The News, Islamabad: While the United Nations announced this March 6 that the international target to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water has been met five years before the 2015 deadline, in Pakistan water worries are rapidly growing. While the UN estimates that more than one in six people worldwide lack access to safe freshwater to ensure their basic needs, in Pakistan, things are even worse and one in every two people – 50 percent Pakistanis – lacks access to clean drinking water. According to estimates, water, sanitation and hygiene-related diseases cost Pakistan’s economy about Rs112 billion per year in terms of health cost and lost earnings. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. According to the Planning Commission, water availability per capita will decrease by 84 percent to 858 cubic metres by 2025 compared to 1951 with calamitous consequences in terms of malnutrition, disease, food riots, famine and forcing millions more below the poverty-line. To top it all, while the world celebrated World Water Day this Thursday, millions of people affected by the floods in the lower districts of Sindh sat waiting for safe drinking water and basic food items. Ninety percent of the water supply schemes and sanitation facilities in nine districts of Sindh were washed away during the 2010 floods. But despite the passage of several months, neither the federal nor the provincial governments, or international and local NGOs, have started reconstructing the water infrastructure. Pakistan is, in a nutshell, a country that needs to start getting seriously worried about its water situation. Will it?
In 2008, Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif decided to introduce the Punjab Water Act after the Environment Ministry revealed that 40 percent deaths in infants were due to polluted water and 50 percent of the population did not have access to clean drinking water. Three years later, the Act is yet to be approved and from the looks of it will never see the light of day. In the absence of the Water Act, the government lacks regulations regarding water and does not have wide-ranging authority to set the water tariff and check quality and wastage of drinking water. Access to safe drinking water is one of the most fundamental human rights and the responsibility of the state. The Pakistani government cannot fail its people on this count also. It must strive to work for the conservation, protection and development of water resources. Water treatment is indeed a very expensive procedure, but Pakistan needs to consider home-based water treatment options that could save billions. Also, Pakistan urgently needs a comprehensive water policy in compliance with the National Climate Change Policy and an autonomous and powerful authority to check the health indicators of its rivers. Is there any interest in taking up the issue of water, enforcing the law and making a difference? Instead of spending our scarce resources on a huge army, a war against terror, and corrupt and inefficient public sector enterprises, Pakistan needs to re-focus its priorities to what matters most and which it cares about the least: water.
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on the mountain and climate related issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last two years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>