This month’s case study on the global water crisis focuses on Pakistan – a nation that once enjoyed water richness to the only spiral down into water scarcity over the years. While the situation is grim, Pakistan, just like Nepal and Uganda, has good chances of recovery. For that to happen, however, the world needs to pay attention.
The Status Quo
The third study we focus on is the strange and dramatic case of Pakistan, a country that went from extreme water richness to atrocious water poverty due to poor management. Pakistan hosts five major rivers on its territory. However, if the per capita water availability in the 1950s was around 5000 m3 annually, it has now declined to 1,017m3 in 2017, which is the internationally recognized onset signal of water scarcity.
According to Water Aid Australia,
Pakistan is one of the top five countries worldwide in improving access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene. But despite this impressive progress, 22 million people still have no choice but to drink dirty water, and more than two in five people don’t have a decent toilet.
Back in the day, Pakistan could even lend water to its neighbors, but today, it faces a dire future. According to recent reports, Pakistan is now on number 9 on the list of top 10 countries with the lowest access to clean water. While the nation made incredible progress in the past in dealing with the water crisis and pollution – reduced poverty, improved dietary diversity, and diminished open defecation – but the rates of diarrhea and stunting in children did not change much.
In fact, according to the latest data issued by UNDP, the percent of the population vulnerable to multidimensional poverty is 14.5 (lower than the two countries discussed previously), with a tragic mortality rate for under-five children (per 1,000 live births) of 78.8. Moreover, the mortality rate linked to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene services (per 100,000 population) is 19.6.
The Pakistan Water Crisis
How did Pakistan end up here? How could a rich country, enjoying decades of independence find itself in one of the leading water crises in the world? Most specialists blame the long year’s mismanagement, crime, and corruption as the main issues in the country. Pakistan has not built a dam since the seventies, and now the results are in everybody’s faces.
The Pakistani Council of Research in Water Resources warned the country would approach absolute water scarcity by 2025, but so far, the progress is shy from making an appearance. In conclusion, Pakistan has water in general, but the available sources are far from being clean and safe.
While corruption can explain pretty much everything that is wrong with the world, the critical aspects of Pakistan’s current water crisis rely on three main factors.
In Pakistan, 80% of the population still depends on contaminated water – and by it, we mean sewerage (fecal, total coliforms, E. coli colonies, etc.). The pipes carrying such infested water receive no treatment. Thus we cannot speak of water quality here. There is no wonder that almost 80% of all diseases and 33% of deaths in Pakistan stem from waterborne illnesses caused by anthropogenic activities.
Reports from the World Bank make life in Pakistan look and sound like a history piece set in the Dark Ages:
Water tests reveal shockingly high rates of E. coli contamination in both surface and groundwater. To make matters worse, few households practice water treatment and untreated wastewater is routinely mixed with surface and groundwater for use in crop irrigation.
The second biggest threat in Pakistan regarding water is pollution. Studies published in 2017 show that 60 million Pakistani people are at risk due to high concentrations of arsenic in drinking water, a type of mass poisoning with extremely adverse effects upon the economic growth of the country. Illnesses and death caused by arsenic poisoning also take a massive human and financial toll. More than it, though, the use of agricultural pesticides and fertilizers add to the mix of causes leading to water scarcity in Pakistan.
As per usual, water pollution is just a cog in the wheel, as Pakistan deals with a sum of cumulative factors that make the situation there unbearable:
- the ever-lowering water table,
- excessive use of water,
- lack of storage mechanisms and dams,
- the population’s fast overgrowth,
- chaotic industrialization,
- climatic changes,
- lack of comprehensive national water policies
- the water conflict between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India,
- the upcoming threats to the country’s glaciers,
- and contaminated water.
They all endanger the clean water supply, agriculture, industry, public health, ecology, biodiversity, and, ultimately, human life. The Pakistani water crisis can lead to unthinkable consequences on a global scale. Fortunately, people, organizations, and governmental authorities opened their eyes in time and began addressing the issues.
Water Conservation Failure
Probably the biggest mistake Pakistan did in the last decades was to ignore the importance of water conservation.
Due to the derisory water conservation practices in the country, the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) warns that the country dumps ten trillion gallons of water worth $21 billion into the sea every year.
According to Ghazanfar Bilour, president of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry,
water is not scarce in the country, but its conservation has been ignored for decades. Egypt can store water enough for 1000 days while Israel having its 60% area as the desert is exporting water while Pakistan can store water for thirty days.
IRSA representatives also stated:
The country needs three Mangla-sized dams to conserve the amount of water that goes to sea each year.
Perspectives for the Future
In truth, Pakistan does face a grim future if they do not do something to correct the situation. Famine, diseases and death, severe environmental chain reactions, aggravated poverty, and migration are just a few of the consequences.
Luckily, the Pakistani government recently proposed a National Water Policy in 2018. While it is still early to observe its effects, we can only hope that the sixth most populous country on Earth will find the solutions to solve the problem until it is too late.
What You Can do to Help Alleviate the Pakistan Water Crisis
As you can easily figure out, you have a handful of charities to choose from when it comes to humanitarian projects and water aid in the country. Nevertheless, the model of good practices of our choice for Pakistan is the WATERisLIFE organization.
The organization patented innovation technologies to turn local water sources into clean and safe ones. The WATERisLIFE straw filters come with patented tech to safeguard the population against waterborne bacteria and viruses like typhoid, cholera, E. coli, dysentery, and diarrhea.
Moreover, the filters also deal with heavy metals in water – an issue we have discussed in length before. The organization’s patented filters are capable of removing lead, mercury, and aluminum, arsenic, and cadmium – but also fluoride and chlorine, just like professional portable water filters do.
If you are active in the field of corporate social responsibility, you should know that a company can purchase such WATERisLIFE straw filters for their employees and/or shareholders and thus offer the Pakistani people a chance to clean, safe water and higher quality of life levels.
You can also make a difference as an individual, not just as a company. The reputable brand Life Straw, one of the biggest portable water filter makers in the world also provides humanitarian aid and clean water solutions for every LifeStraw filter a person buys from them.
In other words, people and companies can stand by the Pakistani people and help them get a solid chance to a better life.
Water contamination, water pollution and ignorance towards water conservation seem to be the primary factors keeping Pakistan farther away from the world. While rich in natural resources – and especially in water – this country needs sound national policies and joint efforts from international institutions, local NGOs, the community and all of us to help them tackle its problems. Because they are not only its problems, they are all of ours.
While waiting for the upcoming Water Aid and the United Nations Development Programme reports, we can all learn more, understand better, and offer a helping hand to our neighbors from the other part of this rock we all share and call home.