Dr Tahir Husain Shah

World Water Day observed recently drew attention to the importance of fresh water in our daily life. The idea for this international day was conceived in 1992, the year in which the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro was held. That same year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution by which 22 March of each year was declared World Day for Water to be observed starting in 1993.

Later, other celebrations and events were added to the day. These include the International Year of Cooperation in the Water Sphere 2013 and the current International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development, 2018-2028. These observances come to remind us that water and sanitation measures are key to poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental protection.

Water is of prime importance for humans to survive on Earth. Without an adequate and continuous supply of water, life could not exist on earth. In other words, water is life. Because of rapid increase in population, the pressure to tap more and more resources has also increased. As a result, today communities across the world are facing acute water shortages.

World Water Day is especially aimed at raising awareness about the 2.2 billion people living without access to safe water. It is about taking action to tackle the global water crisis. Another purpose of World Water Day is to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030.

Every year there is a theme associated with World Water Day. This theme sheds light on various issues related to the cause. The theme for World Water Day 2022 is ‘Groundwater, making the invisible visible’. As is well known, groundwater is water found underground in aquifers, which are geological formations of rocks, sands and gravels that hold substantial quantities of water. Groundwater feeds springs, rivers, lakes and wetlands, and seeps into oceans. Groundwater is recharged mainly from rain and snowfall infiltrating the ground.

Groundwater is a source of sustenance for a large proportion of world population. Most arid areas of the world depend entirely on groundwater. Groundwater supplies a large proportion of the water we use for drinking, sanitation, food production and industrial processes. Groundwater is also critically important to the healthy functioning of ecosystems, such as wetlands and rivers.

We need to protect groundwater reserves from overexploitation – abstracting more water than is recharged by rain and snow – since it can lead to the depletion of this resource, extra-costs of processing it, and sometimes even preventing its use. Exploring, protecting and sustainably using groundwater is central to surviving and adapting to climate change and meeting the needs of a growing population.

Pakistan is faced with the problem of growing water scarcity. According to a UN report, Pakistan will be the most water-stressed country in South Asia within two decades. Almost 30 million Pakistanis have no access to clean water. According to a recent report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan ranks third in the world among countries facing acute water shortage. Reports by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) also warn the authorities that Pakistan will reach absolute water scarcity by 2025.

Pakistan has the world’s fourth-highest rate of water use. Its water intensity rate — the amount of water, in cubic meters, used per unit of GDP — is the world’s highest. This suggests that no country’s economy is more water-intensive than Pakistan’s. According to the IMF, Pakistan’s per capita annual water availability is 1,017 cubic meters — perilously close to the scarcity threshold of 1,000 cubic meters. Back in 2009, Pakistan’s water availability was about 1,500 cubic meters.

Pakistan has only two big reservoirs which can save water only for 30 days. On the other hand, India can store water for 190 days whereas the US can do it for 900 days. Pakistan receives around 145 million acre feet of water every year but can only save 13.7 million acre feet. Pakistan needs 40 million acre feet of water but 29 million acre feet of our floodwater is wasted because we have few dams.

Unchecked population growth and urbanization are the major reasons behind the worsening water crisis. The issue has also been exacerbated by climate change, poor water management and a lack of political will to deal with the crisis. Pakistan’s water crisis is basically a failure in water management. Experts say that Pakistan’s water scarcity can be addressed through data gathering, improved efficiency, reduced losses and improved farming practices. More and better-coordinated government initiatives and subsidies, such as the drip irrigation scheme in Punjab, can also produce instant results.

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