The current tension between Pakistan and India over the Indus Water Treaty has brought the country’s water shortages into focus again. It is now more evident than ever that Pakistan must become self sufficient in terms of water resources. Dr. Muhammad Ashraf, Chairman at Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) says, “by all indicators we are now a water scarce country.”
Demand for water is on the rise, projected to reach 274 million acre-feet (MAF) by 2025, while supply is expected to remain stagnant at 191 MAF, resulting in a demand-supply gap of approximately 83 MAF.
Currently, Pakistan’s storage capacity is limited to a 30-day supply, which is much less than the recommended 100 days for countries with climates like Pakistan. Dr. Ghulam Rasul, Research and Development Division Chief at the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) says, “efforts being made to increase the storage capacity to 90 days by 2025. Dams of all sizes are being built to meet this goal.”
He further explains that because of global warming, water requirements are increasing and we are faced with a shortage of surface water. The focus now is shifting towards groundwater. There are currently 1.2 million tube wells that are being used to extract groundwater for irrigation purposes. But apart from building more dams and reservoirs, it is essential that Pakistan diversifies its water resources to ensure water availability. And the country must learn from other successful nations in terms of water resource management.
Singapore is third in the world in terms of population density and unlike Pakistan, has no fresh water sources apart from rainfall. In order to tackle its water shortages, Singapore is using The Four Taps Strategy, which are the four sources of water they use: Imports, local catchment water, reclaimed water, and desalinated seawater. Reclaimed water refers to used water from domestic and industrial uses which is treated and then further purified using advanced membrane technologies and ultra-violet disinfection in order to make it ultra-clean and safe to drink. This is called NEWater and has passed more than 150,000 scientific tests and fulfills the World Health Organization requirements.
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Similarly, Japan has maintained continuous economic growth and has successfully met with increasing demands for domestic water during urbanization and industrial water during periods of economic growth, despite restricted water resources. The reason for this is that the country has invested heavily in water-saving technologies including membrane treatment technology, leakage prevention, purification of tap water, desalination of seawater and recycling of sewage water. As a result, today Japan has one of the best water resource management in the world.
“Recycling water is the need of the hour, and Singapore and Japan are great examples to follow. While we are at the planning stage of water recycling, unfortunately no plant has been set up yet,” says Dr. Rasul.
For a country like Pakistan, which is already facing water scarcity, it is surprising that water is almost a free commodity. Unlike electricity, there are no water meters in houses where people pay according to their usage. As a result, there is immense and unmeasured water wastage. “It is very important that water is metered and priced accordingly to make people realize its value,” says Dr. Rasul.
Pakistan’s economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, contributing up to 21 percent of the country’s GDP and employing more than 45 percent of the labor force. If Pakistan’s future is water scarce, it will adversely affect multiple sections of the country’s economy and population. Urgent interventions are required now at both the consumer and the supplier ends to not only slow the rate of water wastage, but to create new smart methods of conservation.