Water crisis

Editorial Board
Saturday, May 14, 2022

Pakistan is currently facing a severe water shortage. According to the Indus River System Authority (IRSA), the water shortage in the country, first estimated at 22 per cent, is actually 38 per cent. Though the government expects that freshwater flows in rivers may alleviate water scarcity soon, the indications are not favourable. Nearly 40 per cent water scarcity for irrigation functions amid the Kharif season is alarming as the sowing of main vegetation is underway. This state of water scarcity is getting worse much sooner than projected. Nearly all federating units of Pakistan are now under the double whammy of a terrible heat surge and a threat of water scarcity. Balochistan, southern Punjab, and Sindh are the worst affected. In these provinces, vegetation sowing trends will be severely impacted if the situation does not improve soon.

At this critical juncture, representatives of federal and provincial governments must come together to tackle the issue of water distribution for the provinces. To avoid any further disagreement and protests, the authorities must devise a consensus mechanism to gauge water influx and outflows at barrages and their subsidiary canals. An honest distribution of water is the solution but reaching a consensus in this matter is even more challenging. The inflow of River Indus at Tarbela has been much lower than usual. The inflows of the River Kabul and Chenab have also declined drastically and the same applies to inflows from Mangla. All these inflows have recorded over 40 per cent reduced volume of water. Pakistan is going through one of the driest summers in history and rain is perhaps the only solution to increase water flows. The tail-end areas of Punjab and Sindh need immediate attention from the federal and provincial governments. All provinces should get water proportionate to their due share, but the extent of scarcity must also be taken into account.

In other words, we have a crisis of immense proportions. The water shortage also means contaminated water is being consumed by citizens who have no choice. There have been reports of several cases of cholera from Balochistan, Punjab, and Sindh – posing a serious threat to public health as this water-borne disease is lethal and may get out of hand if preventive measures are not taken on a priority basis. It is surprising that the authorities responsible for healthcare management have not yet issued any advisory to alert the people of the compounded effect of cholera, heat, and water shortages across the country. The fact that people have little knowledge about how to deal with waterborne diseases adds to the problem. A combined effort is needed by the various relevant ministries, and provincial governments: get clean water to the people; ensure health systems are ready to deal with cholera or other disease outbreaks; and figure out a way to prioritize areas with drought-like conditions.