The decrease of water resources in Pakistan has been a major concern for over a decade. Multiple global and local organizations such as the UN, IUCN and the Pakistani Government have been studying and strategizing on how to prevent this issue from becoming a major issue. Even the current shortage of water has already begun to negatively affect the agriculture sector of the country and will continue to worsen the situation in years to come.
Pakistan falls under a second tier of small countries facing major water deficits. The first tier consists of China and India. In 1951, before water became a resounding issue in the nation, the per capita water available stood at a stable 5,000 cubic meters per annum. This now stands at 1,100 cubic meters per annum and it is feared that without better management of water resources it could fall to below the water deficiency level (i.e. 1,000 cubic metres per person per year) within a five year period. A UNDP report stated that if the situation is not brought under control by 2060 Pakistan will have no water from its glaciers. A World Bank report also stated that Pakistan may experience a 30 to 40% drop in water from rivers within a 100 years if changes are not made immediately.
Some of the basic causes of the water shortage problem in Pakistan include population growth, urbanization, high water losses in irrigation systems, low agriculture productivity, and melting of glaciers due to rising temperatures. Another major cause stems from the rapid and unsustainable development causing pollution and destruction of river plains and watersheds. This has caused a disruption of water movement, distortion, and water quality around the country.
Because of a market-oriented water management strategy in the country, the poorer villages and urban slums remain without piped water facilities. While this population resorts to getting water from often polluted sources and hand-dug wells, the middle and upper class enjoys subsidized water rates. There are both pros and cons to this system; focus currently needs to be placed on addressing the water needs of those who are deprived of this most basic necessity.
The Effects on Agriculture
Pakistan uses a whopping 95% of its fresh water resources for agriculture purposes while most other developing countries use only 70 to 80%. The decreasing water supplies of the country are already having a devastating impact on the agriculture industry. This requirement of water for the industry itself is a vicious cycle. Poor quality of agriculture and wastage of water in irrigation systems further worsens the already difficult situation. Considering that 90% of agriculture is fed from irrigation systems, the inefficiencies must be addressed in order to improve the situation. Farmers are already turning to alternative water sources to alleviate their situation. This includes the increase of drawing saline water from wells which negatively affects the fertility of the soil. The process particularly reduces the harvests of cotton, rice and wheat.
Making the Deserts Green
Throughout the world, cultivation of desert areas has been a success. The Sinai Desert in Egypt has been successful at growing potatoes. It is thought that this model can be successfully implemented in similar environments in Pakistan causing an improvement in the overall agriculture industry. If dams and other methods of improving the water situation are not implemented the economic situation of the country is sure to diminish further. If innovative solutions are not found, not only will a loss of agriculture cause food shortages in the country, farmers will face a loss of livelihoods. The already enormous gap between the rich and poor of the country will be further magnified.
Rainwater harvesting which involves the gathering and storing of rainwater is an increasingly popular method of easing water shortages in countries. If properly implemented, this water can be used for drinking, livestock, supplying irrigation systems, or may even be recycled back to the ground where required. Countries such as India, China, Mexico and many others have successfully implemented this method. In Pakistan, a pilot for rainwater harvest has been initiated by the CDA in Islamabad in partnership with UNDP and the Pakistan Council of Research for Water Resources at Faisal Mosque. If successful, this pilot is to be extended to 20 more rainwater harvesting projects in the capital.