Improving Water and Sanitation Access

Let us recognize that water is not just a resource it is a bridge to peace, prosperity, and shared humanity.

As we observe World Water Day, we must reflect on the press­ing issue of water scarcity gripping Pakistan. The statistics are alarming: our country ranks 14th among the 17 ‘extremely high-water risk’ nations globally, with over 80% of our population facing se­vere water scarcity. The repercussions of this crisis are dire, with increased frequency of droughts leading to loss of crops, live­stock, and livelihoods for agricultural communities.

Pakistan’s groundwater, once a reliable source, is now se­verely overdrawn, primarily for irrigation purposes. If left un­addressed, we could face nationwide water scarcity by 2025. At present, the greater part of our fresh water is consumed by the agricultural sector, contributing significantly to our GDP. However, unsustainable agricultural practices, including flood irri­gation and poor water management, are straining our water resources.

In the arid landscapes of remote and isolated communities, water is more than a basic necessity, it is a lifeline. Yet, too often, these com­munities grapple with scarcity, pollution, and unequal access to this precious resource. As we commemorate World Water Day under the theme “Water for Peace,” it is crucial to recognize the pivotal role wa­ter plays in global stability and prosperity.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Pakistan is committed to supporting water gover­nance and climate resilience initiatives that align with the government of Pakistan’s policies and the Sustainable Development Goals, partic­ularly SDG 6 and 13. Our approach involves a multi-sectoral strategy, integrating various IRC sectors to design programs that address the complex dynamics of water scarcity and climate vulnerability.

Through our programming, we prioritize sustainable and well-coordinated actions, drawing upon innovative solutions and les­sons learned from the field. We collaborate closely with government stakeholders at all levels to strengthen systems and promote best practices in water governance and WASH programming.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) stands at the forefront of efforts to ensure safe and dignified water access for drinking, household use, and sanitation in vulnerable communities. By doing so, the IRC not only promotes peace but also addresses poverty, so­cial tensions, and conflicts arising from water scarcity.

Lack of access to clean water and sanitation perpetuates a cycle of hardship. It strains relationships between neighboring communities and even nations. To break this cycle, we must prioritize safe water access as a fundamental human right. The Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 6, underscore the urgency of this mission.

In the rugged terrains of Peshawar, Buner, and Swat districts of Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, the IRC is implementing a transformative project. This initiative is supported by Charity: Water, an organization committed to ending the global water crisis. The project aims to im­prove water and sanitation access for remote communities.

The heart of the project lies in constructing, repairing, and rehabilitat­ing water supply schemes. These vital systems will serve as lifelines for villages that have long yearned for reliable access to clean water. We at IRC recognize that sustainable change requires collaboration. Successful partnerships with local communities and institutional linkages with gov­ernment departments will strengthen water provision. Monitoring and coordination mechanisms will ensure efficient service delivery. Women, adolescent girls, persons with disabilities, and other marginalized indi­viduals will be empowered through community mobilization and capac­ity-building trainings. Their active participation will drive lasting impact.

Over 200 water points have been completed under this program. These tap stands serve 42,850 daily water users across the target dis­tricts. A total of 116 pipe systems have been successfully restored, encompassing water infrastructure in 22 schools and 22 health facil­ities. This comprehensive initiative involves the revival of tubewells, gravity flow systems, solar-based setups, and pressure pumps. Each revitalized water system embodies hope, health, and resilience, em­phasizing the positive impact on the communities served. Further­more, rigorous data collection and evidence generation will validate the project’s impact. We will learn from successes and challenges, re­fining our approach for future endeavors.

As we celebrate World Water Day, let us recognize that water is not just a resource it is a bridge to peace, prosperity, and shared human­ity. By improving water and sanitation access in remote communities, we pave the way for a more equitable and resilient world. Together, we can turn the tide one drop at a time. Let us not forget the intrinsic link between water and peace. Together, let us continue to champion the cause of water security and strive towards a world where every indi­vidual has access to this fundamental resource.

Shabnam Baloch
The writer is Country Director at the International Rescue Committee Pakistan.

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