Water shortage is the situation within all or part of the area or district when insufficient water is available to meet the present and anticipated needs of the permit system, or when conditions are such as to require temporary reduction in total use within a particular area to protect water resources from serious harm.
Water is one of the most important life-supporting elements in the world’s ecological systems. It has particular importance for the arid ecosystems such as the Indus plains in Pakistan.
Water plays a vital role in a country’s economy. The total land area of Pakistan is approximately 310,322 square miles or 88 million hectares of land, of which approximately 20 million heaters are used for agriculture purposes. The river system of Indus and its tributaries provides Pakistan some of the most fertile land in the Indian subcontinent.
Water shortages actually define the greatest threat to Pakistan, bot h as a state and a society. Over the years, the water availability in the country has fallen drastically with statistics pointing a sharp fall from 5,000 cubic meters per capita in the 1950s to less than 1,500 cubic meters per capita currently. Pakistan stands on the verge of being declared a water scarce state where the international benchmark of being water scarce stands at 1000 cubic meters per capita. Various accounts actually say that this mark can be breached as early as 2020 or the latest by 2035. Such statistics become more alarming in nature when it is added that Pakistan is mainly an agrarian country and hence around 90% of the country’s water is actually dedicated to agriculture. What makes the situation more complex is that Pakistan is actually one of the most arid countries in the world with an average rainfall of under 240 mm per year. Hence one can see why the situation has actually already begun to spiral out of control, without sufficient and immediate attention given to the same
At the inception Pakistan was considered as a water-sufficient
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country. The per capita surface water availability was around 5000 cubic meter. However, as the time passed by two gruesome developments took place simultaneously. First, the water was wasted indiscriminately and there was no focus on conservation of this bounty. Second, population grew manifolds unchecked. The result of these two evils is that now Pakistan is considered as a water-stressed country and per capita availability of water has decreased to a paltry point of 1000 cubic meters .
Our water resource base continues to be degraded because of pollution, atrophy, overuse of surface water and over-exploitation of groundwater. Large tracts of land have been rendered uncultivable due to water logging and salinity, direct results of mismanaged irrigation. Unsafe drinking water is responsible for numerous diseases including dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, malaria and gastroenteritis. UNICEF estimates that 200,000 children in Pakistan die annually due to diarrhoeal diseases alone.
The Indus delta has been reduced to one partially active creek and there is no water flowing downstream of the Kotri Barrage for almost the entire year. Our mangrove forests, previously some of the largest in the world, have been reduced from 0.6 million acres to 0.25 million acres, said Simi Kamal and Jairath (water specialists) at the Asia Pacific Regional Consultation in Dhaka. The mix of sweet and sea water maintains a very critical balance in the coastlines. If that balance is destroyed, then the entire water system is affected and will, over time, be felt right up to the watersheds. Pakistan is dependent on a single river system and we cannot afford to take any more chances with the water/sediment/salt balance of the Indus Basin.
With the gradual depletion of water resources, the precarious situation is further embittered by the shortage of rainfall which is so essential for the agriculture sector. This deteriorating state has accentuated the feelings of deprivation among the smaller provinces. Exploiting the situation the hard liners in the areas have embarked on lashing Punjab with a heavy stick for its alleged neglect in resolving the share of water and usurping their share.
Pakistan, according to experts, is going through the worst water shortage of history. The current drought in Sindh and Baluchistan has shattered the economy as well as agriculture of the country. Back in fifties, Quetta was considered Pakistan’s prime orchard, which provided fruit for the country and for export as well. However now many growing areas are in critical situation, threatened by over use of ground water and natural droughts.
The alarming drop in water level has also led to a serious shortfall in hydal power. And these are genuine apprehensions if the situation lingers on for sometime more, the energy crisis would deepen as soon as the water level goes further down in Mangla and Tarbela. There are also some social impacts of water crisis in Pakistan, which have mainly involved public safety, health problems, and conflicts between the provinces over water usage. It has also reduced the quality of life.
Managing water resources in effective and sustainable way is the need of time to overcome the water scarcity problems in Pakistan.
Rainfed and arid areas should also be a part of the debate on water equity and water use. In addition, uses of water other than agriculture, for domestic use, for industry, for urban areas, and for the environment, should all be incorporated for a robust water policy for Pakistan. We need to change the way we think about water, the way we use water and the way we dispose off wastewater. A Collective Approach is Needed Individuals and corporate citizens must engage with decision-makers across the board regarding rational and responsible use of water.
Presently the losses occur due to seepage, infiltration and leakages etc. seepage results in water logging and these losses can be reduced or eliminated by lining the canals. In addition, people should be educated to conserve water by cooperation.
The second largest contribution to the total water available comes from the groundwater sources. This source has been exploited and very well used by public and private tube wells. It can still provide over nine maf of water. This source can be exploited and judiciously used for irrigation purposes. How ever in some areas ground water is rapidly depleting due to excessive pumpage, authorities should take control in such areas to save them from depleting.
The modern irrigation techniques, that is trickling, sprinkling etc, which have a potential to improve water distribution and its utilization. Presently irrigation department has failed to stop the illegal theft and extraction; thus irrigation distribution system needs to be privatized through water user associations.
Authorities should take appropriate steps to curb the illegal extraction of water and ensure its equitable distribution. Farmer’s organizations, water user association, and private sector should be involved in construction, operation, and maintenance of the irrigation system. Such associations are conceived as a mechanism for creating a cooperative frame work for improvement of watercourses
Written by: Sidra Bibi