Drowning in shallow waters!

Already within the grip of a brutal feudal system, the rural poor are dependent on the powerful vederas, zamindars and maliks, who by hook or crook take away most of the irrigation water from canals. Despite the official Warabandi system to allocate water supply through a rotating schedule based on weekdays, small peasants are the one who suffer with a little amount of water left for their crops.

Nature is a strange phenomenon to comprehend. A year ago the whole country was inundated in the deep flood waters and now everyone complains about shrinking water resources in Pakistan.

A country that once bragged itself for having the largest irrigation system in the world, Pakistan now appears to be in the deep fiasco of shallow water resources, hardly enough to sustain its agricultural, sanitation, and drinking needs.

Not just Pakistan, some experts predict, water as a resource will be the next most ominous and life threatening crisis for the world. It will trigger wars between countries, tribes and regions to control water resources and flow to downstream countries. In the near future it might become the most important and scarce resource for the survival of human race on the earth.

“According to the United Nations, water use has grown at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century. By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity, with two-thirds of the world’s population living in water-stressed regions as a result of use, growth, and climate change” the National Geographic reports.

However, for Pakistan, already one of the world’s most arid zones, it is not just the scarcity of water; it is also incompetency, inferior planning, corruption and mismanagement that are eroding the existing water management system in the country.

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ 2009 report revealed that Pakistan will be designated as a ‘Water Scarce Nation’ by 2035 which means only 1,000 cubic meters of water will be available for each person annually, a lot less amount as compared to other nations.

Of the 3 major sources of water-rain, rivers and underground-the mighty Indus River is the largest and only river providing a large amount of available water. While the rainfall is only 240 millimeters annually, and underground water resources are expensive, the Indus River tributaries irrigate 35.7 million acres for farming needs.

Pakistan inherited the 200 years old British water irrigation system which is considered the largest irrigation network in the world, designed to distribute water from the 1800 miles long Indus River through a complex network of canals. This irrigation system has become the backbone of agriculture which supports one fourth of Pakistan’s industry, employs two third of workers and produces 80 percent of Pakistan’s exports.

Since independence, however, the system has been deteriorating due to the lack of maintenance, corruption and mismanagement. Majority of the budget devoted to water management system goes to the huge administrative structure while only a small portion is used to maintain and repair it. As a result the system is unable to hold the needs of today’s irrigation needs for a fast growing population.

What does it mean to the urban and rural poor, the disadvantaged peasants and women? Already within the grip of a brutal feudal system, the rural poor are dependent on the powerful vederas, zamindars and maliks, who by hook or crook take away most of the irrigation water from canals. Despite the official Warabandi system to allocate water supply through a rotating schedule based on weekdays, small peasants are the one who suffer with a little amount of water left for their crops.

To replace this unfair and inequitable distribution system and to ensure enough water supply for farming, many farmers have switched to tube wells using underground water resources. Not too many of them, however, can afford its costly installation and maintenance.

The story is not different for the urban poor. As an agricultural economy, Pakistan uses 90 percent of its water resources for farming leaving only 10 percent for drinking and sanitation purposes. Wastewater treatment in all big cities including Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, and Quetta are not enough to provide clean water to citizens of these cities.

Here are some shocking facts:

  • -In 2006 the World Bank reported that only 3 of 100 hazardous industries treat their water adequately
  • -Rivers flowing through the largest city of Karachi have dangerous minerals including lead, chromium and even cyanide
  • -In 2007, Rawalpindi Water and Sanitation announced 70 percent of water pipes carry sewage water for consumers

Most of the water supplied for home consumption is contaminated not suitable for drinking and consequently the urban population generally and the urban poor specifically face severe health risks. Children as the most vulnerable population, die in record numbers every year drinking this unhygienic water.

Women are especially hard pressed as they face the brunt of economic and social consequences of water shortage as most rural women fetch water from canals and ponds and work at home taking care sanitary needs of their families. When limited water is available, the overall maintenance of the home becomes harder for washing clothes, preparing foods and cleaning the house. This, subsequently, affects quality of life for families and it makes women’s life more stressful and challenging.

Although women are central to water usage at home, they are not consulted in developing water management policies. Their low social status and limited education in a man-dominated society, further downgrade their involvement adversely affecting the family wellbeing to a greater extent.

The Asian Development Bank recommends meeting the following challenges seriously in resolving the water crisis:

  • -Coordination between water user organizations
  • -Effective Inter-ministerial and inter-provincial organizations
  • -Autonomy of water and sanitation agencies
  • -Collaboration with private organizations and businesses
  • -Inefficiency of the irrigation sector
  • -Deteriorating water quality.

Historically Pakistan has been investing in powerful institutions such as the army and bureaucracy, and dominant classes such as the feudal and the affluent business sector. If investment in the common people including women, men, children, peasants, the poor, lower classes and workers is believed to be a paramount issue for national development, there should be a paradigm shift.

Improving the water management system for farming and human consumption requires a change from ‘working as usual’ to revitalizing the whole system to meet emerging challenges of the 2st century.

Diminishing water resources will become a colossal human catastrophe soon. Are we ready for the next human crisis?

(From Viewpoint Online)

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  2 comments for “Drowning in shallow waters!

  1. alqaria@gmail.com'
    whh
    September 6, 2011 at 12:10 am

    Salam Sir:

    Water is Pakistan’s no. 1 problem. People do not know the real issues and the details. I must commend your spirits which have manifested through this insightful article.

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