The demon of water shortage and our national apathy

Rayyan Baig

THE water is the most precious commodity on the
earth, without water there is no concept of life on
the planet. It’s the foundation for the agriculture and industrial development; no water means no development, no food and no life. The biggest challenge confronting living beings on earth is the availability of sustainable clean potable water. Though 70pc of the earth is covered with water but 98pc of this water is unusable. Only 2 percent of the water is fresh water, out of which 1.6 percent is locked up in the polar ice caps and glaciers and only 0.3 percent is usable.
This 0.3 percent is proving to be insufficient and unsuitable due to population explosion and environmental factors, created by human beings. This shortage of water is feared to be the cause of future conflicts/ wars between and among nations. Pakistan is faced with multiple challenges with regards to water ie population explosion, shortage of water, environmental factors, mismanagement/ misuse of water and above all the apathy by all concerned about the looming threat. As per international standards any country having the availability of water over 1700 m3/ person/year is known to have abundance of water, less than 1700 m3 water is called water stressed and less than 1000 m3 as water scarce.
From a lavish 5500 m3/person/year availability of water in Pakistan at the time of independence, it has fallen to around 1000 m3 in just 70 years, it is feared to be down to 800 m3 by 2025. Before partition six major rivers used to flow into Pakistan from Kashmir namely Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. The Hindu leadership and British Indian Administration conspired and drew unjust political boundary between Pakistan and India right across the Indus Basin, making Pakistan lower riparian of India. The headwaters were intentionally kept on Indian side giving her physical control to cut off supply of water to Pakistan at will. As intended, immediately after partition India stopped the supply of water to Pakistan from every canal flowing from India into Pakistan, compelling it to go for an agreement on the issue.
After extensive negotiations through World Bank the famous Indus Water Treaty was signed between both the countries. The three Eastern Rivers were exclusively given to India and three Western rivers were given to Pakistan, with restricted use to India. Over a period, India violated the treaty and built dams/ reservoirs, diverted the water of rivers and obstructed the agreed flow of water of these rivers to Pakistan. She has built the capability to stop Pakistan’s water for 30 days or flood Pakistan whenever desired. This year Pakistani rivers are getting the lowest flow of water from India which may also affect the crops in Pakistan.
The reduction of water coupled with the population explosion ie 6.3 times increase in 70 years, from 33.7 million in 1947 to 212.7 million in 2017, has compounded the problem. The mass migration of population to urban centers, industrialization and unscientific agriculture has further accentuated the situation. Unfortunately, no steps have been taken by the successive governments to resolve the problem despite being highlighted by the World Bank decades ago. After IWT, amidst the construction of Tarbela and Mangla dams, the WAPDA felt the need of more water reservoirs to meet future requirements. In 1963 on the request of President Ayub khan the World Bank assigned the experts to conduct a study known as ‘Indus Special Study’. The three and a half years long study suggested that for continued financial progress Pakistan needs to have another big dam by 1992.
It further said that to complete said work Pakistan must start necessary work by 1977. Surprisingly, much before the controversy, the study recommended construction of Kalabagh Dam, due to its natural location, followed by Bhasha Dam. Sadly, no concrete steps have been taken since then, we wasted unforgiveable precious time in politics and threw billions of MAF water into the sea. Due to the absence of big reservoirs tens of millions of MAF floods water goes to the sea unutilized causing havoc enroot. At times the wasted floodwater equals more than half of the country’s annual requirement. The existing dams are also fast losing their capacity due to the accumulation of millions of tons of silt every year. Another problem is the low system efficiency of canals and conventional method of irrigation, which wastes lot of water.
There is no governmental policy on groundwater extraction; resultantly it is mercilessly extracted causing the water tables to drop with alarming speed. Similarly, the absence of rules/ checks and balance by the government on the treatment of waste water results into huge quantity of polluted water/ toxic material dropping into the rivers, canals and getting mixed up with subsoil water. As a nation we too do not have any realization and waste lot of water in our daily lives. Pakistan is among the countries with least forests, the irony is that still ruthless deforestation takes place, between 1990 and 2005 Pakistan lost 24.7pc of its forest cover.
As per the World Bank data Pakistan’s forest area dropped from 3.3pc in 1990 to 1.9 pc in 2015 of its total land mass area. This drop adversely affected the overall climate, rainfall, snowfall and availability of water in the country. Being an agrarian economy the present state of affairs doesn’t augur well for Pakistan. If we don’t wake up as a nation, God forbid, what to talk of exporting grains we won’t be able to meet even our domestic requirements.
The situation is quite grave, and we need to act fast before Pakistan becomes like Ethiopia and we beg others for food and water. The government needs to take Indian violations of IWT in the World Bank/ ICJ through a team of experts without any further delay and pursue it vigorously. The suitability or otherwise of Kalabagh Dam is purely a technical matter, it should be de-linked from politics and its construction commenced immediately, in addition to construction of 2-3 other big dams. Extensive afforestation in the country must be started on war footing, especially in catchment areas, to attract more rainfall/ snowfall and reduce land erosion causing sedimentation in the dams.
There is also a need to enhance system efficiency, through brick lining of canals/ distributaries/ furrows, and by adopting advance irrigation techniques. Stringent laws need to be enacted to ensure that no untreated/ polluted water gets into the rivers, canals or drains. There should also be some check/ policy and price tag on the extraction of subsoil water. All public buildings, schools, hospitals and mosques etc should mandatorily have sensor taps instead of existing classic faucets. Last but not the least, we in individual capacities and as a nation also need to learn to conserve water and check its.

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