WATER CRISIS: A Grave Security Concern

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Water is our most precious resource. We can’t live without it.Six hundred sixty three million people in the world do not have access to clean water and over 2.7 billion people face water shortages for at least one month out of the year. Fresh water sources account for less than 3 percent of the world’s water supply, and the majority of earth’s naturally occurring, fresh water is in glaciers — inaccessible to be used for consumption.Water crisis is now become a global issue and at the current rate, nearly two-thirds of the world could face water shortages by 2025.In 2025, Pakistan may face an acute water crisis. To avoid this outcome, Pakistan must frame a rational, politically unbiased and holistic water policy that reflects its priorities of growth and development. The problem is not due to water availability, but the mismanagement of water resources. According to the National Action Plan 2019-20, the per capita availability of water in the country has decreased over the last seven decades to an alarming level of 935 cubic meters from 5,260 cubic metres. If the government fails to formulate an effective conservation strategy now, the per capita availability would decrease to 860 cubic metres by 2025 and even down to 500 cubic metres by 2040.The report shows that climate change is also causing extreme rainfall in some areas where there is no capacity of water storage for later use.

Pakistan’s water issues are due to ineffective management. Unequal access and distribution, growing population, urbanisation, progressive industrialisation, lack of storage capacity and climate risk makes water management a difficult task. Climate change has been causing shifts in the weather pattern in different parts of the country, which requires area-specific solutions, not a generic policy. Since the 1980s, domestic water supply and irrigation management have become more participatory and privatised with a focus on physical targets rather than on capacity building. This has benefited the economic and political elite and has deprived poor farmers of their due access to irrigated water.Pakistan can only store 10 per cent of the average annual flow of its rivers, which is far below the world average storage capacity of 40 per cent. Pakistan had been water-abundant in the past (almost 6000 cubic metres per capita in 1960), but now has become a water-stressed country with 1017 cubic meter per capita.

Moreover the conflict between the India and Pakistan and the violation of the Indus Water Treaty also needs to be addressed.Water issues are mainly regulated through the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). It was signed in 1960, and mediated by the World Bank to avoid water conflict between India and Pakistan. But the Indian government is violating it by building dams on the tributries of the rivers.The Indian government has launched another hydropower project on the River Chenab in the occupied Kashmir valley.The project is yet another violation of the Indus Water Treaty, which awarded three western rivers Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab to Pakistan and eastern rivers Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej to India.India has already constructed several hydropower projects on Pakistan rivers in the Indian-occupied Kashmir claiming that these were the ‘run-of-the-river’ projects allowed under the Indus Waters Treaty.The Indus Waters Treaty was brokered by the World Bank between Pakistan and India in 1960. After the treaty, India over-exploited the three eastern rivers turning them into dry sand strips, which receive water only when there are floods in India.

Global bodies have been warning for some time that, by 2025, Pakistan would be facing a serious shortage of water on account of shifting rain patterns resulting from climate change, poor management of water resources and an outdated transmission infrastructure. The authorities need to realise that water scarcity is perhaps the foremost national challenge, costing the national exchequer nearly $12bn a year and having grave implications for the country’s overall food and economic security. The authorities need to immediately take stock of the situation and take swift measures to upgrade and manage the country’s water distribution system while also finding innovative ways of storing groundwater.

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