One of the most pressing issues that Pakistan faces at the moment is the water crisis. Pakistan is predominantly an agrarian country, with most of the economy dependent on water to grow crops. But ominously, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan is the third most affected country in terms of water scarcity. If problem of water shortage prevails, it might have drastic and long-ranging geo-political, financial and ecological effects on Pakistan. 

Pakistan’s water originates from a number of sources. Around 60 percent of our total rainwater is derived from the monsoon rains, but a significant proportion also comes from the winter rainfall. In addition, Pakistan has a lot of glaciers which feed the river system in Pakistan. River Indus and its tributaries provide most of the water needed for irrigation. Glacial melt off has been affected due to climate change, increasing risks of flooding. 

Pakistan’s surface and groundwater resources are depleting rapidly. By 2016, surface water availability per capita had fallen close to 1000 cubic centimeters and is expected to decrease even further. Pakistan is considered to have crossed the “water scarcity line” in 2005, according to Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR). The problem of water shortage has worsened terribly due to the alarming rate of water usage in Pakistan – the fourth highest in the world – while the water intensity rate (the amount of water used per unit GDP) is, unsettlingly, the highest in the world. 

The Tarbela and Mangla Dams are the only big dams in Pakistan which can store floodwater. By 2018, both had reached their “dead” levels, meaning that they do not have enough water to operate. According to Muhammad Khalid Rana, from the Indus River System Authority (IRSA), Pakistan is extremely short on reservoirs and can only save water for 30 days. Furthermore, he states that Pakistan receives almost 145 million acre feet of water but can only save 13.7 million acre feet of water. He goes on to say Pakistan needs 40 million acre feet of water but 29 acre feet is wasted due to lack of dams. 

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) warn of absolute water scarcity and a drought by 2025 if such problems prevail. Recently the sources of Pakistan’s water are becoming unpredictable. As such, Mian Ahmed Naeem Salik from the Institute of Strategic Studies reports, that in the past few years the monsoon season in Pakistan has become erratic. Moreover the winter season has shrunk as well from four to two months in most parts of the country. On top of that Pakistan is unable to save precious floodwater due to scarcity of dams.  

In lieu of such a situation measures need to be taken to conserve water and solve this impending water crisis. The first step that should be taken is to provide awareness programs for the public so that they may try their best to conserve water. The people of Pakistan should be well informed about the situation, so that they may be able to save maximum amount of gallons of water as they possibly can. 

Furthermore, as we are short on reservoirs and dams, the Government should initiate projects for more large-scale dams. One such example is the Diamer-Bhasha Dam for which funds were being collected. The Government must invest in large-scale dam projects so we may be able to save much required floodwater. 

Moreover, cost effective measures for saving water should be implemented at domestic level. The Government should make use of technology based methods to prevent leakage in pipes and keep water usage in check. Smart irrigation methods should be used to reduce water wastage drastically, rather than wasting lots of groundwater through tube wells.

We should utilize other methods to trap rainwater and use it to recharge underground aquifers, ensuring more water for the future. In essence, increased attention and funds towards this quandary is required from the Government. If such measures are not taken with swiftness and alacrity Pakistan will find itself in a highly perplexing conundrum.   

Muhammad Azhad Zulfiqar

The author is a student at Aitchison College, Lahore.