Water usage reforms to fight its scarcity in Pakistan

This week the world celebrated the World Water Day on March 22 with a resolve to make water accessible to every individual inhabiting this earth. This year’s theme was “Leaving no one behind”.

It was a clear expression of how important it is to ensure access to water, without any discrimination, in order to bring improvements in their lives.

There is no denying the fact that water is life. It is crucial for one’s survival and also fuels economic growth besides ensuring food security for the masses.

As the access to water is a basic human right, there is a stress on taking everyone along and making strategic plans that do not leave any individual uncovered.

With the global population growing fast, the world is facing water scarcity and a consistent decrease in its availability per capita. It is feared that water reserves will be depleting faster now leaving little for the coming generations to depend on.

Due to this situation, there is a realisation that proper management and judicious use of the existing water resources, both in the rural and urban areas, is crucial for preservation of this finite resource for times to follow.

Over the years, the nations of the world have come up with water policies that advise minimal use of water for different purposes to achieve same results and stopping wastage.

Similarly, there are calls to recycle water used in industrial and commercial activities, introduce seed varieties that reduce dependence on water, adopt innovative irrigation techniques, do away with flood irrigation methods, avoid sowing water-intensive crops, put limits and conditions on ground water extraction, improve water governance and so on.

The situation in Pakistan is quite alarming that calls for announcement of a water emergency and strict adherence to well-devised plan which must be workable as well.

A good thing is that country has come up with a National Water Policy 2018 that describes desired actions. However, its success depends primarily on the seriousness of the ruling set up to enforce decisions, even the unpopular ones, provinces’ support, reforming the government departments responsible for governance etc.

In this context two reports “Pakistan Getting More from Water” by the World Bank and “Beneath the Surface: The State of World’s Water in 2019” by Water Aid are very relevant and give a picture of what exists on ground.

The World Bank report points out that Pakistan does not make the best use of its water endowment and uses it in a manner which is far from ideal. Addressing these concerns will be a must to improve the situation. Some observations from the report follow:

  • Water use is heavily dominated by agriculture, which contributes around one-fifth of national GDP, but less than half of this is from irrigated cropping. Irrigation contributes around $22 billion to annual GDP. The four major crops (wheat, rice, sugarcane, and cotton) that represent nearly 80 percent of all water use generate less than five percent of GDP—around $14 billion per year.
  • The economic costs to Pakistan from poor water and sanitation, floods, and droughts are conservatively estimated to be four percent of GDP, or around $12 billion per year.
  • Although population growth is slowing, projections suggest Pakistan’s population will exceed 300 million by 2047, driving water demands much higher. Without serious demand management and reform, and if the climate warms rapidly, water demand could increase by nearly 60 percent by 2047.
  • The largest increases in demand will be for irrigation. Population and economic growth are the main drivers, but climate warming will contribute significantly. The fastest rates of demand growth will be for domestic and industrial supply.
  • Productivity improvements (in agriculture) will require better control of water delivery, better on-farm water management, increased input quality (eg, seeds), crop diversification, and better pest control.
  • Biodiversity loss, declining fish stocks, and degradation of the ecosystems of the Indus Delta, which offer valuable ecosystem services, are increasing, with little effort to monitor or mitigate this damage.

The second report “Beneath the Surface: The State of the World’s Water 2019” by Water Aid points out another factor leading to excessive use of water in Pakistan. This is called use of virtual water-the water included in the production of everything we eat, buy and wear. The amount of water needed to create a product is its water footprint.

An example the report gives is of a lunchtime hamburger of about 110 grams. It might not appear to contain much water, but, on average, it took 1,700 litres of water, or 85 jerry cans, to get it to your plate. Similarly, average water footprint of rice is 2,500 litres of water per kilogramme and that of asparagus, which is a thirsty vegetable, 2,150 litres per kilogramme. Similarly, manufacturing of cloth etc consumes heavy volumes of water.

It is a fact that many developed nations import huge stock of products with high water footprint from less developed countries and save their own water resources by not producing these goods locally. The country will also have to rethink which products it produces for export and how it can bring down its water footprint in those sectors through innovation

The original story published in The News.


Shahzada Irfan

Shahzada Irfan is currently responsible for writing news reports, covering daily events, occcasionally writing columns and maintaining a blog. My assignment is part of the 2009 Daniel Pearl Fellowsip, that brings mid-career journalists from developing Muslim countries to the United States, for a period of six months.

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