The federal government’s move to establish a Ground Water Regulatory Authority (GWRA) could not come at a more crucial time. The body will be tasked with controlling the utilisation of groundwater resources which is imperative at a time when Pakistan is inching closer towards the threat of water scarcity by the day. It can only be hoped that the newly-instituted GWRA will not only look to control and reduce the amount of groundwater being used in both agriculture and consumption, it will also look to decontaminate the sources that are currently tainted. All of the responsibilities the federal government metes out to the new body must be followed through immediately – Pakistan’s “water emergency” is only going to get worse as each year passes.

Pakistan satisfies 55% of its water needs from groundwater sources. 85% of the agricultural industry in the country used water from groundwater sources – since most of Sindh however, cannot rely on groundwater due to high levels of salinity, it is safe to say that Punjab relies the most on water that comes from beneath the ground. Lahore, one of the most populated cities of the country, is losing roughly 2.5 to 3 feet of groundwater level per year, which is catastrophic. Even more alarming is the information contained in the report by WaterAid Pakistan, which reveals that many of Punjab’s most populous cities – such as Lahore, Multan and Lodhran – have already lost 90% of their groundwater reserves with the remaining ten percent contaminated with arsenic.

The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) has already painted a bleak and horrifying picture of the country becoming water scarce by 2025 – only six years from now. The council also tells us that 44% of the population currently lives without access to clean drinking water – in rural areas, this percentage goes up to 90%. With Pakistan still relying on a colonial era law – the Easements Act of 1882 – which only mentions groundwater once in 64 articles (without defining commercial or private use), it is hoped that legislative change will soon follow the establishment of GWRA and work towards controlling its unchecked use.

Climate change has already disturbed the delicate balance of obtaining water through a combination of groundwater resources, rivers and rainfall; in areas such as Lahore, Ravi can no longer replenish the dwindling groundwater sources because it lies dry and rainfall in the Monsoon season is even more erratic than it used to be in the past. A country that has a large population and relies on its agricultural sector for a significant portion of its GDP cannot afford to let Pakistan go dry as it currently is. The GWRA will quickly become a very important authority, provided its employees diligently work towards keeping water levels as high as possible with whatever skills they possess. Now that the GWRA has been announced, the public will have to wait and see in the coming months of what it can do to help mitigate this serious issue.