PAKISTAN’S water scenario has never looked grimmer. With an annual population increase of more than two per cent, there is intense pressure on the country’s water resources. Most areas experience low and irregular rainfall, groundwater is being overused, rivers are drying up, glaciers are melting and, as this paper reported the other day, the storage capacity of dams including Tarbela and Mangla has been significantly reduced. Unfortunately, we must rely on the natural resources we have, because the creation of new ones is impossible. The challenge is then to generate more water from whatever limited resources we possess. This appears a gargantuan task, especially in the light of World Bank findings in 2005 that “it is projected that over 30 per cent more water will be needed over the next 20 years to meet increased agricultural, domestic and industrial demands” in Pakistan.
Given the extent of wastage of water, only a collective effort to address the country’s chronic water shortage can provide some respite. Yes, we do need big dams, viable in design and politically non-controversial, to store this scarce commodity and cut down on our water losses. But it is equally essential to implement a water conservation strategy that is simple enough to be followed by the common man. After all, people must be made aware that it is their future that is at stake and that without conservation efforts on their part, the horrendous consequences of water scarcity cannot be staved off in the years ahead.
Unfortunately, the importance of water conservation has not yet been realised. It is not a topic that is considered serious enough to be discussed in schools or neighbourhoods, and a community spirit is sorely lacking in this regard. Of course, one can blame the government for a defective water supply network that loses a large quantum of water through faulty pipes. As individuals, we waste water every day. Defective taps continue to drip for weeks if not months and end up wasting several litres of water a day — a quantity that could be used to wash up dirty dishes in the kitchen. In every other way, too, such as washing clothes or watering plants, we are far from economical in the use of water. Meanwhile, in areas under agriculture, canal leakages and certain irrigation practices also contribute to water loss — according to some studies, as much as 50 per cent goes to waste. Educating the public on ways to recycle and reduce the consumption of water may not be the final solution in itself. But it is certainly an integral part of it.