By 2025, 1 800 million people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be under stress conditions. FAO
Due to climate change, Himalayan snow and ice, which provide vast amounts of water for agriculture in Asia, are expected to decline by 20 percent by 2030.
The UN has declared Pakistan water – scarce country
“Water shortages present the greatest future threat to the viability of Pakistan as a state and a society”
Anatol Lieven, South Asia Scholar
As luck would have it – I recently met with a man who just might be the solution to our water problems. Before I could bombard him with my questions he said to me do you like to cook? And when I nodded, he said “so do I, but I keep my ingredients basic and try to cook a simple thing which often turns out to be a masterpiece – just keep things simple” he grinned as he relaxed in the chair.
Pakistan has been an acute victim of natural calamities, annual flooding, up rise in water borne diseases, infant deaths due to contaminated water and low agricultural output. And there have been debates, presentations, bogus enactments and lengthy case studies regarding the drastic water situation in Pakistan. Sadly but truly they have remained periodical reminders only to be cloaked by dense blankets of terrorism, religious intolerance and US-Pakistan relationship. Drone attacks, US –Afghan war, continuous pressure on Pakistan to combat terrorism has increased the funds in the military kitty leaving essential sectors like education, healthcare and water to shrivel immensely.
At least 90 percent of Pakistan’s dwindling water resources are allocated to irrigation and other agricultural needs. Intensive irrigation regimes and poor drainage practices have caused waterlogging and soil salinity throughout Pakistan’s countryside. Less than 10 percent is left for drinking water and sanitation. “It is safe to say that anywhere from 40 to 55 million Pakistanis do not have access to safe drinking water” Report :Running on Empty Pakistan’s water crisis Edited by Michael Kugelman and Robert M Hathway
With the upsurge in the country’s’ population large amounts of water have been diverted upstream in Punjab to satisfy the plummeting demand for agriculture and teeming urban cities. This essentially has led to a shattering shrinkage of the Indus River in Sindh. The gradual and deadly disappearance of water in Sindh has affected livelihoods throughout the delta.
Report :Running on Empty Pakistan’s water crisis Edited by Michael Kugelman and Robert M Hathway
“One Pakistani environmentalist has lamented how the Indus Delta is suffering from severe degradation, sparking coastal poverty, hopelessness and despair, causing great damage to the delta’s mangrove and destroying entire ecosystems”
Whilst the core problems are entrenched in Pakistan’s parched rural areas, it is blaringly obvious in its’ throbbing urban cities. Many reports have cited toxic waste-offs from factories, human waste and sewage being present in the water supply lines consumed by major cities.
“The situation in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, particularly disturbing. Rivers flowing through the city contain lead, chromium and cyanide, and more metals have been found in Karachi’s harbor than in any other major world harbor” Michael Kugelman Study Report.
Another exacerbating factor is global warming which has led to massive reductions in the ice and snow areas of the Himalayas leading to lower quantum of yearly snowmelts and therefore colossal decrease of water in the Indus River system.
Whether its climatic changes, disputes with India or population explosion – the once lush agricultural fields of rural Pakistan are becoming dry, there is excessive malnutrition, approximately 1.2 million lives are being lost to water borne diseases each year, attendance in school by young children is on the decline – all this and much more due to poor sanitation facilities, non availability of potable drinking water and insufficient water for crops.
“Being simple is a very complicated thing” Says Marco Ganouna, CEO of Water Production Systems (WPS). The mission of this company is to provide emerging countries with clean water solutions through a customized business model. WPS has developed the most advanced air-to – water technology to date and takes pride in being capable in providing clean water at almost any location on this earth. Whether its desalination, treatment or purification of water or reverse osmosis, WPS has the technology, capital and intellect to provide clean water to the smallest of the locales.
“The quantity of water in the world will always stay the same but the quality of the water changes. Population is increasing thus the need of more clean water, however, if you manage it well there is enough water to feed the growing population” he assured me.
WPS works on a simple model – once they have the necessary information from the local authorities or the state owned government bodies managing water they will provide solutions within 3-4 weeks time. Relevant data they require is the number of people, purpose of clean water (farming needs or domestic use etc.) and distance from the water source. Once the groundwork is done WPS will install the water station as close to the consumption point as possible. This will minimize the risk of leaks and hence contamination before the water reaches the faucet.
“We are looking at those areas that nobody bothers to look at “ Marco commented, referring to the rural areas of emerging economies. Currently WPS is in talks with Indonesia, Brunei, China and India where the local authorities have identified the grim water situation and shown keen interest to provide clean water to the livestock and people living in their rural areas.
Marco went onto explain how Indian Punjab is suffering grossly due to contaminated water. Flourishing industries on the river banks have abhorrent amounts of waste that flows in the stream, unregulated! Downstream there are cities and villages feeding from the same chemical, bacteria and E Coli infested water with poor or no sanitation facilities. “The scenario is absolutely the same in rural Pakistan” he said as he shook his head in dismay. He continued to share with me that his study of India Punjab has revealed that by treating water in villages has an immediate social impact whereby new jobs are created, there is a rise in agricultural productivity, increased water table and last but not the least a saving of US$4.30 per person per month in healthcare.
Recipient of a multitude of awards Marco has over 30 years of experience in the hi-tech industry. Born in Tunisia, based in California, USA Marco often travels to Asia for work. I put forth a hypothetical scenario for him to provide water solutions to 1 million people in rural Pakistan. He smiled and said the solution is “very simple”
The UN says that an average person needs 50 liters of water daily for drinking and domestic use. So we are looking to provide 50 million liters of safe potable clean water. “Looking at a cost of $0.30 – $1.50 per 1000 liters (1 cubic meter)” he conjectures “and about 6-10 months for us to make the water available to your 1 million people”
"If I were to be given the task to provide safe drinking water to the majority of the Pakistani population along with adequate resources to do it and a real "carte blanche" from the Government, we would reach that goal within ~ 5 years." He promised wholeheartedly.
It has been researched that “ improved access to sanitation and water produces economic benefits that range from US$ 3 to US$ 34 per US$1 invested, increasing a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by an estimated 2% to 7%” UN Water.org
Pakistan is lingering just above the water scarcity limit of 1,000 cubic meters per capita and the next few decades can see this figure falling by half. A universal water bomb is ticking away – and slowly making its way to Pakistan. The calamity would be greater than any warfare, the damage far more than a nuclear explosion.
Whether its improved relations with India, proper allocation of US and International aid in water resource management or building massive structures for water retention and distribution – they will all take time, vision, transparency and honest leadership. However, we could make efforts and try “simple” solutions to our very complicated problems and benefit from the vision, expertise and knowledge of people like Marco Ganouna and his likes.