The alarming rise in water crisis

Water is the most significant element for the survival of living beings; without which life cannot be envisaged. Unfortunately, Pakistan has been facing severe blow and serious impingement owing to water scarcity. A report by World Resources Institute Pakistan is on track to become the most water-stressed country in the South Asian region and 23rd in world rankings till 2040.

If history is any guide one can rightly bring to mind that Pakistan inherited copious of water resources at the time of its creation. In 1947, the per capita water availability was 5,000 cubic meters which has reached to merely 1,000 cubic meters in 2017 and it is further expected to reach a dangerous level of 800 cubic meters in 2015 if pragmatic remedial measures are remained out from the power house.

There is no denying the impression that way forward cannot be chalked out for looming water crisis until problematic areas are appropriately addressed.

In the first place, Pakistan being the agriculturalist country is mainly dependent on its agriculture to lit the candle of economy. However, the outmoded and antiquated irrigation techniques and modes are primarily one of the potent causes of wastage of water resources. To name some rice, sugar cane and wheat crops are extensive water demanding; which Pakistan cannot afford to grow. Instead, Pakistan must go for those crops which require less water in order to safe is depleting natural resource.

There are numerous water scared states which have faced the same dilemma have preferred for improving water management through installing sprinkler and drip irrigation systems to avoid water wastage. However, Pakistan uses the method of flooding the crops. It ultimately causes 40 percent loss of water en route.

Secondly, the dynamic and predominant cause for ever increasing water crisis is that Pakistan is entirely dependent for water from a single source; the Indus Basin River. The Indian maneuvers to build hydro electrical power projects at Sawalkot on river Chenab and constructing number of other dams such as Bagliar, Krishan Ganga and Sattle on Pakistan rivers are extending a severe blow to inadequacy of water resources.

Though article 111 of Indus Water Treaty highlights and binds India to refrain from obstructing the flow of river water, i.e from Chenab, Indus and Jhelum. India cannot store any water or construct any storage work on the aforementioned rivers. Indian manipulations and gimmicks with western rivers by diverting their flow and constructing dams are really distressing for Pakistan to manage its already squandering water resources.

Thirdly and equally potential cause for looming water crisis is that Pakistan is seriously lagging behind in making dams and reservoirs to store water for dry days. Pakistan’s mega dams at Mangla and Tarbela are 50 years old and their capacity to store water are going down on account of silting and sedimentation. They are only capable of holding water for 30 days, compared to 1,000 days for Egypt and 220 days for India.

After the aperture and pause of around four decades, since Tarbela dam was constructed, in 2006 it was determined firmly to build another major multi-purpose dam at Diamer-Basha. However, unfortunately, the lethargic governmental policies and hasty politics have nip the project in the bud.

But merely augmenting only one major reservoir would not successfully confront the threatening water crisis. In fact, it would only reconstruct the old storage capacity that Pakistan maintained decades ago. Therefore, the exigency of time suggests that government must take robust account to make major dams in Pakistan to avoid potent water depleting threat. In such circumstances, building Kalabagh Dam is the need of the hour for Pakistan. Since 1963, every aspect of this dam has been explored by the national and international authorities. Their report speaks volumes about the urgency of making this project which can yield cheap hydro-electricity and can have potential exterminate the issue of storage water crisis.

According to Shamsul Mulk, a former Chairman WAPDA, the acclaimed water and dams expert vowed that the cost of delay has been Rs 132bn every year on account of cheaper electricity. As compared to others which are exorbitant and located in the outskirts, Kalabagh Dam can be constructed within a period of four years.

The fourth cause traces the rampant and treacherous change in climate which is yet another lurking danger for water provisions. Because, the Hindu Kush and Himalayan mountains are so depleted that their contribution to Indus Water Basin is ephemeral. The irregular rain spells are not recharging aquifers which also exhausted the water resources. The effects of this cause can be lesson through ending the policies of profligate and saving water for hot days as the old adage goes that the more you sweat in peace the less you breed in war.

Last but not least, the governmental lethargic policies and attitude towards this alarming and impregnable concern is further giving an air to infuriated water crisis. Across the globe, all the water rich nations have kept ground water at the last resort and for the dry days. However, in Pakistan due to dearth of governmental policies and attention ground water is extracted by individuals and organizations without giving a single rupee as a tax.

About ground water, the USAID study regarding Pakistan unfolded that the extensive utilization of ground water has pushed the levels down by 12 meters in the last 50 years. Moreover, the ever increasing salt reduces concentration of ground water 1.25 percent agricultural water use. The report highlighted for immediate action for improving storage capacity, governance and management of water institutions.

In order to avoid devastating effects of rapidly diminishing water resources which is proving itself to be a ticking time bomb for Pakistan; a result oriented and multifaceted strategy must be devised on war footings.

A government must chalk out a workable national strategy covering the significant areas of water development and water management. The water development strategy is entirely based upon building new storage reservoirs and dams where as water management policy will help to reduce the present losses.

In the first place, constructing dams should be top priority under water development strategy. Therefore, building Kalabagh Dam which is located 132 miles downstream than that of Tarbela dam which can entirely change the fate of Pakistan in resolving the water conundrum. It has the capacity of storing 6.1 maf. Its generation capacity is 3600 MW. Thus, the incumbent government should take all stakeholders on board to settle the differences on the materializations of multi-purpose Kalabagh Dam.

Pursuing this further, building and raising many other mega projects such as Chashma Dam having storage capacity of 7.3 maf and generation capacity of 3360MW, raising Mangla Dam, Mirani Dam and Gomalzam Dam can yield desirable results.

In water management phase, it is the high time for government to formulate a doable strategy to save existing 1.3 maf losses. Presently, in Pakistan water losses can be traced in the form of infiltration, seepage and leakages etc. therefore linking the canals can lessen the water losses.

Further, efforts are needed to convert the ongoing rotation based irrigation to demand oriented system. Therefore, incorporating the modern techniques of irrigation such as sprinkling and trickling can potentially ameliorate water distribution and utilization. Lastly, the underground water is judiciously being theft by public and private organization which is surely depleting water resources. The concerned authorities must bring the accused under the law to save existing water.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Quetta.

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