Water wastage is high and agricultural yields are low. We are also among the 10 countries with the lowest access to clean water.
Water is a resource that has been taken granted for centuries. People think it’s an abundant and limitless, but this faulty perception is changing and it’s about time. We’re running out of fresh water… and fast.
According to a World Bank report published in January 2019, the country is “well-endowed” with water but “water wastage is high and agricultural yields are low”. This, according to the report, is because of bad management of available water resources.
We are also among the 10 countries with the lowest access to clean water, according to a study “The Water Gap — The State of the World’s Water 2018”, by WaterAid. About 21 million out of the total population of 207 million do not have access to clean water.
“Pakistan is facing severe challenges; industrialisation and the demands of agriculture, depleted and increasingly saline groundwater, rapid urbanisation and drought have all taken their toll,” says the report.
What adds to the problem is the outdated water infrastructure. The lack of reservoirs and the dilapidated existing facilities mean that our ability to store water is way lower than what is needed.
Pakistan has clearly a lot to make up for in almost each of the areas identified above. Compared to the United States (US) and China where 40% and 65% of freshwater withdrawals are used for agriculture, respectively; in Pakistan, the figure exceeds 90%.
The government clearly needs to have a well-thought-out policy in place with proper implementation to ensure that the scales do not tilt in one stakeholder’s favor. There are sectors where urgent interventions are merited because they use up the most water the most notable being the agriculture sector.
Intensive irrigation not just wastes water but also increases the risk of over-irrigation leading to low crop yield. Since most of the farmers are practicing agriculture the way their forefathers did, the government and private sector need to work together to help the farmers adapt to more responsible irrigation techniques.
Another area is intensive water use industries like textile, leather and sugarcane to name a few. The world over, industries are looking to reduce their water footprint. For example, Levi Strauss & Co. recently announced that it would reduce its water use for manufacturing by 50%, especially in water-stressed areas by 2025. Abercrombie & Fitch has also pledged a 30% water reduction by 2022.
There are food and beverage companies who are trying to work on reducing water waste, not just in their own processes but also outside their fence. A leading name in these efforts is that of Nestlé Pakistan, which under its “Caring for Water” initiative is helping farmers move on from water-intensive irrigation practices and take up high-efficiency irrigation systems like drip and sprinkler irrigation.
The company claims that it has helped save more than 300 million litres of water in two years by promoting drip irrigation on about 107 acres of land. Their aim is to help save 400 million litres by the end of 2019. In addition, the company has also developed smart soil sensors. The sensor detects the level of soil moisture sensors and send real-time data to the farmers helping them to save water (about 12%), avoid crop stress and ultimately increase yield.
The company has developed cheap versions of the sensor with the help of the Lahore University of Management Sciences’ (LUMS) Centre for Water Informatics and plans to scale the project up this year.
We need positive initiatives like these, which involve different partners working together on various aspects of the water challenges to help address them. The multiple and cross-sectoral challenges beg collective solutions.
It’s only with a collective approach that we can ensure effective water management, which requires planning, developing and distributing water in such a way that all the competing demands (agriculture, access to safe drinking water, daily use, biodiversity etc) for water are met and it is allocated on an equitable basis to satisfy everyone’s demands.