Water stress

The incoming government has included two initiatives for resolving the water crisis in its first 100 days agenda

Maryam Sarim October 18, 2018
The writer is managing an energy start-up and runs a charity by the name of Circles for a Cause

‘Water, water, everywhere, not a drop to drink’, a familiar saying takes its origins from a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge written back in 1797. It later got extended to become an English-language phrase referring to situations where someone is surrounded by abundance, but is unable to share it. Interestingly this centuries-old saying is coming to be true in recent times. Today, a number of countries and cities around the world are being classified as ‘water stressed’, ‘water scarce’, or ‘water risk’. These different terms refer to situations where the country is unable to meet water requirements of its inhabitants. The global situation on this issue has reached such alarming levels that the UN includes it in three of its Millennium Development Goals. Latest figures by the UN report that one-fifth of the world’s population lives in water-deprived conditions. Geologists, researchers and development bodies globally are looking at creative ways to tackle water scarcity issues to ensure sustainability in coming years.

Whilst climatic changes, lack of rainfall and drought are most quoted reasons for water stress, other contributing factors include ballooning population and poor management of water resources. Usage of water has been reported to increase at twice the rate of population growth. This is leading the world to a continuously growing demand and supply gap which is further exacerbated when depleting water resources are not sustainably managed leading to waste and pollution.

Pakistan falls under the category of water-stressed countries. Per capita surface water availability has declined from 5,260m3 in 1951 to 1,000m3 in 2016 and expected to fall to as low as 860m3 (below the world requirement of 1,000) by 2025. Accessibility to clean water paints an even grim picture with estimated 84% people not having access to safe drinking water. The impending issue of water scarcity in the country was highlighted decades ago, yet no concerted effort was made to address the issue. It is ironic that while we know water is existential, yet it has been ignored by successive planning departments. The country’s first water policy was approved only this year after 70 years of independence. Today, we stand at a point where water emergency needs to be declared. There is a dire need to discuss sources of water, how it will be put to best use and how can we reuse and conserve it. Politicising dam construction and continuing with poor water management in agriculture (using 70% of water resources), domestic or industrial use is bound to dry up the country. It is alarming to note that our present storage capacity is as low as 30 days compared to 220 days for India and 1,000 for Egypt.

The incoming government has included two initiatives for resolving the water crisis in its first 100 days agenda. These include construction of dams and preparation of master water plan for each province, whereby water conservation and provision of clean water to every citizen is effectively carried out. Previous governments had made similar promises. The project of providing ‘Saaf Pani’ in the recent past, albeit only for one province, never saw light of the day.

Pakistan needs a clearly thought-out water policy looking at long- and short-term solutions to water scarcity. Policymakers and bureaucrats need to learn from countries that have successfully managed their water resources to become sustainable for future generations. There is no dearth of solutions available for fixing water woes, eg, reusing and recycling used water, efficient irrigation systems, desalination, rainwater harvesting, optimal pricing of water, et al. The only thing required is the will and action to achieve sustainability.

As an optimist one would want to see Pakistan taken off the list of water-stressed countries, however, given the way the country is going, it seems an uphill task. “Children of a culture born in a water-rich environment, we have never really learned how important water is to us. We understand it, but we do not respect it,” says William Ashworth, an environmentalist writer.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2018.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.


Engr.Amir Sultan Rana | 5 years ago | Reply Its a good initiative from Government of Pakistan. By the way what government of Pakistan was doing in the past regarding water. Where we hit hardly. Who are the culprits for that. They all should be brought forward. Its important. In the meantime, resolve the said issue and make measures which never makes water shortage in our homeland Pakistan. The important part is to find out the root cause, culprits and take proper actions against them too. Its very important. Go about make a water plan for coming 40-50 years at least for Pakistan. Best of luck Pakistan.
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ