Written By: Waqar Mustafa I don’t remember the first time I turned off the tap while brushing my teeth. But now it seems that is something I’ve always done. I turn it on to wet my toothbrush, and then off it goes while I scrub away, to come back on when...
Written By: Waqar Mustafa
I don’t remember the first time I turned off the tap while brushing my teeth. But now it seems that is something I’ve always done. I turn it on to wet my toothbrush, and then off it goes while I scrub away, to come back on when I need to rinse.
No moral spin put on this, but leaving the tap running when you’re brushing your teeth wastes up to six liters of water per minute or 35,000 liters of water per family, in a year. About one third of the water is wasted on daily basis — it runs straight down the plughole or down the toilet without being used. The regulatory framework to prevent water wastage is non-existent.
The way we use water has not changed despite a drastic decline in its availability.
In a report published in 2013, the Asian Development Bank described Pakistan as one of the most “water-stressed” countries in the world, with the availability of 1,000 cubic meters per person a year — a five fold drop since independence in 1947, and about the same level as drought-stricken Ethiopia. At this rate of depletion, by 2025, Pakistan’s water shortfall could be five times the amount it can now store in its reservoirs, courtesy a combination of population boom, global climate change and local waste and mismanagement.
Climate change is making glacial water supply uncertain. Reduced snow-melts sometimes lead to less water in the system. Illegal logging and removal of forest cover have denuded the country’s range lands, causing annual flash floods that result in heavy collateral damage. As the country’s existing water storage infrastructure is aging and is unable to cope with the rising demand, rainwater is wasted for lack of new storage reservoirs. Now we have extremely low water storage capacity of 30 days and so, we lose 13 million cusecs of water every year into the sea.
Agriculture is the cornerstone of Pakistani economy with wheat, vegetables and cotton being major sources of foreign currency. Against the average of 75 percent of water being used for agriculture in the developing world, Pakistan utilizes nearly 90 per cent. From within its usage for agriculture two-thirds of water is wasted due to archaic agricultural practices. Recovering only 24 per cent of its annual overhaul and maintenance (O&M) cost, the country’s canal water irrigation system is financially unsustainable. The rest of the money for O&M comes in subsidies, says a planning commission report. This low cost to the user breeds wastage and thus a national loss.
With barely 10 per cent left for drinking, household usage, sanitation and industrial purposes, no wonder that a third of the population does not have access to safe drinking water. In addition to the waste, untreated industrial and domestic effluent is being discharged into rivers while unregulated pesticides from farms are finding their way into streams and groundwater. Industrial pollutants and household waste released into water eventually contaminates it.
Evidence of chronic water shortages has been painfully obvious in some parts of Pakistan recently. A drought caused by erratic rainfall in Tharparkar, a desert area in southern Sindh province, has been causing a humanitarian emergency in the region.
A newspaper highlighted in a report, submitted before the Senate by the Ministry of Water and Power. It stated that groundwater is being overused in 10 of the 19 sub-basins in Balochistan, which lies in arid zone that sees low rainfall and large evapotranspiration losses.
“With the introduction of deep well pumping over the last three to four decades, groundwater resources have been rapidly depleted and levels have declined,” it said.
“At this stage, groundwater use exceeds recharge by 22 per cent,” the report underlined, singling out Pishin-Loralai as the largest area of groundwater imbalance.
The main intervention required in Balochistan, and for that matter in several other areas of Pakistan, is to recharge groundwater resources through the development of recharge reservoirs.
But according to Water and Energy Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif the country’s resource problems are, to a large degree, endemic.
“There is a national habit of extravagance,” he said, noting that it extended across resource areas, whether gas, electricity or water.
We’ll have to shun this habit before we end up being a water-starved country.
“We don’t govern water. Water governs us,” writes James Workman, a US environment journalist and an international water consultant. In his book “Heart of Dryness”, he chronicles the memorable, cautionary tale of the famed Bushmen of the Kalahari. The Bushmen’s story may well prefigure our own as the country’s water supply looms as a resource challenge. We pray for rain but Bushmen tap more pragmatic solutions.
Workman draws insights into productivity, crop diversification and adaptation to rainfall. So what would the Bushmen do?
“Based on my reading of the evidence,” writes Workman, “they’d organize around the measurable contours of the hydro logical unit where we live: water known to exist within an aquifer or river basin. Then, within that unit, their code would secure the fundamental and minimal amount of freshwater required to keep each human healthy and alive.”
Individual responsibility towards water situation is critical for hydro-sustainability and hydro-democracy.