Wa­ter chal­lenge

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

The honourable Chief Jus­tice of Pak­istan has taken no­tice of the grow­ing wa­ter cri­sis in Pak­istan. He has also started a move­ment for rais­ing funds for the con­struc­tion of dams. Wa­ter is vi­tally linked to our fu­ture sur­vival. Pak­istan is now fac­ing ex­treme weather con­di­tions, in­clud­ing fre­quent bouts of floods and droughts that cause se­vere dam­age to the coun­try's agri­cul­tural, live­stock and wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture. Much of th­ese costs is at­trib­ut­able to lack of ad­e­quate stor­age ca­pac­ity. The to­tal dam stor­age in Pak­istan rep­re­sents only 30 days of av­er­age de­mand, com­pared to 1,000 days for Egypt and 220 days for In­dia. While the pop­u­la­tion has been grow­ing fast with a con­comi­tant in­crease in agri­cul­tural and in­dus­trial ac­tiv­ity, we have done lit­tle to build reser­voirs and dams to con­serve wa­ter and pre­vent wa­ter wastage. To make a bad sit­u­a­tion worse, cli­mate change is threat­en­ing to dam­age and dis­rupt our agrar­ian econ­omy.

Whereas stor­age is an im­por­tant fac­tor in eas­ing the wa­ter short­age prob­lem, it is not the only one. We can tackle the prob­lem by adopt­ing bet­ter man­age­ment and con­ser­va­tion prac­tices. The cri­sis is mainly due to "overuse and mis­use" of wa­ter and can be tack­led through ef­fi­cient man­age­ment. We are among the world's most in­ef­fi­cient users of wa­ter. Wa­ter wastage is ram­pant in the do­mes­tic sec­tor as well as in agri­cul­ture and in­dus­try. As we know, wa­ter is a key in­gre­di­ent for agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion. Pak­istan's pro­duc­tiv­ity per unit of wa­ter is only 0.13 kg per cu­bic me­ter, which is al­most one third of neigh­bour­ing In­dia where wa­ter pro­duc­tiv­ity is 0.39 kg/m3. China's pro­duc­tiv­ity is even higher i.e. 0.82 kg/m3. Like­wise pro­duc­tiv­ity per unit of land is an­other ig­nored pri­or­ity. Pak­istan pro­duces 2.65 met­ric tons of wheat per hectare which is lower than 2.91 MT/hectare of In­dia. Ukraine and Uzbek­istan pro­duce 3.09 and 4.43 met­ric tons of wheat per hectare re­spec­tively. Pak­istan pro­duces 3.64 MT/hectare of rice com­pared to 4 MT/hectare in Bangladesh and 4.73 in In­done­sia.

Per capita wa­ter avail­abil­ity has fallen from ap­prox­i­mately 5,000 cu­bic me­ters per year to around 1,000 cu­bic me­ters per year now. Ac­cord­ing to the World Bank, we are head­ing to­wards wa­ter avail­abil­ity of less than 1,000 cu­bic me­ters per year per per­son by 2035. In its re­cent re­port, the Pak­istan Coun­cil of Re­search in Wa­ter Re­sources ( PCRWR) has warned that the coun­try will ap­proach ab­so­lute wa­ter scarcity by 2025. The study pre­dicts that if no re­me­dial mea­sures are taken the coun­try will face drought-like sit­u­a­tion in the near fu­ture. It is a silent cri­sis build­ing up with se­ri­ous con­se­quences for the fu­ture of the coun­try.

Pak­istan's age­ing ir­ri­ga­tion in­fra­struc­ture and ob­so­lete ir­ri­ga­tion prac­tices are an­other ma­jor area of con­cern. Of­fi­cial data shows stag­ger­ing loss of 65 mil­lion acre feet (MAF) in the sys­tem. It in­cludes 32 MAF seep­ing down in the saline wa­ter pock­ets, ren­der­ing it un­re­cov­er­able for any other use. This amounts to stor­age ca­pac­ity of nearly five Kal­abagh dams. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port, Pak­istan's first-ever wa­ter man­age­ment pol­icy has been for­mu­lated by the Min­istry of Wa­ter and Power. To deal with the sit­u­a­tion, there is a need to carry out re­search at var­i­ous lev­els to find out the best pos­si­ble so­lu­tions. The au­thor­i­ties con­cerned must take a panoramic view of the wa­ter chal­lenge cov­er­ing both de­mand and sup­ply as­pects. Any pro­posed line of ac­tion should en­com­pass pop­u­la­tion con­trol, wa­ter ef­fi­ciency, wa­ter pric­ing, crop­ping pat­tern and pol­icy re­forms, stor­age, con­ser­va­tion of wa­ter re­sources, pub­lic aware­ness, etc.

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