Pakistan, once a food exporting country, is now reaching the final phases of the breaking of its agricultural backbone. The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) is set to revise the water shortage estimate in the country from 18 to 25 percent for the upcoming Rabi season, and this should be a rude awakening for a government that has not prioritised water scarcity with the sincerity it deserves.

Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable countries to the consequences of climatic change because of its diverse geographical and climatic features. The increasing frequency of weather anomalies in recent years and persistent dry weather and water scarcity in the rivers and reservoirs makes the future of our economy uncertain.

Officials maintain that if the current trend continues, reservoirs will touch the dead level by February. To make matters worse, the government displays complete ignorance to the suggestions of regulatory bodies like the IRSA. In August this year, IRSA had to announce that Punjab and Sindh will receive 21.5 percent less water of their water demand during the upcoming Rabi season, as WAPDA had not filled the Tarbela dam to its maximum capacity despite the fact that IRSA had asked it to do so. The negligence displayed by WAPDA will adversely affect the Rabi season crops production this year (starting from October to end March) including wheat, barley, maize, seeds and vegetables.

The situation wasn’t always so dire in Pakistan. Per capita water supply stood at a robust 5,500 cubic metres in 1951. It has since plummeted due to continuous unsustainable consumption by almost 80 percent. According to WWF Pakistan, this could drop to as little as 700 cubic metres per capita by 2020. Integrated watershed management and awareness of the need to conserve water are integral if we are to protect whatever is left of our water resources. Attention should be diverted towards curbing wasteful farming techniques, leakages in the irrigation network and the over-exploitation or pollution of natural aquifers and other water bodies, so that the water that is allocated per province can be harvested wisely.

The government is too obsessed currently with high visibility construction projects, and the upcoming disaster of food and water insecurity is creeping up on us. Investment and awareness must be created to promote rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation and the storage of seasonal floodwaters if we are to survive the century.