People in Pakistan can realise the paramount significance, dangers and dragonets of water problems as they have to endure a diabolical duo of its most ruthless and extremely antagonistic vagaries. They have to seek, search and suffer for its scarcity in clean drinking form. The country suffers from incurable droughts for irrigation as well as the destruction from relentless rains and onslaughts of urban floods. A survey recently revealed that 70 percent water in the country, including in its 24 major cities, is not fit for drinking while water in many districts of Balochistan and KP has almost finished. Finding it in some tribal and Thar areas is tremendously torturous. Overall supplies in the country plummeted to a water stressed category in the 1990s, fell even further to a scarce category in 2005 and is estimated to slip to an absolutely scarce slot in the future. Many will have to survive on the minimum average access of about 500 cubic meters per person in the next three years.
The extent for this gravity on global scale similarly may be further surmised by the concern that the world, since 1993, has been commemorating a Water Day on March 22 each year. Outside of this, special water weeks are now also organised for more intensive and extensive deliberations to revitalise the research, studies and strategies about various regions, sources, categories and aspects of water problems and their management. The current water week in Sweden is mostly devoted to the ground water sources that not only sustain the earth’s ecosystem but also provide about a half of all drinking, 40 percent of crop irrigation and a third of the industrial requirements around the world. Besides it also maintains the beauty, basins and flow of rivers and serves as the land’s barrier and bulwark against erosion and seawater encroachments.
Ground water has a far larger significance in Pakistan since we are its third largest user in the world. This dependence, along with the uncertainty of water levels, undermines the flow, storage and supply of water for Pakistan’s sprawling irrigation system comprising of 23 barrages and 45 canals designed to deliver about 90 percent of its accessible water resources. The paucity forced by fluctuations, in this vast irrigation network, in turn, exerts more pressure on the ground water sources. Their levels consequently have been continuously sinking making water extraction even more difficult, demanding more complex and energy intensive techniques and higher economic costs. However, despite such arduous and excessive odds and inputs, about 90 percent of the water thus obtained is not fit for drinking. The access to adequate and sustainable supplies of safer quality of ground water in many other countries is similarly quite crucial.
Despite the significance of ground water, it is also quite invisible; almost to the extent of being the proverbial reincarnate of slipping out of mind for being of sight. The theme of this Stockholm conference is thus to see this unseen ground water that evidently implies to refurbish and coordinate the emerging research, technology, engineering and management techniques to trace, map, extract and utilise theses sources in the most optimum and sustainable manner. Yet another tragic aspect of accessing these resources is that at some places on the planet, they may be merely a hundred feet away from the communities craving for it yet they suffer because they lack the tech and the resources to reach and avail them for their dire needs. The conference while seeking potential tech would also emphasise the value of water for people as well as the most optimum symbiosis of its consumption by humans, development, nature and climate change.
Organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), the first three days of this moot will comprise of an online digital participation of the experts and organisations from around the world. The rest of the proceedings would be the usual in-person sessions and deliberations. The in-person or physical participation format has been added this year, in contrast to the last years’ Water Week held from August 23-27, 2021. Its theme explored the role of water to foster a faster resilience to cope with its scarcity, state of human health, biological diversity, defence against Covid-19 like pandemics and protection against the worsening climate crises and chaotic weather swings.
This year’s schedule envisages 300 sessions set to deal with various strands of the ground water problems. Some of these sessions like the Rain School Initiative Monsoon, are uniquely ingenious. It is designed to inspire interest for innovative strategies to counter the climate crisis in the new generations. Other sessions are similarly devoted to a new rhythm and bond between the people and the planet, sustainable river rejuvenation, innovations of some new water and wash systems and transforming lives with basic water supply and sanitation.
Some of these innovative systems, expert deliberations and findings would also be quite valuable for Pakistan to reorient its projects and policies to manage its ground water sources and impart a new lifeline to their aquifers.