As the year ends, I look back on the events and actions that made the year memorable or forgettable. A natural consequence of such reflection and introspection is to make assertions in the form of New Year’s resolutions to do a ‘better job’ in the coming year. Among the innumerable things that I could have done ‘better’ is take a more active interest in the welfare of the natural environment in Pakistan.
Compounding the myriad economic, social and developmental problems, Pakistan faces a continuous environmental crisis that makes a growth scenario seem next to impossible. A World Bank report from 2006, titled Pakistan Strategic Country Environmental Assessment, stated that environmental degradation costs the country “at least six per cent of GDP, or about Rs365 billion per year”.
One of the biggest environmental problems facing this country is the spectre of water scarcity. Pakistan is a largely arid country which has always depended on seasonal rains and glacial melting to supports its needs. An exploding population and its demands for water, exacerbated by the effects of global warming, and the changes this has brought to the seasonal rain patterns and glacial melting rates, have resulted in the country being flagged as the one of the worst affected by climate change. The introduction to a report titled Running on Empty — Pakistan’s Water Crisis published by the Woodrow Wilson Centre for Scholars, states: “Pakistan’s total water availability per capita ranks dead last in a list of 26 Asian countries and the United States. Pakistan is expected to become water scarce (the designation of a country with annual water availability below 1,000 m3 per capita) by 2035.”
As a response to the deteriorating environmental conditions in Pakistan and the frightening prospect of water scarcity, I have resolved, in the new year to — not let the water run in the sink while I shave every morning. This is my humble contribution to the conservation of water in Pakistan and I expect that in the long-run it will make a significant contribution to the environmental well-being of this country. By my calculation, at present I allow an excess amount of water, at the rate of four litres per minute to go down the drain. Assuming a five-minute shave, that is a daily loss of 20 litres. Over 365 days I expect to save 7,300 litres or 1,605 imperial gallons — the equivalent of one midsized water tanker. That may not even qualify as a blip on the water conservation radar but allow me to extrapolate. The number of potential shavers in the country can be very roughly estimated as half of the adult male population, assuming the other half is bearded. Starting with a total national population of 170,000,000, assuming 50 per cent males, 50 per cent adult and 50 per cent clean-shaven, we get a figure of 21,250,000 potential shavers. If each one of them was able to make a similar saving in their water consumption while shaving, we would save a whopping 33,277,500,000 gallons a year. Yes, that’s more than 33 billion gallons. Or, in other words, 122,647 acre-feet. Perhaps this is still not enough to make a significant dent in the storage capacity of Tarbela Dam (currently 6.77 million acre feet) but it’s not an insignificant amount. The volume of water saved in a national campaign to conserve water during shaving could grow an estimated 70,000 acres of wheat or 24,000 acres of rice or cater to the needs of Karachi for 50 days.
I confess that all my statistics regarding the number of shavers in the country are conjectural and potentially flawed. The only figure that I can stand by is the approximate amount of water that goes down my drain while I shave. The point I am trying to make is that the multiplier effect of seemingly trivial acts like shaving with less water can be far-reaching and have a significant impact on the country’s ability to cater to its burgeoning needs. Each one of us can find something that we do, which we could do with less water. For my part, I will be shaving with hot water in a large mug.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2012.