LAHORE: With our water resource rapidly depleting, wastage of this precious resource is posing serious challenges by pushing us towards water-scarce status from the existing water-stressed nation.
Our present per capita water availability has declined below 1000 cubic meter from 5600 cubic meter in 1950s with fewer reservoirs constructed since Pakistan’s inception.
A major chunk of water resources continue to flow to the Arabian Sea and a vast quantity is wasted due to obsolete irrigation system. Multiple vested interests politicking on water issues since ages opposing different water reservoir projects and the big-big farmers managing much more water for their lands had inflicted irreparable loss to this resource and the nation.
“Despite having one of the largest irrigation systems and the fourth largest groundwater aquifer in the world, the per capita water availability declined below the scarcity threshold of 1,000 m3 /capita in 2010,” stated Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resource (PCRWR).
“This places, Pakistan in the category of water-scarce countries,” the PCRWR mentioned in its National Water Conservation Strategy prepared in February this year. “For us, surface water has always been the main focus as we ignored issues like groundwater overdraft, salinity and water-logging, climate change and ecosystem deterioration.”
The findings revealed that with these challenges, water scarcity is going to increase further due to growing demand, mainly coming from a rising population with a growth rate of over two percent and rapid urbanization, exacerbated by the impact of climate change.
Although scientific evidence has proved that water resource development and governance influence water security yet poor and outdated management practices exacerbate the water crisis.
“According to all indicators, Pakistan is fast becoming a water-scarce country,” said Chairman PCRWR, Dr Muhammad Ashraf. “But, there is little awareness of this looming disaster amongst stakeholders and policymakers who cannot foresee real picture of its repercussions on socio-economic fronts.”
He recommended to engaging policymakers on the basis of scientific evidence to make them realize the gravity of the situation and ensure the synthesizing of the latest methods of diffusion and adoption and scaling up of promising water management.
“Water management is part of Pakistan Vision 2025 that envisages improving water efficiency in agriculture,” he said. “Similarly, it is also part of Sustainable Development Goals 2030 that provides for managing water usage at domestic, industrial, and agricultural sectors.”
Dr Ashraf said the Draft National Water Policy provides for establishing a National Water Commission as well as policy guidelines for sustainable management of water resources. Province would develop their own strategies in line with this Policy.
“We need collective efforts for water resource management and a mass awareness campaign was direly needed to educate all stakeholders on this issue,” he added.
Since our agricultural sector is the major user of our water resource, there is a dire need to prudently using water for this sector by minimizing distribution, conveyance, and application losses, developing crop zones based on land and water resource availability, ensuring water efficient technologies at the village level, train farmers on efficient use of water, promote well-accepted irrigation methods like raised beds, ridges and zero tillage technology in Rice grown areas and much more for raising awareness and promoting sense of responsibility.
“Punjab is under severe threat of water scarcity due to increased water demand and climate change impact,” said Dr Javed Iqbal, Director Strategic Planning and Reform Unit, Government of Punjab.
“Water charges in vogue are underpriced for the supply of water in canal command area,” he said. “Although the ‘abiana’ rate has been revised in 2022-23 yet we need adequate water pricing for sustainability of water resources infrastructures.”
Dr Javed stressed to manage our existing water resources by introducing the best practices and improving storage capacity ensuring to save every drop of water.
Inefficient use of water for irrigation has been a major challenge for the country as this sector uses 96% of our river water resource and a significant amount of water is wasted due to our irrigation system’s antiquated design and poor maintenance.
Besides conservation, water pricing is another critical public policy issue that needs to be addressed to improve the utilization of this precious resource. Any such pricing mechanism should be broad-based covering not only the agricultural sector alone but the domestic, industrial and commercial sectors as well.
“Principles of integrated water resource management stress a system-wise approach instead of addressing surface water and groundwater issues separately,” said International Water Management Institute Representative Dr Mohsin Hafeez.
He said Pakistan has adequate institutional capacity for surface water governance at the provincial level but unfortunately, groundwater remains an ungoverned area.
As surface water availability becomes increasingly unreliable, he said, consumers in agricultural or industrial and commercial sectors have switched to the unabated abstraction of underground resources in the absence of regulation for reasonable use.
“Therefore, we need to develop an integrated water management plan,” he remarked. “Once a water market is developed, imposing restriction on groundwater abstraction will not be as challenging as it is today.”
Amidst all of these measures, the PCRWR suggests a realistic water pricing system for different sectors underlining and evolving a comprehensive strategy for water conservation and governing its usage by all sectors of the economy.