According to Population Action International, and based on the UN projections of the global population, more than 2.8 billion people in 48 countries will face water scarcity conditions by 2025. Today, there are roughly 700 million people across 43 countries living in regions with severe water scarcity. By 2030, this may be the beginning of a ‘Global Crisis’ – changing the fate of nations around the world.
Out of these 48 countries, 40 are located in West Asia, North Africa or sub-Saharan Africa. By 2050, the number of countries that will face water scarcity scenarios will grow to 54 and 40% of the projected global population will be affected.
Although the earth has 35 million cubic kilometres of fresh water, it is unevenly distributed across the planet or is located in areas that are expensive to tap or access. 70% is trapped in the form of ice or snow or deep underground. The remaining 11 million cubic kilometres of readily available freshwater reserves are under increasing stress.
Essential functions of water
Human freshwater usage has tripled in the past 50 years alone. That is why Water scarcity has direct implications for energy security for every single nation.
The potential for economic development and stability enabled by a reliable, stable and sustainable supply of energy at affordable prices is limited in a growing number of areas by a lack of access to water.
To date, energy and water infrastructure and policy decisions have been made independently of one another, often with outdated assumptions regarding rising demand and resource scarcity.
In the past, the fundamental problem was due to poor planning, a lack of smart policies and foresight prevented the sustainable administration of water. Some functions can only be performed by water, such as sustaining organisms and nourishing plant life, some of which can be used for food. However, water is also used for functions where it is simply the most convenient option.
There is an important opportunity for policy-makers to protect water’s essential functions, something that is known to be the biggest failure of governments today, as the world gets less water every day.
A looming threat for Pakistan
By 2050, Pakistan is expected to have around 309 million people. The Water Crisis may lead to Water Wars. It is time to really stop and think before this Global Crisis takes down the country and its rising population, as it is the biggest threat in history for decades to come.
Future decisions will have to be made by governments looking beyond individual welfare and propose solutions in the national interest of the country and its people. The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) has warned that the country may run dry by 2025 if the authorities didn’t take immediate action.
According to a yet-to-be-released report, parts of which have been made available to the media, the Islamic country touched the “water stress line” in 1990 and crossed the “water scarcity line” in 2005.
Pakistan has the world’s fourth-highest rate of water use. Its water intensity rate – the amount of water, in cubic meters, used per unit of GDP – is the world’s highest. This suggests that no country’s economy is more water-intensive than Pakistan’s.
Pakistan is the third most water-stressed country
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan is already the third most water-stressed country in the world. Its per capita annual water availability is 1,017 cubic meters – perilously close to the scarcity threshold of 1,000 cubic meters.
Back in 2009, Pakistan’s water availability was about 1,500 cubic meters. Water scarcity has long been a problem, but climate change, a growing global population and economic growth are putting the natural resource under even more stress.
The bulk of Pakistan’s farmland is irrigated through a canal system, but the IMF says in a report, canal water is vastly underpriced, recovering only one-quarter of annual operating and maintenance costs. Meanwhile, agriculture, which consumes almost all annual available surface water, is largely untaxed.
Water has economic value. This means that even if, all things equal, one energy source is cheaper than another, the relative prices could shift depending on the competition for water.
What caused this crisis?
Experts say that population growth and urbanization are the main reasons behind the crisis. The issue has also been exacerbated by climate change, poor water management, and a lack of political will to deal with the crisis. What is even more disturbing is that groundwater supplies – the last resort of water supply – are being rapidly depleted.
Lawmakers are part of the problem as most of them have lands and use pressure tactics to steal water through political influence as if they are above the law. This could well be considered the “Untouchable land mafia”.
In Pakistan, what makes it worse is that the authorities have given no indication that they plan to do anything about any of this.
Water War is more dangerous than militancy as it is one of the causes for militancy in Pakistan and continues to ensure tensions from across the border on the constant violation of the Indus Water Treaty by India.
Both previous democratic heads of state are landlords with immense wealth accumulated through illegal measures beyond comprehension and hence logically failed to address the basic social and community issue that has reached crisis proportions putting it under the carpet.
Water gives us a debt-free society in simpler terms as we become a self-sufficient agro-economy and an energy producer. Instead, our colossal debt accumulates each year without enough focus on the water crisis.
What needs to be done?
Pakistani authorities need to step up efforts to overcome the crisis, which is partly man-made by taking ownership of this challenge and declare their intention to tackle it. Simply blaming previous governments or blaming India for the crisis won’t solve anything.
Next, the government needs to institute a major paradigm shift that promotes the more judicious use of water. The scarcity of water is also triggering conflicts in the country. Experts say the economic impact of the water crisis is immense, and the people are fighting for resources.
Three out of four Pakistani provinces blame the most populous and politically empowered province, Punjab, for usurping their water sources. This may indirectly create division amongst provinces and start a battle that may be very difficult to contain.
Like militancy, the water crisis could threaten the legitimacy of the government and state and maybe it already has. Frankly, it’s a man-made issue and not about provincial share.
The elitist mentality grips the country and without a proper water policy in place, things are getting worse for the majority of water consumers across the country. It was never about Punjab and was never about monopoly. It has always been about kickbacks and corruption and for the first time in the history of the country, we see accountability at work through the justice system.
We need technocrats reviewing the governance, not the greedy landlords or businessmen. The policymakers should be the representatives from the common society who will not go and buy imported water when they cannot afford a two times meal per day.
Understanding the implications of non-compliance with the Indus Water Treaty between Pakistan and India could jeopardize peace in the region as the matter stands debated in the ICC-International Court of Justice.
Under the treaty, the waters running across from the mountains down to river Indus must be equally governed and distributed in order to save enough resources for survival for hydropower, agriculture and for its growing population.
Privatization of water resources and water scarcity combined with rising extremism could trigger water wars as the world could face an acute water shortfall of up to 40% by 2030. This year, as the nation hosts the ED-World Environment Day 2021, we must all unite to address this matter on a war footing to ensure lasting peace across Asia and the world.
The writer is a Director at Children Nature Network Asia – A leading advocacy and initiative is an expert on International Relations and Public Policy. He writes on climate change, public policy, governance and social justice affairs. He is a distinguished broadcaster and writer. He tweets on @zeeshan82445998. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.