The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Brazil in 1992, declared March 22 as World Water Day. The day is celebrated for the appraisal of progress on implementation of Earth Summit Agenda 21, i.e.. to work out proposals and promote activities related to reduction in wasteful consumption of natural resources (e.g. water), and sustainable development.

Of the various problems, those of water, soil and air have overridden all others facing life in the world. In Pakistan, life in the countryside depended largely on inundation canals, tanks, or wells (Persian wheel) at the time of independence, and the people possessed a cultivated area of less than one acre per farmer for food production. However, “Rain governs life to a degree only realized in lands with a more evenly distributed precipitation” (c.f. O.H.K. Spate, 1954).

The population of Pakistan, which was 32.5 million in 1947 had, however, doubled by 1972, and as of today, it stands at over 190 million people. However, the per capita availability of water declined from 5000 m3 in 1947 to ≤ 1000 m3 per capita today, and as per international standards, the country could be rated as water scarce.

The introduction of high water, high yield crops (wheat, rice etc.,) in the country in the 60s made it incumbent to make additional water available through tube well irrigation which followed canals as the major source of irrigation. With the SCARP program already underway the underground water level had already started to fall.

The sporadic urbanisation in the country increased tremendously between 1947 and 1981. For instance, the population of Karachi and Lahore combined now constitutes one-third of the population of Pakistan. Karachi alone, however, is the 6th most populous urban city in the world. No wonder, every third Pakistani now lives in an urban area.

The construction of roads, driveways, walks, pavements and parking lots render 25% and 80% of the residential area of, say, 15,000 sq ft and 6,000 sq ft respectively, impervious. And, an increased surface is rendered impervious to infiltration by increased flood peaks during heavy storms thus reducing recharge to the ground beneath, In the US, gravel packed wells of 30m dia were constructed to receive runoff from streets- a successful system to dispose off storm drainage.

On the other hand, environmentalists fear that the rapid melting of snow in the central Himalayas in Kashmir due to global warming and recurrent floods in Swat, Kabul and Sind rivers pose yet another threat to water levels in the Arabian sea.

Already over the years, ca. 34 MAF water has been flowing down Kotri barrage annually to the sea. The recurrent floods and the storms are adding to further rise in sea water adding to sea level further at the rate of 3.1 mm per year, according to National Institute of Oceanography, Karachi, and annihilating mangrove forests along the coast -the fifth largest ecosystem in the world.

However, the concerns about intrusion of sea water into the land along the coast demands proactive approaches, such as deterring injudicious felling of mangrove forests, and discouraging any move to retrieve land from the sea through earth filling for urbanization and private enterpreneurship.

While the importance of rain and flood water to land and life in the arid landscape of Pakistan is very crucial, the political will to oppose the construction of Kalabagh Dam amounts to depriving the nation over the years of an extra source of 6-8 MAF water for drinking, food production and energy. The construction of small dams also became a victim of criminal neglect. In the US, the construction 42,000 of small dams and planting of 98 million saplings by President Roosevelt on an arid landscape during 30s-40s, a period of great environmental disaster called “dust bowl” years, signifies the great vision and patriotism that prepared the nation for the “Rainy day”.

National agencies and water experts have been pointing to various sites for the construction of new dams in the country e.g. Soan River and its tributaries in Pothowar in the Punjab, at Sawan on river Nara in Sind and near Warsak in KPK. These if dams could store upto 50 MAF flood water. Under the World Bank brokered Indus Water Treaty, Pakistan was deprived of the waters of its three eastern rivers (Ravi, Sutlej and Bias) once and for all. Of the three western rivers- Chenab, Jehlum and Sind rivers (fed by river Kabul and its tributaries), the former is being dammed with 15 million cusecs water through Baglihar Dam by India, not to speak of the imminent threat of the deprivation of surface water flows of 33-35 MAF feet annually to Pakistan, if these rivers were further dammed.

The wasteful consumption of water through brushing (teeth), shower, bathing etc., by all and sundry in the urban setting in Pakistan is no less than that in the West. A public-private partenership developed by the city council of Wagga Wagga and Charles Sturt university in Australia, the University of Philadelphia and the local government on water issues, besides cleaning of the polluted Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, USA, which caught fire in 1969 due to being full of garbage, is an excellent example of urban, green governance and sustainable resource management.

At GCUF, the “ One student-One tree” (2010) initiative by the author was made part of the curriculum by the university to ensure sustainability of effort to thwart climate change, drought, recurrent floods and food insecurity.