Volume 22 Issue 11, November 2018


Water is life. Ignorance is death. Especially in the age of automation, ignorance is a killer. The higher the ignorance, the greater the likelihood of casualty. We waste water callously, at home and in public, as we believe water will continue to pour. While we still practice flood irrigation, the world has moved on to drip and sprinkler irrigation. Should we continue with this wasteful practice, ten more mega dams will not be enough to fulfil our needs.

Thrift is the only solution. In my neighbourhood in the 1960s most houses, including our household, had hand pumps as we did not have tap water. Neither did we need it. Hand pumped water was clean to drink. We would pump the water as much we needed to for our use. In the winters, freshly pumped water would be warm enough for bathing and in the summers, it was cool enough to beat the sweltering heat of Multan. For emergency use, we would simply fill a bucket. Most houses did not need to have water tanks. Today, most households have water tanks and motor pumps. But we hardly have the water to fill them and if they do, the water is not consumable. You either need to boil it if you have gas supply or buy bottled water if you have lots of money. What a development!

Moreover, the lucky ones who have access to tap water love to waste the water. Their cars are washed every day with running water. Their water taps keep on running while they are brushing their teeth or washing their bodies. Their lawns are irrigated intensely. Also, our manufacturers are yet to learn how to make water-efficient toilets. Isn’t it terrible that nearly 95% toilets are found to be leaking across the country? There is an urgent need to improve this too.

Now let’s look at the water statistics. Pakistan has the ‘world's fourth-highest rate of water use’. This means the amount of water, in cubic meters, being used per unit of GDP is highest in the world. Thanks to our ignorance. As a result, Pakistan's per capita annual water availability has almost reached 1,000 cubic meters - the threshold point. Ten year back our water availability level was about 1,500 cubic metres. In 1951, the per capita surface water availability was 5,260 cubic metres per year. As for groundwater, we pump roughly 50 MAF. This is depleting fast too.

Water scarcity in Karachi has already reached below the threshold level. No wonder, the tanker mafia has complete monopoly in that city. They allegedly killed Perveen Rehman because she had crossed the red line. Islamabad is fast becoming like Karachi. It is worth stating that Pakistan is experiencing the fastest urbanization rate and its population growth rate is also one of the fastest in the world. This requires increased water supply. Therefore, public policy must prevent other cities from becoming like Karachi.

Also consider this. The rise in rice and sugarcane crops cultivation area has further deteriorated the situation. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey, 2017-2018, rice cultivation increased by more than 250 hectare in one year, while the sugarcane crop area increased by 1,000 hectares. Both are water-intensive crops. For example, to produce one kilo of sugar, you need about 2,500 litres of water.

In the coming years, water scarcity will further deepen. On top of that, climate change and poor water management will exacerbate the situation.

So what is to be done? Pakistan built two large dams in the 1960s - the Tarbela and Mangla Dams. Out of 145 million acre feet of water that we receive annually, we save 13.7 million acre feet. Our need is 40 million acre feet. Many experts argue that Pakistan ‘wastes’ 29 million acre feet of its floodwater. These experts look at the issue from an extremely narrow and wrong angle. Hence, they mislead the public and hurt the Sindhis. They ignore the environment, they ignore ecology and they ignore rights of the lower riparian as well.

The Kalabagh Dam has been damned long time ago. Three of Pakistan’s four federating units have rejected it aggressively. Respect their opinion and bury the issue.

If there is failure in acting now on the both afore-mentioned points, the country is likely to face a prolonged catastrophe. So what is the solution? Indeed building a dam is easier than to change the behaviour of the people and to make manufacturers and users responsible.

I would argue for both but educating people about water thrift must take the lead.
However, there is almost a consensus on Basha Dam. So build it but simultaneously, end the overwhelming ignorance and use water wisely

The author works with Pattan Development Organisation and has interest in disaster risk reduction and governance rights. He can be reached at bari@pattan.org

©2018 SouthAsia.com.pk. All Rights Reserved