Currently water shortage is the major issue in Pakistan and the government is not paying serious attention to this issue. Our policymakers are good at policymaking and they use extraordinary wordings in policy but always forget to provide details of how this policy will be implemented with the available resources. One can see this from the National Drinking Water Policy of Pakistan which says, “Access to safe drinking water is the basic human right of every citizen and it is responsibility of the state to ensure its provision to all citizens.”
One can also imagine the seriousness of the government in implementation of the policy by looking at the fact that currently Pakistan’s major cities are facing worsening water shortage because of the rapid depletion of ground water. This is mainly caused due to population growth, rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, coupled with climate change.
The situation is so worse that even the Asian Development Bank has categorised Pakistan as one of the water-stressed countries in the world, not far from being classified as ‘water scarce’ with less than 1,000 cubic metres per capita per year. The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources also issued a grave warning that stated that the country may run dry by 2025 if the government did not take any immediate action. Otherwise, water shortage would have an adverse impact on public health and the economy of the country. For instance, over 80 per cent of the water supplied is considered unsafe and water-borne diseases are resulting in a loss of up to 1.44 per cent of the GDP.
The situation of water shortage is not any different even in Islamabad — the federal capital and the only planned city with a population of more than two million. Islamabad has long been facing a challenge of water shortage every year. The city’s population is expected to increase to 4.443 million by 2050 but yet no long-term plan for the provision of water to its residents is visible. As the water aquifer in the capital territory is shallow and scattered, the city’s main sources of water are reservoirs built at Simly and Khanpur dams and a few tube wells.
A peak cumulative water production from these sources is 84 million gallons per day (MGD), which drops down to 62MGD in summer before pre-monsoon. Average demand is 176MGD, while water shortage of 106MGD confronts most of the time of the year. Availability of water is mainly hindered due to excessive pumping of groundwater, inadequate water infrastructure and poor storage capacity due to sedimentation of dams.
On the accessibility side, the citizens have no other option than calling for private water tankers to meet their needs, particularly in the summer when the shortage is at its peak. Moreover, affordability of these water tankers is another challenge due to monopoly of pricing by private water tanker associations. For example, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) charges a monthly bill of Rs300 for an average household. On the other hand, one water tank costs Rs700-Rs1,000 that lasts for 2-3 days depending on the needs and size of a family. Consequently, citizens bear an additional financial pressure on their monthly expenses due to an inadequate water supply.
Islamabad is managed by two key offices, ie, the CDA and the Metropolitan Corporation of Islamabad (MCI). Regarding water issues, the debate of jurisdiction and mandate of these two authorities can be circumvented due to the reason that the mayor of MCI is also chairing the CDA. According to the CDA, underground water level is depleting on a regular basis. In the first month of 2018, the CDA circulated a public notice to prevent waste of water to ensure continued water supply for necessary use till monsoon. The reason for shortage of water is justified owing to low rainfalls in the region. According to the notice, 50% less water is being taken from the Simly Dam (86% water contributor for Islamabad) in order to prolong the usage of water. This is a short-time solution, and for how long will people bear the situation?
Though the public notice indicates little seriousness on the part of the CDA/MCI to ensure the availability of water for the citizens (a short-term adjustment), a comprehensive plan for sustainability is still needed. On January 29th, a sub-committee of the Senate Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat directed the CDA to take concrete steps for the provision of clean drinking water to the residents of the capital city.
To solve the issue, the MCI and the CDA should establish a long-term ‘Water Master Plan’ to ensure sufficient water supply for the projected demand. This initiative may boost the campaign of the ruling party for the upcoming elections. To achieve the objectives, multi-stakeholder engagement and capacity-building of the relevant institutions at the local level is also required. Awareness campaigns aimed at increasing behavioural change should be based on the national water policy. Women are identified to be important change makers in the areas of conservation efforts and therefore, they should be engaged at every level.
Relevant authorities need to revise the water tariff separately for household and commercial use supported by the water metering system, calculating the use of water above the line of per capita requirement. This way, waste of water due to leakage and theft from water supply lines could be avoided. Water metering system is an inclusive tool in the field of potable water management in developed countries. In the federal capital’s case, there is a major gap of the baseline data on water requirement per person per day. To bridge this gap, research organisations and academia could be an effective instrument to gather and validate data for water requirement per capita at the local level. The private sector should also be encouraged to step forward under the umbrella of corporate social responsibility. Subsequently, use of excessive water for car washing, floor washing, gardening and leakage of tap water could be controlled effectively.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 6th, 2018.
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