Intensifying water scarcity in Pakistan

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By Naseem Sheikh

ASIA, LOCATED in the eastern and northern hemispheres, is the worlds largest and most populous continent with 3.8 billion population. It covers 8.6 per cent of the Earths total surface area (or 29.9 per cent of its land area) and with approximately 4 billion people, it hosts 60 per cent of the worlds current human population having only 36 per cent of the renewable fresh water. So, even on a continental scale, it is clear that water is a serious constraint in Asia. China, India and Pakistan are three of the four top irrigators in the world, suffering with critical water availability problems.
Pakistan has in most areas of agriculture a monsoon climate, and there might be abundant rainfall during the wet season and then lasts a very long dry season where crop production heavily depends on irrigation water. Groundwater is a very important source of irrigation for farmers. The ground water is being pumped extensively in order to meet the current demands for food production but if our demands exceed that renewable supply, then we must be in a position that we might be over-pumping the groundwater to meet the demand, or taking too much water from river basin systems. This operation would cause salinity and barren lands that in the long run trigger food scarcity. Over-pumping of groundwater for agriculture, industry or domestic use comes at a sharp ecological price. It disrupts the natural hydrologic cycle, causes rivers and wetlands to dry up, the ground to collapse and fish and wildlife and trees to die.
Water and agricultural sectors are likely to be the most sensitive to climate change. The fresh water availability is expected to be highly vulnerable to the anticipated climate change. While the frequency and severity of floods would eventually increase in river deltas. The arid and semi-arid regions could experience severe water stress.
According to an estimate, presently 1.2 billion people lack safe drinking water and 2.4 billion population have no access to basic sanitation. United Nations officials say that if they ontinue with business as usual, two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in moderate to severe water stress by 2025. More than two billion people worldwide live in regions facing water scarcity and in Pakistan this is a particularly critical crisis. Today millions of Pakistanis lack access to clean drinking water, and the situation is simply getting worse with the every day passing. The country has approximately 35 million acres (140,000 km2) of arable lands irrigated by canals and tube wells, mostly using water from the Indus River.
Pakistan luckily had the largest irrigation system of the world, but the water losses from the system were the highest in the World, due to which its agricultural sector has been getting affected badly as population of the country is increasing rapidly but as compared to the population growing capacity of agricultural sectors reducing rapidly due to the constant water shortage. Besides, timber mafia and rapid industrialization are also playing an important role in reduction of agricultural sector. Chashma, Mangla, and Tarbela reservoirs are mainly used for irrigation purposes but the gross capacity of these dams has decreased because of sedimentation, a continual process. Per-capita surface-water availability for irrigation was 5,260 cubic meters per year in 1951. However, this has been reduced to a mere 1,100 cubic meters per year in 2006. The water shortage subsequently will cause a wheat deficit of 12 million tons per year by 2012-13.
Fig: Fresh water withdrawal in different sectors of Pakistan
No doubt that Pakistans water crisis is predominantly a man-made problem. The countrys climate is not particularly dry in fact semi arid to arid, nor is it lacking in rivers and groundwater. Extremely the poor management, unclear laws, rampant government corruption, and industrial as well as human waste have heavily caused this water supply crunch and rendered what water is available practically useless due to the huge quantity of pollution.
The industrial output and commercial activity of a country is normally gauged by the per capita consumption of electricity. We, Pakistan, are one of the lowest consumers of power in Asia. The per capita energy consumption of Pakistan is only 14 MBTU as compared to 80 in China, 110 in Malaysia and 115 in Iran.
The entire Pakistani nation one way or the other depends on dams. The water stored in dams is not only used for the agricultural purposes but also for generating electricity for a nation of nearly 18 million people. After much sufferings to the nation, now the incumbent government satisfied them by building more dams to store water for generate electricity. A number of dams like Bhasha (4,500MW), Munda (740MW), Kurram Tangi (83MW) and Akhori Dam (600MW) are already announced by the current government while other dams like Bunji (7,100MW), Dasu (4,320MW) and Golen Gol (106MW) have a massive potential of producing hydel generation and it would also contribute power to the national grid in coming years.
According g to World Bank report of 2006 Pakistan was fast moving from being a water-stressed country to a water-scarce country, primarily because of its high population growth, over-exploitation of ground water, pollution, poor repair in water infrastructures and financially no sustainability of water management system. Interestingly, the countrys large parts have good soil, sunshine and excellent farmers and these can get much more value from the existing flows.
The most water-rich country in terms of the run-off from rain-fall to population is Iceland, with more than 500,000 cubic meters per person per year; the most water- poor are Egypt, with just 0.02 cubic meters. Water is absolutely essential for plant life. It is pertinent to mention here that the major source of drinking water in Pakistan is groundwater, so water availability is the second most critical issue.
The future water demand will be affected by many factors, including population growth,and intensified climate change.
We live in an agricultural region where water is key for survival while water is lost mainly through mismanagement. A big investment in the repair of existing dams and the large scale construction of new water storage is a simple solution to this critical problem. In managing water resources, the Pakistani government must balance competing demands between urban and rural, rich and poor, the economy and the environment. However, as people have triggered this crisis, by changing their actions they have the power to prevent water scarcity from devastating Pakistans population, agriculture and economy.


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