Pakistan’s groundwater level falling a meter every year

Islamabad : As world commemorates World Water Day today, the hydrologists think that Pakistan’s groundwater level is falling a meter every year mainly due to groundwater extraction for drinking and agriculture purposes.

They believe that the issues and challenges to groundwater in Pakistan include falling water tables, virtual water trade, no water metering and pricing, evapotranspiration, population growth rate and increasing water demand, less recharging of the aquifers, unchecked drilling and gaps in governance.

The quality of groundwater is also depleting. There is bacteriological and heavy metal contamination making more than 50 million people in Pakistan at a risk of arsenic poisoning. Around 92 per cent of sewage water is untreated and discharged directly into rivers and canals.

These alarming facts were shared in a latest report by WaterAid. The report says that Pakistan has the 4th largest groundwater aquifer- covering an area of 1,137,819 km, making it slightly larger than England. On the other hand, Pakistan is the third largest groundwater user in the world and fourth-largest groundwater withdrawing country contributing to 9 per cent of the global groundwater extraction and making the Indus Basin aquifer the second most “overstressed” groundwater basin in the world.

Across Pakistan the groundwater contribution is estimated to be 60 per cent for agriculture, 90 per cent for drinking and 100 per cent for industry. Annual groundwater withdrawal is estimated to be 65 bcm while annual renewable groundwater resources are estimated to be 55 bcm.

On the other hand, only 36 per cent Pakistanis have access to safe drinking water and Pakistan is among top 10 countries with lowest access to clean water near home. Nearly 21 million people travel long distance to get water.

The report says that if a bucket contained all the world’s water, one teacup of that would be freshwater, and just one teaspoon of that would be available for us to use, from lakes, rivers and underwater reservoirs as groundwater.

Besides depleting water resources, another major issue is bad water management. There are around 1.2 million tube wells that extract ground water for agriculture out of which about 0.8 million are located in Punjab.

According to latest research report titled “Water Requirement of Major Crops in Central Punjab” published by Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, irrigation agriculture in Pakistan consumes 93 per cent of the available water resources whereas more than 60 per cent of irrigation water is lost during the conveyance and application in the field.

Talking to ‘The New’s, Policy Advocacy Manager at WaterAid Nadeem Ahmed said that groundwater legal framework plays critical role in water management of a country.

“In Pakistan surface water has achieved all of the attention and we have several polices and institutions dealing with surface water management. More than 12 national and provincial departments or organizations are mandated to just deal with floodwater. Groundwater governance had almost no attention, no laws or institutions has legal mandate to regulate it. How is it possible then there is no law, regulation or fee for groundwater extraction but you have to pay and need permission to extract sand,” he said.

Nadeem shared that the national water policy 2018 committed to legislate groundwater and more recently Supreme Court judgment on September 18, 2018, directed the government to regulate and price groundwater be it industrial or agriculture use. “There seems less energy or homework to do the needful. The government must assemble a body of the expert to bring new legal framework, it is as important as fixing the economy.”

The original story published in the News


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