From ‘water stressed’ to ‘water starved’ Pakistan

Ali HAMZA      -      Pakistan can run out of wa ter by 2025 and will slip down from ‘water stressed’ - to a ‘water starved’ country, the data provided by Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) and Indus River System Authority (IRSA) suggest.

The report further suggests that in case corrective measures are not taken on war-footing for water conservation and water harvesting then by year 2030, the country can face civil war over drinking water. Ministry of water resources formulated National Water Policy in 2018 which revealed some damning numbers about water availability in Pakistan. Per capita surface water availability has declined from 5,260 cubic meters per year in 1951 to around 1,000 cubic meters in 2016.

This quantity is likely to further drop to about 860 cubic meters by 2025 marking our transition from a “water stressed” to a “water scarce” country (minimum water requirement to avoid food and health implications of water scarcity is 1,000 cubic meters per capita per year).

The situation calls for rapid development and management of the country’s water resources on a war footing. Three major sources of water in Pakistan are snowmelt, ground water and rainfall. According to PCRWR, 140 MAF (million acre feet) water comes in the river and rain water is accounted of 7MAF. According to a report by IRSA actual surface water availability in 2021-2022 was 92.5 MAF which saw a decrease of 10.6% of average system usage which is 103.5 MAF. The highest decrease was seen in year 2018-2019 which was 18.5% of total usage and availability of water.

The current storage capacity is inadequate as the three major water reservoirs in Pakistan, i.e. Mangla (1967), Tarbela (1978) and Chashma (1971), have a total designed capacity of 15.75 MAF, which has been reduced to 13.1 MAF due to sedimentation. These reservoirs can only save water for up to 30 days; however, the lowest requirement of water storage internationally is 120 days. Most of the advanced countries have water storage capacity of 1 to 2 years. Diamer, Bhasha, Mohmand and Dasu dams are under construction right now and they have collective designed capacity of 12 MAF. Islamabad is capital of Pakistan and is the only planned city in the country. Islamabad is also facing major water crisis like rest of Pakistan.

The last water reservoir built for Islamabad was Khanpur Dam which was built in 90’s. Khanpur Dam, Simli Dam and tube wells provides water for Islamabad. According to CDA officials’ population of Islamabad was 600,000 in 90’s which has reached up to 2.2 million according to 2017 census. Demand of water in Islamabad was 215 MGD (million gallons per day) by 2020 and is expected to reach 278 MGD in 2030 and total available water in Islamabad is 70 MGD. According to PCRWR annual report 2021-2022, in the federal capital Islamabad, 71% sources of drinking water were found safe and 29% as unsafe due to bacteriological and iron contamination.

Engr. Kashif Manzoor Deputy Director of PCRWR told that to tackle the water situation of Islamabad 41 out of 100 planned rechargeable wells have been installed in Islamabad. Rechargeable wells are part of the water shed management policy made by PCRWR. These wells are helping to maintain the water level underground. The wells which were working only 20 minutes have started supplying water almost 60 to 90 minutes. PCRWR is collaborating with housing societies to install these wells all over Islamabad.

Contaminated ground water is also a worrying situation in Pakistan. According to a study, 50 million people in the country are at risk of arsenic poisoning from contaminated groundwater. Specifically, the underground water samples had arsenic level of over 200 micrograms per litre, which was considerably higher than the WHO’s recommendation of 10 micrograms and the government’s limit of 50 micrograms. Another source of pollution stems from direct discharge of waste from households and industries into nearby rivers, drains, streams and ponds and the unregulated and heavy use of chemical, fertilizers, and pesticides in agriculture. For example, around 90 percent of industrial and municipal waste, which is largely untreated and toxic, is dumped into open drains and filtrated into aquifers.

The waste water does not stay in fresh water bodies but is also seeped into the groundwater aquifers. Hence, this pollution is directly affecting the quality of drinking water, and in turn adding to health concerns. It is widely believed that water is the only resource which is not found on earth.

The nature provides it to the earth from the skies through a water cycle. There’s only 3 percent fresh water available on earth via glaciers, lakes, streams and rain while 97 percent of water available on earth is salt water which is found in oceans. Average human body contains 65 to 75 percent water. Other planets don’t seem to have water that’s why human beings haven’t found any living beings on other planets yet.

The reason that only the earth has liquid water is that all the other planets and moons are either too hot, and whatever water is there boils away, or they are too cold, and whatever water is there freezes. The short, medium and long term policies suggested in National Water Policy 2018 by the concerned authorities should be implemented by the government so we could have water for our future generations.

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