Global Village Space
Published Date: Aug 19, 2019
Water scarcity is perceived in multiple ways including water shortage and inability to access or consume water. This may be due to physical shortage, failure of responsible institutions to ensure a regular supply or due to a lack of adequate infrastructure. Every country is facing water scarcity, and unchecked depletion of water poses a significant challenge to the world’s growing population. Water use has been growing globally at more than twice the rate of population growth in the last century, and an increasing number of countries are reaching the limit at which water can be delivered sustainably.
Water scarcity is expected to worsen as rapidly growing urbanization places substantial pressure on neighboring water resources. Climate and rising bio-energy demand are also likely to augment the complex relationship between global development and water demand. As per the United Nations, there is no global water shortage as such. However, countries and regions need to work together to tackle the critical problems presented by water stress individually.
Water has to be treated as a resource which is depletable and diminishing, and which needs a far stronger focus on its demand management.
It becomes very clear that most of the country’s water-related problems are multi-sectoral and need collective action to address the challenges faced at the national level.
According to a recent report by the World Bank, Pakistan is well endowed with water, but due to two main reasons, the country faces a peculiar kind of water scarcity. The country has the lowest water availability per person at 1,017 cubic meters due to a rapidly growing population and mismanagement of available water resources. Furthermore, it has poor water resource management and poor water service delivery, contributing to low productivity. We, as a country, are performing far from optimal in this regard. It is estimated that the agriculture sector withdraws more than 90 percent of the total water in Pakistan. This is followed by 2.5 percent share withdrawn by the municipalities and 3.3 percent taken out by the industry as per the World Bank’s estimates.
A recently published World Bank report; “Pakistan Getting More from Water” gives a comprehensive picture of Pakistan’s available water resources and how it can be optimally managed. Some key highlights of the report are worth discussing here:
Agriculture uses most of the country’s water, despite declining contribution to the national GDP, which is currently about one quarter. The four major crops (wheat, rice, sugarcane, and cotton) that represent nearly 80 percent of all water use generate less than 5 percent of GDP.
The national and provincial legal frameworks to support water policy implementation are incomplete and weak and require strengthening.
The economic losses associated with water cost the country billions of US dollars every year. According to estimates, the country faces average annual losses of about 4 percent of GDP in terms of healthcare, floods, and water scarcity in agriculture.
Water-related diseases are a leading cause of suffering and death in Pakistan. Inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene contribute to very high levels of stunting among children. The domestic water supply is generally unsafe due to the presence of arsenic, effluents and contamination.
Current trends show that the most significant increase in demand will come from irrigation. Whilst population and economic growth are the main drivers; climate change will also contribute significantly.
The economic productivity of water is very low, especially in agriculture. Productivity improvements in agriculture will require better management of water delivery with improved on-farm water management, increased input quality, crop diversification, and better pest control.
The most significant long-term risk to groundwater sustainability is pollution.
It becomes evident that most of the country’s water-related problems are multi-sectoral and need collective action to address the challenges faced at the national level. Water is a shared resource necessitating a shared responsibility. We cannot single out any sector; be it public or private. However, the government should align the water supply with the needs and demands of different water users, i.e., agriculture, industry, households, etc. Similarly, the private sector, an essential stakeholder in terms of water usage, should play its part in water conservation.
A policy brief; Water and the Private Sector, developed by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) is worth mentioning in this regard. To help tackle water inefficiency, especially in the agriculture sector, Nestlé Pakistan has forged partnerships with the government, farmers, communities and academia. The brief talks about Nestlé Pakistan’s efforts towards water stewardship. The most striking of all is their initiative on drip irrigation. Given the water losses in agriculture and flawed irrigation practices, drip irrigation is estimated to save up to at least 40-50% water as compared to traditional flood irrigation.
In collaboration with Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) and Punjab Agriculture Department, Nestlé Pakistan is promoting drip irrigation. It has facilitated a drip system on 93 acres of agricultural land in Sheikhupura which has led to 140 million liters of water-saving. The estimated water savings achieved on the PARC site alone is about 16.91 million liters per annum.
Drip irrigation is a type of irrigation system that allows water to drip slowly to the roots of plants, either from above the soil surface or buried below the surface. The goal is to place water directly into the root zone and minimize evaporation. Under the Company’s agricultural initiatives, training is carried out for farmers to educate them on best farm practices and how to seed at intervals as opposed to back-to-back seeding.
The private sector has an important role to play to address the growing threat of water scarcity in Pakistan. Together with other stakeholders, it can use its resources to gauge the understanding of the benefits occurring out of water stewardship, recognition of private sector as a critical stakeholder and limited financial capacity of the public sector in countries like Pakistan. Nestlé Pakistan and its water stewardship efforts in terms of the agriculture sector are a good example for other industries to follow.