Pakistan at the present moment suffers from political instability, economic downfall and grave insecurity. But behind all these pressing issues is hidden a more serious issue; scarcity of a resource upon which hinges the presence of life itself.
This resource is more than a drink or a means of washing and cooking; agricultural success and industrial growth necessitates the provision of water. It is an essential factor in maintaining healthy population. In fact, water has been and continues to be an issue over which nations have cooperated and fought wars.
A series of bad practices and unhealthy lifestyles has caused the contemporary world to face a water crisis which if left ignored will only exacerbate into a wider calamity. Efforts to boost industrial growth and the living standards of the public have compromised on the environment. Disposal of industrial waste, use of chemical fertilizers are not monitored. Natural sources like lakes, rivers and canals are used as dumping grounds for industrial and household waste. The few dams which Pakistan has are experiencing a drastic decrease in capacity due to siltation. Together with water logging, floods have had an even worse impact as witnessed during the 2011 and 2012 floods.
Much of Pakistan still relies on conventional methods of accessing water particularly the use of ground water, glacial water and monsoon rainfall. However, studies have shown these water resources are contaminated with poisonous bacteria and viruses and toxic chemicals like arsenic which have caused an increase in cholera, diarrhea and other infectious diseases. Globally more than 14000 people die from contaminated water each day while in Pakistan water-borne diseases are responsible for a third of all deaths including approximately 200,000-250,000 deaths of children per year.
Climate change has altered the rainy seasons while global warming has contributed to the melting of glaciers which often result in flash floods as been seen in 2011 and 2012. Pakistan’s storage and irrigation systems haven’t been able to manage this excess inflow of water because of which the country wastes more than two-thirds of its water resources. It is even more tragic to see drinking water being wasted due to ignorance, carelessness or indifference.
Pakistan’s rulers, researchers and policy makers have to start devising a solid plan to protect the country from a complete water crisis. B.A. Malik in his book “Save Water, Save Pakistan” warns that Pakistan will have a large population but small water supplies by the time it celebrates its 100th birthday. Already, the World Bank has rated Pakistan a “water-stressed” country. Pakistan’s water supplies have shrunk from 5600 cubic meters per capita per annum in 1951 to the less than 1000 cubic meters in 2012. Decreasing water supplies will greatly affect crop yield. A poor exchange rate and limited foreign reserves will make it difficult to meet local food demand through imports. This is why we must take affirmative action to prevent becoming a water famine country.
The government must actively take steps to cooperate with India over the distribution of water and prevention of any violations of the Indus Water Treaty. Furthermore, it should try to adopt alternative irrigation techniques like drip, sprinkler and bed plantation that use water more efficiently. Industries should make use of recycled water for cooling purposes.
The government should also build multiple dams throughout the country to store excess rainfall and prevent floods. Political parties must overcome their differences and lend their full support to the dam projects. Some local NGOs have been working to create awareness about conservation of water. For example, Karachi Water Partnership and Women Water Network work on raising awareness to save water and the sewage issues in Karachi. The government could even outsource its conservation projects to such initiatives.
Still governments are made of people and a personal initiative is not only essential but critical if we really wish to avert a water disaster. Here are some easy ways to contribute positively:
- Closing the tap while brushing one’s teeth. Water saved: 2880 gallons/year
- Fix leaking pipes, toilets and hoses. Water saved: 200 gallons/day.
- Use a low-flow showerhead. Water saved: 4550 gallons /per year
- Water your garden in the morning so that water loss from evaporation is minimized. Water saved: 4,524 gallons/year.
- Wash a full load of dirty clothes in the washing machine. Water saved: 100 gallons/week.
What do YOU resolve to do this year?
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