Not a good omen

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In the wake of looming water crisis, it is imperative now more than ever that the government and all citizens realise the dangers of water scarcity and start doing their part in working towards a solution together. Yes, situation on the water front is grim as on the one hand Indus Water Treaty is in the news for quite some time while on the other; depleting reserves of ground water in Pakistan are matter of concern. Experts say that increasing population and users of water multiplying are just some of the underlying issues that are contributing to our worsening water security. But the real issue is the lack of attention that successive governments including military dictatorships have given to water scarcity. The current government has failed to ensure water security satisfactorily as avoidable delays in the Neelum-Jhelum Hydroelectric Power Project have given India time to complete its Kishanganga Dam upstream in order to legally secure a larger portion of the water on Neelum meaning that Neelum-Jehlum will not be getting the required amount of water downstream to produce the expected 969 megawatts. With only 121 cubic meters of per capita designed live water storage capacity per person, Pakistan ranks better only than Ethiopia. Other numbers highlighted in the recently released report on Pakistan’s water security compiled by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) suggest that the situation is quite alarming and our efforts to address it insufficient. A failure to increase water availability by at least 14.2% will result in Pakistan not being able to meet demand by 2025. With the effects of global warming becoming more profound every year it is frightful to note that since 1990 water availability has declined by almost 806 cubic metres per inhabitant. But increasing storage capacity alone is not enough. It requires a parallel effort to use precious water that is available more efficiently. Currently unhindered availability is taken for granted causing wastage. A combination of awareness campaigns and financial deterrents such as water metering is necessary to achieve this. We can continue the dispute with India over the Indus Water Treaty. Our position will remain weak as we are unwilling to help ourselves by doing what is under our control domestically. It may be mentioned here that according to Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) has warned that the country may run dry by 2025 if the authorities did not take an immediate action. The looming water crisis deserves the immediate attention of the government. Groundwater supplies are depleting at 16-55 centimetres (6-21 inches) a year, according to a study carried out by the International Waterlogging and Salinity Research Institute (IWASRI), part of WAPDA. The study says about 145 million acre feet of water flows through Pakistan each year, but the country’s existing storage capacity is only 14 million acre feet, meaning it can only store enough water to last 30 days. The international standard is 120 days. The water shortage is forcing many farmers in Punjab and some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to abandon cultivation due to the high fuel cost of watering their land. This is an alarming situation for Pakistan, where more than 50 percent of the population is food insecure. There are certain factors responsible for the crisis. After the Indus Water Treaty signed in 1960 by India and Pakistan, the rights over the eastern and western rivers were divided between both countries. According to the Treaty, the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej were allocated to India. Similarly, Pakistan was given the western rivers, Jhelum, Chenab and Indus. Due to controversies over the building of the Kalabagh Dam on the River Indus, the government has turned to the construction of the Bhasha-Diamer Dam, which too is not entirely free of disputes between upper and lower riparian provinces. Securing funding is not an easy task for such a big project due to its effects on the environment and high cost. The looming water crisis is also a result of climate change that is responsible for the shrinking of the glaciers of the Himalayas – the biggest reservoir of fresh water in the world. Faulty downstream management leads to further wastage. Though seepage replenishes the aquifer, it also reduces water availability. Traditional irrigation methods add to water woes. Instead of using water as per the seasonal crop demand, farmers are in the habit of inundating fields, which causes a lot of water wastage. The most effective and modern irrigation drip sprinkler system is not common. The government needs to build small water storage structures to recharge groundwater. Collecting rainwater to recharge the aquifer is also a good option. Farmers should be imparted awareness on how to more efficiently use limited water to boost food production while conserving water sources. The government should take the latest warning about water scarcity seriously and start efforts for preserving water for our present and future needs. It is very troubling news that the federal government has miserably failed in formulating a water policy for the country that could be acceptable to all provinces. There is a need to pay attention to water development and management. There are vast arid lands in Balochistan and Thar that depend on rainwater only. The government should pay attention to the water needs of these areas and employ innovative methods that can help ward off scarcity and severe droughts. It is time for the government to recognize its responsibilities and start taking steps in the right direction.

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