From crisis to opportunity: Building a Sustainable Water Future in Pakistan

Pakistan is currently grappling with a severe water scarcity crisis. With the exacerbation of climate change and a diminishing water supply, it is imperative to reassess our relationship with water.

Pakistan’s per capita water availability has dwindled, pushing it into the category of “critically water insecure” nations. To bridge the gap between supply and demand and safeguard water security for a growing population, innovative solutions must be explored.

Challenges to Pakistan’s water resources

The global challenge of ensuring access to clean and safe water is becoming increasingly daunting, and Pakistan is no exception. The issue here is not the lack of water resources but rather the inadequate management of these valuable assets. Overutilization, surging demand, emissions, mismanagement, insufficient infrastructure, and the altering weather patterns due to climate change are all exerting immense pressure on our freshwater supplies.

According to a report by the United Nations Institute of Water, Environment, and Health, Pakistan is among 23 countries classified as “critically water insecure”.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports a sharp decline in Pakistan’s per capita annual water availability, plummeting from 1500 cubic meters in 2009 to a mere 1017 cubic meters in 2021. It is projected to drop to 274 million acre-feet (MAF) by 2025 while the available resources remain at 191 MAF, resulting in an alarming demand-supply gap of around 83 MAF.

water scarcity Pakistan
Nafisa, 6, drinking water from a community handpump in rural area of Pakistan. (Image Credit: UNICEF)

Climate Change and Melting Glaciers

Due to the alarming effects of climate change, the melting glaciers are causing extreme events like floods. Despite having the world’s largest integrated irrigation system, Pakistan lacks adequate water reservoirs to store excess water. Consequently, due to the rapid recession of glaciers, a significant portion of water flows into the sea, causing damage to crops, livestock, infrastructure, and land resources worth billions.

Strategies for Water Sustainability

To confront these challenges, strategies must be developed and implemented at all levels, from households to commercial. The paramount strategy is the conservation and efficient use of water. Promoting the reuse and recycling of greywater at the household and commercial levels through sustainable systems should be a priority. New construction should prioritize green building designs with minimal emissions and wastewater discharge.

Innovative Approaches

Techniques to Control Flooding and Harness Rainwater: Urban flooding resulting from intense rainfall can be mitigated by implementing permeable pavements and recharge wells. Permeable pavements allow water to infiltrate the ground, reducing runoff. Rainwater harvesting systems, especially on rooftops, can capture rainwater for various purposes, including irrigation and groundwater recharge, while also bolstering groundwater levels and reducing water scarcity risks. Green rooftop installations can slow down the release of rainwater and facilitate its absorption into the ground.

Common non-traditional water sources as sustainable water supply. (Image Credit: Research Article ‘Decision making for implementing non-traditional water sources’)

Creating Artificial Wetlands: A solution for Urban Expansion: Unplanned urban expansion has increased the risk of severe flooding, as cities encroach on natural spaces like rivers and streams. Creating artificial wetlands in such areas can help preserve water resources and improve groundwater levels. These wetlands aid in water purification and groundwater recharge, maintain soil moisture, and reduce urban flood risks.

Reforming Agriculture for Water Efficiency: Agriculture consumes a staggering 90% of Pakistan’s available water, making it a vital sector for reform. Embracing modern irrigation techniques like drip and sprinkler systems can significantly enhance water efficiency. Encouraging crop diversification and cultivating water-efficient crops can further reduce the overall water demand in agriculture.

While Pakistan confronts a formidable water scarcity challenge, it is essential that we join hands to address it. Resolving the water crisis demands a coordinated effort from government, industries, communities, and individuals. It calls for a shift in mindset toward responsible water management, conservation, and recognizing water as a finite and precious resource.

With the right strategies and a steadfast commitment to sustainability, Pakistan can secure its water future and flourish in the face of this critical challenge.

— This article has been written by Maria Riaz, an advocate for sustainable water management in Pakistan and an accomplished researcher with an M.Phil in Microbiology from Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

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