“The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of and acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability” (UN-Water, 2013).

This definition of water security by UN, if applied to the situation in Pakistan, exhibits the following scenario:

Access to adequate quantity and quality water

A major portion of the 220 million population of Pakistan doesn’t have access to the necessary quantity and quality of water. Areas like Thar (Sindh) have witnessed draught from the last many years and water available for irrigation across the country is also insufficient to fulfill the demand of farmers. In the urban cities, like Karachi, adequate water for drinking has become a severe problem for its citizens since the last decade. On the other hand, those cities (Lahore and Faisalabad), where drinking water is easily accessible, the issues of cleanliness and hygiene are major concerns for the people.

Water for sustaining livelihood, human well-being, and socio-economic development

The effect of the shortage of clean water is becoming more evident with every passing day. The agriculture-based economy suffers due to less output of corps and less contribution to GDP. The non-availability of water in rivers and canals has forced farmers to look for other sources. The alternatives to get water for irrigation, such as private water boring facilities run by fossil fuel powered generators and electrical motors increase the cost and effort which is not a sustainable solution. Moreover, such options are environmental hazards from the perspective of causing pollution.

The situation in urban cities is no different. In Karachi, long queues waiting to get water bucket filled from a water tanker, can be observed; while, in other cities, the in-house boring to extract water has provided an expensive but alternate solution to the reliance on government provision of clean drinking water. This might be a short term solution but in the long run, the effects of fast depletion of underground water level in one confined space (within a city) are drastic, alarming and calamitous.

Protection against water-borne pollution and water related disasters

In urban cities of Punjab, the sewerage and drain-waste are discharged into canals and rivers. The normal practice of waste treatment before disposal or recycling is un-employed. This untreated disposal of waste water pollutes the clean water streams and underground reservoirs. With growing urbanization trend and increasing population of cities, the situation is becoming even worse. The polluted water supply to the household causes water-borne diseases such as hepatitis and diarrhea etc., putting lives at risk.

Preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability

Pakistan has not built required number of water reservoirs on its rivers, which has damaged the ecosystem badly. In monsoon season, excess water cannot be stored; while in draught, water is not available for survival. The disserted look of the rivers bed indicates the gravity of the situation affecting the suitable climate for the existence of forests, fish, birds and other natural entities. In lower Sindh, the dryness of Indus river bed makes it suitable for fertile lands disappearing into the Arabian Sea, as the high streams of river resist the spread of sea water inwards.

As per the given definition of water security by the UN, Pakistan is facing severe water security threats. The situation is getting out of control and water emergency needs to be announced to limit the disastrous effects of water insecurity. It is highly encouraging and commendable that Pakistan is focusing on Diamer-Bhasha dam project; however, much is needed to be done on urgent basis.

The following initiatives must be taken to address these issues of water security:

Low, medium and high capacity water reservoirs need to be built. On River Indus, Dasu and Bhasha dam construction work have been approved and started but it will take 10 years (minimum) to be built.

In KPK, AJK and GB, small reservoirs and micro-hydral projects are the most feasible options. In last five years many such water storage and power generation facilities were built. This initiative needs to be expanded to all other potential sites across KPK and the region of GB and AJK.

In Punjab, small scale run-of-the-river hydroelectric plants on canals are helpful not only for power generation but also for efficient irrigation (such a plant was first built by Sir Ganga Ram in Renala Khurd in 1925 on canal Lowar-bari-doab). These technologies of small scale hydroelectric plants and drip irrigation are helpful to modernize the agriculture with minimum water wastage.

Karez system is an old system and beneficial in the sense that it prevents the vaporization of water caused by excessive heat. Pakistan has this system working mainly in Balochistan where it is administrated and facilitated by the locals in tribal areas for centuries. This old system needs to be overhauled and expanded wherever it has existed earlier.

The north-western Balochistan has Suleman range where, following Monsoon rains, flooded streams can be observed. Small scale water reservoirs at selected locations can store the water for later usages in cities and for irrigation as well.

Water consumption patterns and practices need to be addressed. WASA should introduce benefits for using water up to certain limit to encourage people to save water and high tariffs for extra water usage.

Waste water treatment plants need to be built in urban cities to eliminate water pollution. As a next step, waste water recycling should be implemented to use water for trees plantation, green belts irrigation and other non-drinking purposes.

WASA should manage the water supply to all the population of a city and the trend of in-house boring for water extraction should be discouraged.

Water desalination plants need to be established in Karachi to overcome the water shortages. At least 5 to 10 such plants can be helpful to reduce the impact of water crisis in the metropolitan.

Before it is too late and Pakistan faces a drought across its entire territory, a comprehensive water policy needs to be prepared and implemented to address the issues of water security. This is necessary for survival. No messiah should be waited in this regard.