Last week we celebrated World Environment Day. There was a lot of talk on water and depletion of this precious natural resource and the need to pay more attention to sustaining a balance between agricultural and urban users of water, between rich and poor consumers, and between the water needs of the present generation and those of the future.
There are many challenges standing in the way of resolving Pakistan’s water crisis. According to experts, it will not be possible to address water crisis without a paradigm shift in the way in which we think about water management.
Experts predict that in Islamabad water shortage problem would worsen — not for want of water but of good sense — and wonder why the Capital Development Authority (CDA) is not taking action to conserve water and plug leakages?
Islamabad gets water from Simly and Khanpur dams in addition to several tubewells — all three sources providing 64MGD against a demand of 115MGD to the 1 million consumers. It is said that as much as 50 per cent of the water put into the distribution system is lost due to rotten pipelines. The CDA has a fleet of 51 tankers, out of which 15 are out of service due to technical faults, and the remaining 36 tankers are operational.
With the hot summer here, the scarcity of water will increase as power break downs and loadshedding increase. That may sound alarming but the fact is that more and more citizens have been turning to water tankers to meet their needs. Residents, particularly in G and I sectors, have been facing an acute water shortage. They have no choice but to make a request for water tankers.
Subterranean water has become the main source of water for many in the situation, and the trend is almost a norm in the residential colonies sprouting in the suburbs of Islamabad. The tubewells installed by individuals in the suburbs and by the CDA to supplement water supply inside the city through the filtration plants, has depleted the water table.
With every passing day, water is becoming scarce due to destruction of forests and catchment areas, pollution from agriculture and industry, increasing demand, high non-revenue water or NRW (i.e. treated water piped through treatment plants that are lost through leakage, theft, public usage such as fire fighting and public toilets and other unaccounted ways), and severe weather conditions.
The situation is becoming precarious as water availability in Pakistan has decreased from 5,000 cubic meters per capita in 1950s to 1,000 m3, mainly because of increase in population, inefficient irrigation, corruption, mismanagement and unequal water rights, says a report.
The quality of the living environment for the majority of Pakistan’s population remains poor. Only 40 per cent of households had tap water supply. The differences between urban and rural areas are stark in this regard — 62 per cent of urban households had access to tap water, compared to only 22 per cent of rural households.
Of the annual recharge to groundwater — estimated at 57 to 66 billion m3, roughly 49 to 52 billion m3 are already drawn up by tubewells and used; most of the unutilised recharge occurs in areas of saline groundwater.
True, it’s the government’s job to provide its citizens with safe drinking water, but citizen’s responsibility and of course accountability to preserving this precious resource is also very much missing. A strong domestic lobby to conserve water is what is urgently needed. There is an urgent need for the public to play a more active role in helping to conserve water resources, viz. to reduce water demand. This is where the role of women becomes vitally important.
Simi Kamal, chairperson of Hisaar Foundation and Karachi Water Partnership (KWP) believes that water is everybody’s business and should not be politicised. Ms Kamal was visiting Islamabad last month to participate in a conference on sanitation where she spoke on salvaging the water situation in the country.
“We’re very low on civic responsibility. People do not readily take on civic causes. There is this big divide in the way in which governments and political parties take decisions and the way people think, because the way they think never gets translated into civic pressure. There is not much of a tradition of worthwhile civic action, least of all in the environment and water sectors.”
As half of all consumers and managers of water is in the household, she believes that meaningful involvement of women in water resources development and management can help make projects more sustainable.
According to an assessment done by Hisaar, leaking taps (one drop per second) waste approximately 25 liters per day; 75 per cent of indoor home water use occurs in bathrooms and toilets. Toilets use over 40 per cent more water than needed; 10 per cent of home water is used in the kitchen. Leaky plumbing joints waste 90 litres per day; toilet leaks around 60, tank flushing 45 and water running while brushing teeth 13 litres and shower running till hot around 35 litres. Long showers waste 10 litres of water, leaving water running while washing dishes 50 litres, defrosting meat and vegetables under tap 15 litres. Car washing with pipe wastes nearly 180 litres of water every day.
As domestic consumers, women can play a vital role as managers of the family’s water budget. There are numerous reasons why women are vitally important in water conservation.
While washing clothes of the family, they can conserve water by using environmental-friendly detergents, start a wash only when there is a full load, and ensure that badly soiled clothes get a rinse before being washed. Of course, women do most, if not all the cooking. This is one area where the family can save substantial amount of water.
While bathing children, one can instill the need to save water amongst the young. Children should never be allowed to play with water while bathing as this would send the wrong message to children.
Mothers play an important role in moulding their children into responsible water saving adults by starting them young.