Issues in water management and impending risks
During the past few decades, Pakistan’s water profile outlook has entirely changed. Once enlisted among the water-abundant countries, now it falls in water-stressed countries where the threat is ‘extremely high’. The World Resource Institute, in its report,placed Pakistan on the list of top 17 water-stressed countries. The per capita water availability has decreased from 5,000 cubic meter in 1950 to 865 cubic meter in 2018.
At present, water indicators are not satisfactory. The total renewable water resources per capita of Pakistan are 1,333 m3/per person/ year, whereas India, Iran and China have 1,508, 1,746 and 1,993m3/per person/year respectively. The total surface water of Pakistan is 239.2km3/year, which is much lower than China with 2739km3/year. The annual average of rainfall in Pakistan is 494mm, which is lower compared to India (1,170mm per year).
Pakistan’s water experts believe that there has been no change in our water course over the past decades, but the demand for water has increased due to population explosion. In 1951,the population of Pakistan was 34 million, and by 2018, it increased to 208 million. Other challenges of water management are ground water depletion, reduction in water storage, rapid urbanisation and cropping patterns of agriculture produce. Owing to this pressure, now our country is heading towards absolute water scarcity.
The irrigation system of Pakistan consumes 97 percent of total available water, whereas agriculture has only 18.5 percent contribution in our GDP. Out of total available water resources, only three percent is available for industrial and domestic purposes. In Pakistan, less attention is paid to the efficient use of water for agriculture. Almost 40 percent of the labour force is dependent on agriculture sector. According to a World Bank report, four major produced crops-rice, wheat, sugarcane and cotton-consume almost 80 percent of available water, whereas their contribution to GDP is only five percent.
Additional steps such as recycling, treatment of water and reduction in wastage of water should also be taken to manage water resources in the country
Basharat Saeed, a water resource specialist at the World Bank, says: “It’s time to face some bitter realities. What we are getting from four main crops at the expense of 80 percent water consumption is the real question.” Pakistan is the eight worst country in the world in terms of water productivity output. We are not using water efficiently in agriculture sector. Therefore, there is a needed to look for alternatives to produce the same amount of yield with less water consumption.”
Loss of water during irrigation can be overcome by lining canals and managing them better. Most farmers are still using the conventional irrigation method of cropping. In this method, water takes a lot of time to reach the irrigated area because firstly, water from tube wells fillthe water courses, and after that it starts irrigating crops. In this case, if electricity disrupts then water courses lose water. That’s why we should adopt drip and sprinkler irrigation techniques.
In the agriculture sector, water sensing technology should be adopted for an efficient use of water. Through this technology, farmers are able to know when the land needs to be irrigated and how much water is required for irrigation.
For water management, Pakistan first needs to fix a few governance issues and then collect the actual data of water resources regarding its current situation and future consumption.
Hassan Fayyaz Sipra, Scientific Officer at the Centre for Climate Research and Development of COMSATS University in Islamabad, said water is a scarce resource, andtherefore, there must be a price for water. Water pricing should be settled at certain point of usage to stop its wastage.
Water monitoring is also a key aspect. It’s better to know how much water supply is coming in system and how much actually people are consuming. Sipra said: “Water monitoring can be done through installing SMART water metering.”It provides accurate and regular reading of water and also helps identify anyleakages, which allow preventing substantial water losses.
There is need for storage dams. Existing dams has lost their storage capacity almost 12 percent due to sedimentation, and therefore, construction of dams is required to compensate pumping from wells. That increases even further, which would only worsen the alreadycritical ground water problems. Without action, the future of water supply looks very bad, especially given the plans to continue increasing the irrigated area.
Simi Kamal, Senior Group Head Grants Operations at Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund Islamabad, said: “In terms of water legislation, Pakistan is far behind other nations. We have the Indus Water Treaty and Indus River System Authority for surface water sharing, but we don’t have any legislation related to ground water, glaciers, snow, etc.
The government needs to devise a comprehensive water law so that water might be distributed according to its availability. Legislation at both the federal and provincial levels is required, and provincial level policies must not be in conflict with national water policy.
Additional steps such as recycling, treatment of water and reduction in wastage of water should also be taken to manage water resources in the country. There is a dire need to increases storage capacity through construction of large and small dams. Otherwise, the mismanagement of water resources would continue to create havoc in the form of floods and droughts leading to loss of worth billions of rupees crops, livestock, land, assets as well as human lives.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.