The world’s drying up – Are we ready?
Water shortage is a global phenomenon due to the change in climate. According to the World Economic Forum, water scarcity will be the biggest global risk in the coming decade with a colossal impact on our lives.
Currently, one-fifth of the world’s population lives in water scarce areas. By 2025, half of the world’s population, including Pakistan, will be living in extremely water stressed areas. That’s only seven years away. The looming water crisis will kick off grave consequences like the water, sanitation and health crisis (WASH), water wars, a concept Pakistanis are becoming familiar with ecosystem degradation and most importantly food shortages.
There are several reasons for this water scarcity. The topmost is the rising temperature of the planet from our increased and irresponsible consumption. We’ve cut down too many trees and destroyed natural habitats to make way for our ever-expanding cities and industries chugging out harmful chemicals. We’re also trapped in a vicious circle to cool ourselves down with air conditioning and refrigerants which end up heating the planet more. Rising population has increased the water demand and groundwater together with other fresh water resources are being used up pretty fast.
The question is, how prepared are we to face this impending crisis that could threaten our very existence as a species?
How nations are sizing up
Cape Town in South Africa might be the first major city of the world that will face Day Zero in 2019; a day when the city completely runs out of water owing to drought. Already 37,000 jobs have been lost in the agricultural sector owing to water cuts.
The city is therefore a guinea pig for the world on how to prepare and manage through acute water scarcity. The government imposed a water emergency with education programmes for citizens on water conservation, sea water desalination plants and water recyclers. Citizens have been restricted to using only 50 litres per day and are being encouraged to reduce shower time and flush toilets with non-potable water. With drastic water rationing, the city has reduced its water consumption by 50 percent.
In the U.K. water misuse is taken very seriously. You can call the police if you see a neighbour wasting water. In Australia, domestic water leakages are tracked by the police and those responsible for it are fined heavily. Since a major portion of the country falls in drought category, water is used judiciously. There are huge rebates on installing water saving devices at home. In 2010, 43 percent of Australian homes had rainwater harvesting systems. In Switzerland, the government is actually putting up giant blankets on its glaciers in a bid to slow down their melting process. Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest water desalination facility which will in fact be completely powered by solar energy by 2019!
The Ground Facts in Pakistan
On the list of countries to be worst hit by the water crises, Pakistan is number three! This, in spite of fresh water resources and 5000 glaciers, which clearly indicates we are not conserving our water as we should. The research by UNDP as well as the Pakistan Council for Research on Water Resources (PCRWR) says Pakistan will run out of its water resources by 2025. That is only seven years away!
According to the Indus River System Authority, Pakistan dumps $21 billion worth of water into the sea each year due to lack of water conservation systems. Meanwhile, the ground water continues to go down. In Islamabad, groundwater is falling by one metre each year, in Balochistan by up to six meters!
Some of the major reasons for this water scarcity is India’s building of dams on the Jhelum and Chenab rivers in violation of the Indus Water Treaty, deforestation owing to the timber mafias and rapid and unplanned urbanization, increased consumerism leading to rising urban temperatures and pollution and decreased rainfall from climate change.
Our water storage facilities are simply not enough. We can store 30 days of water with our existing dams, whereas India can save up to 320 days of water. It’s alarming that we are relying on the melting glaciers to fill our dams whereas the developed world is looking for ways to stop this meltdown.
So What Do We Do?
We need to put our act together on a war footing. For the next government, making water available will be a make or break factor for them to survive. It would need to make a plan for building more small and medium dams, as they do not damage fragile eco systems like mega projects do. We would need more water desalination and recycling facilities. We also need irrigation reforms; at present, the ordinary farmer wastes about 50 to 60 percent of freshwater with ancient irrigation methods of flooding the fields.
There needs to be a massive public awareness programme coming out of a national water policy. The khateebs in the mosques need to be included in a national awareness campaign with khutbas on how to save water. Water rationing and water meters need to be introduced. Public toilets including the ones at the mosques should have hand sensor taps. Pakistan can take lessons from Australia where consumers are given huge rebates of installing water saving devices like the smart flushing systems and rain harvesters.
Simple Ways to Conserve Water:
As an ordinary consumer, the least one can do is to install a float switch that automatically stops water overflow. It’s cheap on the pocket with prices starting from Rs 450, and also saves electricity from constant motor runs. Greywater (laundry water) can be used to wash driveways and garages while rain water, kitchen’s detergent free rinse water can be used for mopping and watering plants.
You might be surprised to know that you can actually save up to 10 liters of water from an AC running overnight which is quite sufficient for mopping indoors. By re-using laundry rinse water for washing the next load of laundry, one can down water for laundry by half and that’s about a 100 litres or approximately 25 gallons of water!
On an urgent footing, one should keep an eye on maids and other help using water for chores in the house. One doesn’t need to wash the car or the porch with running fresh water. A bucket or two can do the same. The tap needs to be shut while the crockery is being scrubbed and put away. You can take a bath in as little as 20 litres from a bucket full (even that’s a lot for many water starved people of the world, whereas a 5-minutes shower can use up to 30 litres! Refuse disposable plastic shopping bags, bottles and straws. You’d be surprised to know that a lot of water is needed to make a disposable plastic bottle; about three times the amount of water that goes into it!
These simple steps may seem inconsequential but they still matter a lot. The water crisis is looming large and can affect the very lives of our children. We still have a chance if we take responsibility to save what we still have.
The writer is founder of ECO friends Pakistan; an online community of eco experts.
This article was originally published in GLAM Magazine (September Edition).