Rainwater harvesting – a vital solution to avert water scarcity

LAHORE   -   With the country fast approaching to­wards water scarcity, unchecked population growth and everyday rising demand of water for agricultural and human use can land the country in serious trouble during years ahead.

The long history of neglecting this sector had result­ed in decline of per capita water availability of 5600 cu­bic meter in 1947 to around 1000 cubic meter presently ringing the alarm bells for experts and the policy mak­ers.

Rampant wastage of water during these decades, non-construction of any big project till early 2000s - af­ter Tarbela and Mangla dams - and the challenging phe­nomenon of climate change had further aggravated the situation.

Our water resource is also under immense pressure due to agricultural expansion, urbanization and indus­trialization and if this trend persists, it may pose seri­ous water availability and food security challenges. 

With the country’s population figures also hovering around 240 million, the coming years would be crucial to save each drop precipitation to make our agricultur­al and industrial sectors grow and feed this bulk of pop­ulation.

As almost 80 percent rainfall occurs during monsoon, the storage of rainwater and use of modern and efficient water usage techniques can be vital to address water and food security issues in the country.

“We are at the climate crossroads. On one side we face water sacristy and on the other droughts and floods,” remarked Pakistan Council of Research in Water Re­sources (PCRWR) Chairman Muhammad Ashraf. 

“These phenomena water scarcity and severe flood­ing urgently require nature based solutions for water storage and conservation especially through rainwater harvesting to meet our future water needs,” he said.

“Then there is also need for controlling water wast­age and ensure its proper storage for agriculture and human use,” PCRWR Chairman said. 

Talking of global rainwater harvesting techniques, he said, such a water collecting system and storage mech­anism can be both simple and inexpensive and complex and costly. “This technique may consist of simple rain barrels or more elaborate structures with pumps, tanks, and purification systems.” 

He said the technologies to collect and store rainwater vary from region to region. “Therefore, keeping within our available resources, we need to research on easier and inexpensive modes of water conservation.” 

Besides water table recharge, the non-portable rain­water can also be used irrigate agricultural land, flush toilets, car wash, launder clothes and even for drinking if properly purified.

Many countries already exploit techniques of artifi­cial groundwater recharge through rainwater harvest­ing and storage of flowing water in underground tanks.

In recent years this technique has emerged as an ef­fective nature-based solution to tackle serious challeng­es of water scarcity, rapid decline in water table and avert urban flooding that displaces people and cause damage to their properties and livelihood.

Water and Sanitation Agency Managing Director Ghu­fran Ahmad mentions to three such projects in Lahore where the rainwater is stored to meet the needs of lo­cal people.

“We have established three rainwater harvesting sites at Bagh-e-Jinnah, Lawrence Road, Sheranwala Gate and Kashmir road with a storage capacity of 1.4 million gal­lon and 1.5 and 1.5 million gallons capacity respective­ly,” Ghufran Ahmed said. “This water is used for water­ing greenbelt plantations across the city.”

He informed that more underground water tanks would be constructed at different locations in the city with a plan to save 21 million gallons of water.

Moreover, the Punjab Agriculture Department in pre­vious years had also completed 44 ponds for harvest­ing rainwater in Rawalpindi division to improve under­ground water table and use it for irrigation and other purposes in arid agriculture areas.

Experts believe that rainwater harvesting techniques could help irrigate more land, improve groundwater ta­ble and provide drinking water.

Therefore, International Water Management Institute and Punjab Irrigation Department have jointly launched a pilot project in Okara district to promote water-effi­cient farming and check the level and quality of subsoil water in the area.

“This project is hoped to valuably benefit the local farm­ers. It would enhance water efficiency and maintain soil fertility,” stated Director of this ‘On Farm Water Manage­ment Research’ project Dr Habibullah Habib.

“The farmers now need to benefit from laser and lev­ellers, adopt furrow cultivation mechanism as well as drip irrigation to get maximum crops produce by using limited water resource,” he added.

Former Vice Chancellor Pir Mehar Ali Shah Arid Agri­culture University Rawalpindi, Dr Rai Niaz Ahmad has also underlined the need for ground water replenish­ment initiatives.

“We need artificial recharge wells at suitable sites across the country,” Dr Niaz said as he also strongly rec­ommended to amending by-laws for housing societies making rainwater harvesting mandatory for them.

He said International Water Management Institute wants to propagate this concept of rainwater harvest­ing to improve groundwater level and is ready to extend technical support to organisations working in this sector.

“We at Arid Agriculture University developed mod­els for urban and agricultural rainwater harvesting sys­tems,” he informed. “Collective efforts for rainwater harvesting even in irrigated areas by individual farmers can bring a revolution in livelihood besides a solution to groundwater recharge.

As the situation is worrisome, therefore it would be imperative for any upcoming government to serious carry forward the agenda of water storage and conser­vation to avert water scarcity and ensure food security for our people.

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