Islamabad: Pakistan’s water resources are rapidly depleting because of climate change, posing a formidable threat to the country’s future, ecologists warn.
In his brief chat with News Lens Pakistan, Dr. Shuja-ul-Mulk Khan, a leading ecologist and assistant professor of plant sciences at Quaid-e-Azam University, said that “disappearing groundwater is the out-of-sight threat.”
Offering minute details, Dr. Khan said that greenhouse gases also affect ground water level because it disturb hydrological cycle which has direct affect on water level.
“Eucalyptus species also send water level below while deforestation is yet another big reason for reduction of water level,” he noted.
“Climate change will have significant impacts on water resources around the world because of close connections between climate and hydrologic cycle,” he added.
Pakistan Water Gateway, a non-governmental water-research organization, notes the level of groundwater in Pakistan is dropping by a metre a year. The country would face severe problems if the level of depletion of groundwater continues at its current rate.
Glaciers are large sheets of snow and ice that are found on land all year long, Dr. Khan said, adding approximately 160,000 glaciers are found on earth.
“Warmer temperatures cause glaciers to melt faster than they can accumulate new snow,” he added.
Dr. Lal Badshah, another ecologist and assistant professor at University of Peshawar, said the country is already facing acute water shortage because of multiple reasons such as “weak water management system and lack of political will to build new water dams.”
When contacted, Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, former director general Pakistan Meteorological Department, he said around 70% of the country’s 291 millimetres rainwater goes waste annually due to “vague water management system.”
“An inclusive policy needs to be worked out in collaboration with other stakeholders such as irrigation, industry and agriculture departments to better manage and store water,” he suggested.
Dr. Badshah said: “Pakistan at this time needs a minimum water storage capacity of 40% but we have only 7% water storage capacity as there is no consensus to build water reservoirs.”
“This gives Pakistan a stored water supply to meet its needs for just 30 days,” Dr. Badshah informed.
However, Dr. Khan said as glaciers and the giant ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica melt, they add more water into the ocean, which causes sea level to rise.
“According to my perception, melting ice caps and glaciers and the subsequent rise of the oceans is a big problem. It’s just one of the ways that global warming is negatively affecting our environment every nation on earth,” he added.
Dr. Khan said that water resources are getting depleted by human activities. “Water level has fallen steeply owing to excessive use of water table groundwater depletion, a term often defined as long-term water-level declines caused by sustained groundwater pumping,” he added.
He said that the government must build multipurpose dams to store rainwater that flowing upstream, help flood protection, maintain normal running water functions, store municipal and irrigation water and generate electricity.
Dr. Badshah said that glaciers melt with accelerated speed because of climate change. In absence of a water conservation mechanism, he said, Pakistan is experiencing flash floods, which cause human and material losses and serious damages to agriculture sector.
“Ironically, water availability at time of Pakistan’s creation was 5,600 cubic meters per capita, but now it stands at 1,000 cubic metres only, forcing Pakistan to enter into water-scarce states,” he rued.
Also, Abdul Rauf Alam, president Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), told News Lens Pakistan that water scarcity is emerging as a biggest threat to Pakistan, devastating almost every sector.
Pakistan depends heavily on annual glacier melts and monsoon rains and water from these sources flows down the rivers and out to the sea, he added.
He said agriculture contributes about 25% to the GDP, employs about 50% of the total labour-force, provides livelihood directly to 70% of the rural population, and earns about 60% of the total value of exports.
“Climate change, vanishing glaciers and forests are reducing groundwater in almost all parts of the country,” he said.
He said that different areas have been witnessing reduction in water table which has increased the cost of pumping water through tube wells making life difficult for farmers’ communities.
Badshah said the government should evolve an inclusive strategy to remove grievances over dams otherwise “future of the country is bleak.”
“The demand and supply gap for water has arrived at alarming levels,” he informed. Water scarcity tends to hurt entire agricultural chain creating problems like unemployment, food security and closure of industries.
“Almost 145 Million Acre Feet (MAF) water passes annually through country of which only 14 MAF could be stored enough for one month while international standard stood at 90 days of storage,” he noted.
An official of KP’s Agriculture Department told News Lens Pakistan on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to talk to media that Pakistan has the largest well-knitted irrigation system in the world. “Owing to poor state of infrastructure, about two-thirds of water is lost due to poor transmission and seepage,” he informed.
The government, he said needs to work out a comprehensive plan to control water theft, disseminate advanced seeds among farmers that require less water, equip farmers with advanced training to use water judiciously.
But Alam said that water situation in Balochistan province is very critical which can affect law and order and the economic corridor project.
Pakistan Water Partnership, a non-governmental organization, states the available surface water is around 153 Million Acre Feet (MAF) while the total ground water reserves are approximately 24 MAF, of which a substantial part has been mined that stopped natural refilling.
Currently estimated at 160 million, the population of Pakistan is set to double in 2.5 decades. This means that the per capita availability of water will decrease, the official said.
“Balochistan is facing water table depletion with accelerated steps which need to be addressed otherwise it will take a formidable turn as half of the population of that underdeveloped province depends on agriculture,” Alam added.
When asked about climate change, Dr. Khan said that climate is usually defined as the “average weather” in a place. Climate change, he said is also called global warming, refers to the rise in average surface temperatures on earth.
Climate change, he said, primarily occurs due to human use of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air. Rising levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere send heat to earth, sparking wide-ranging impacts such as rising sea levels, melting of snow and floods.
“The world can stop climate change by joining hands with judicious use of energy and water resources and by planting more and more trees,” he concluded.