Water scarcity: cause for concern

It is a sobering thought on International Water Day that Pakistan has been dubbed as one of the most “water stressed” countries in the world by the World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and is likely to face an acute water shortage over the next five years. This should ring alarm bells for the authorities because water scarcity will make life miserable for every Pakistani. There are many reasons for the lack of water availability and if the government does not take proper measures right away, the future will be literally ‘dry’.

One of the reasons for this acute water shortage is the implementation of the Indus Water Treaty, which is our water-sharing treaty with India. As per the treaty, India has exclusive use of the three eastern rivers – Sutlej, Beas and Ravi – while Pakistan is allocated the three western rivers – Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. Pakistan has been complaining for a long time now that India is manipulating the flow of the three western rivers by building dams and other storages to such an extent that by the time the rivers enter Pakistan, there is hardly any water left. The government has so far not managed the sharing question with India effectively. Since both countries have not been able to sort out this mess, it is time to ask the World Bank for a third-party arbitrator as per the provisions of the treaty.

The water-sharing mechanism with India is one of the reasons for the growing water shortage but we are also unable to manage well the water that we do have. In most other countries, there is a system of recycling water. The reusable water is not drinkable but it is used for washing, gardening, etc. The problem in Pakistan is that fresh drinking water is being used for everything as there are no separate lines for reusable water. Another fact is that the elite and middle classes have given up on piped drinking water due to its health hazards and have resorted to drinking bottled water. Our water supply systems are under great stress; piping networks are old and need to be upgraded. Due to lack of money, not to talk about inefficiency, the so-called fresh drinking water is fast turning into a disease-inducing factor. Pakistan has given up long ago on our old storage system and mostly uses direct water pumping, electricity availability permitting. We need to make small dams to store water. For large dams, we need to incorporate new technology to avoid silting.

It is time for serious action because the debate on water the world over has triggered alarm. All life depends on water. If scarcity becomes the norm, there is a possibility of conflicts over water in the near future.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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