 10 dams and 39 dams are under construction in China including the "Three gorges dam", the eighth wonder of the world on river Yangtze. Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and Laos signed to build a dam and hydroelectric station on Mekong River. Turkey and Syria were able to avert the drought effect due to Ataturk and Asad dams.

What are we doing in Pakistan, one dam and it is also damned. Time and tide wait for none. It is politicised and even the technocrats are not in a position to convince the people of Sindh, NWFP and Baluchistan about the benefits of Kalabagh dam. They have some reservations and these reservations have to be resolved and masses be satisfied (no need to satisfy political hawks) before the construction of Kalabagh dam.

The most important issue is the rehabilitation of dam effectees as Turkish government did that while constructing the ATATURK dam. The international community appreciates their efforts. If we will not do the same, I can only quote the following verse of Quran:

And we have distributed the (water) among them in order that they may celebrate our praises but most humans are averse but be ingratitude (Alfurqan Verse 50).

Old civilisations vanished due to unwise use of water (World watch, 2000). President Farooq Laghari, on 7-2-96 said that if we will not manage our water resources properly, another Moenjodaro would be there in two decades.

Prairie Provinces (Alberta and Saskatchewan) are facing the most swear drought now a days. The extent of that can be measured by the fact that 50 per cent crops are already destroyed by drought and are still no signs of rains. The farming community of Ontario Province is sending hay voluntarily to the farmers of these two provinces. That is the way to fight natural disasters. What are we doing to our country? Did any leader talk about this issue in this election campaign? Is there any one from so called awam that can dare to speak about this crucial problem?

We have to come out of our own cocoons of individual, regional, racial and sectarian interest to be a nation. Otherwise be ready to face the situation like Ethiopia and Somalia. Here I recall part of Ken Hoffman's poem on water:

When I see what we we've done, I shed a tear. And when I think, I start to fear. For without water, where would we be? Without water, there would be no you or me.

To me independence in reality is the slavery of fulfilling our duties by our ownselves. Let me say that wake up; we have to save our future generations.