Water crisis looming large over country
ISLAMABAD – Depleting surface and ground water resource has rung alarm bells for the policymakers with country touching the scarcity bench mark due to per capita water availability dwindling six times since independence.
Absence of sufficient water storages, rising temperature and rampant wastage of irrigation water was further worsening the situation threatening the country of critical water scarcity by 2025.
This situation may badly affect the agriculture sector diminishing per acre yield of our most essential crops like wheat, maize, sugarcane, rice and fruits and vegetables leading the country to food security issues.
“We had 6000 cubic meter per capita water at the time of independence that dwindled to 1000 cubic meter (scarcity level) in 2010 and is predicted to go down to approximately 600-800 cubic meter in 2025,” informed Dr Muhammad Aslam Tahir, former Chairman Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resources (PCRWR).
He said on one side our water consumption continued to grow with growth in population and agriculture and industrial sector and on the other hand we could no build new water reservoirs.
“We have only 30 days water storage capacity as compared to 130 storage capacity in India, 700 days in Egypt and 900 days in United States,” Dr Aslam Tahir said.
“It means that if India can survive for 130 days with its available storage capacity, Egypt for 700 days and United States for 900 days, Pakistan can survive only for 20 days,” he added. “Experts believe that we should have at least 120 days storage capacity.”
Dr Aslam said approximately around 200 million acre feet ground and surface water is available in our system. “As our main resource runs through rivers and canals, its valuable portion goes waste due to improper water coursing. And if this situation continues, we would be in trouble during days ahead.”
Since, agriculture sector utilizes major chunk of our water (95%), Dr Aslam emphasized use of modern irrigation technologies, install water metering system for agriculture, check water wastage at homes, industries and other businesses.
“We need proper policy implementation, build more reservoirs, introduce modern irrigation technologies, educate our people and put right person on right place to get desired results,” he said. “Otherwise it is just a matter of few years to become water scarce.”
The famous PCRWR Water Report of 2018 mentioning that Pakistan will run dry by 2025 was a wakeup call for all but to no use. Even the alarming finding of this report that “if situation remains the same and population grows with same pace and water resources remain constant, then Pakistan will be touching the absolute water scarcity (500 cm per capita) by the year 2025” could not turn things around.
Chairman PCRWR Dr Muhammad Ashraf said addition of every single person to our population, increases water requirement exponentially in terms of food, transportation, clothing, fiber etc.
“We need to control our population and promote prudent water usage strategies, construct small, medium and large dams for overall water need and woe builders to construct small lakes at housing societies for recharging ground water,” he emphasized. The PCRWR had warned that if population continues to increase on the same pace, even construction of a single dam that requires at least 10 years, would not be sufficient to cater the water needs. “Most of our water is wasted during irrigation process. First of all here we need use of latest irrigation technologies,” Dr. Ashraf observed.
“Then there is rapid urbanization that depleted green cover resulting in urban flooding as we recently saw in sector E-11 of federal capital.”
He also underlined the need for behavioral changes and raise awareness among people and introduce water metering system for all sectors of our economy as water is more important than electricity. “To me water is gold that has no alternate and we must protect this gold.”
Water Expert at USAID Muhammad Nawaz described water governance as a key to address water scarcity issue where each segment of society should play its role. “Pakistan has huge potential for water pricing and its initiation would make people realize about value of this God gifted resource,” he said. “If we do not ensure judicious distribution and pricing of water, the poor and underprivileged will continue to suffer at the hands of affluent.”
Quoting the example of Israel, he said, its economy had grown 70 times and population increased 10 times but efficient water management had helped it avert any risk of water scarcity. “This is clear manifestation of better water governance leading to improved access to water and economic growth. Such examples are all around us if we want to learn.”
He said water pricing would make the people owning thousands of acres land to pay massive amounts for the water they consume for irrigation. “After all, it is everyone’s water and not of a single group or community.”
Depleting water resource is more a cause of concern for small farmers than other sectors of economy as this shrinking resource may result in decreased per acre yield of different crops.
“I cultivate around 30 acre land and most often suffer due to insufficient water availability,” said Sohail Chaudhry, a farmer in Faisalabad. “If I get sufficient water, I can get almost 20 percent more per acre yield of important crops like canal wheat, maize and sugarcane,” he said. “Now I have to use ground water to meet my needs that badly affects land’s fertility.”
He was worried that if the current situation continues, the days are not far off when water scarcity would result in food shortage. “And this would not be a good omen for an agriculture country.”
He also emphasized de-silting of big and small canals and proper water coursing at farms. “We need a comprehensive plan focusing these issues to avoid wastage of irrigation water.”
Experts believe if immediate measures are not taken to enhance water storage, the agriculture and power sector would badly suffer that may hamper industrial growth and affect our exports.