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The Kalabagh won’t help if we don’t close the tap while brushing our teeth.
At a time when everyone looks so obsessed with dams, it is prudent to mention they are just one option among many others. People have expressed concerns over the report by Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources that the country can dry out by 2025, but this trend is not new as from 5260 cubic meters in 1951 surface water availability per capita has shrunk to 1000 cubic meters. If the water crisis is not dealt with on a war footing, this figure will drop to a further down of 860 cubic meters.
Coming back to the question: Can dams be the solution to all our water woes? As a matter of fact, no. Dams are used to store water and have a limited capacity which further declines with the passage of time due to sedimentation and siltation. Dams also need lots of money to be built and the crippled economy of our country does not allow it. Similarly, the Prime Minister’s and Supreme Court’s Dam Fund cannot alone be sufficient to build large dams. Another aspect of the dam debate is that not everyone agrees on them.
For instance, the proposal for the Kalabagh dam which has got a hype on social media recently has been there for decades but could not be built as all provinces but Punjab opposes it. If dams cannot be the ultimate solution then what can be? The answer to this is not very simple. Water conservation and storage need integrated and wide-ranging policy making and reforms.
Growing forests in the mountainous areas will help control soil erosion and control siltation in dams. Trees also lead to an increase in rainfall and help in better absorption of rainwater in the ground. The Prime Minister’s Green Pakistan drive is a good omen in this regard. Various water storage schemes all over the country should be built to save the water from being wasted in the sea and also for harvesting maximum rainwater.
In desert areas, rooftop rainwater storage tanks should be promoted and the wisdom of the centuries-old irrigation system such as the Karez should be explored. We also need to evaluate how we waste our water. Almost 95% of our surface water is consumed by the agriculture sector. Due to an unlined canal system and flood irrigation, a lot of water is lost. Furthermore, most of the farmers plant water-intensive crops such as sugar cane and rice which puts pressure on already scarce water resources.
In urban populations water supply is not efficient both in quantity and quality and most of the water does not return revenue to the government. As a result, already under-resourced water authorities can do little to improve the situation. Along with macro-level reforms, common people also need to be taught about the importance of conserving water through changes in curriculum and through messages in the media.
Doomsday is just seven years away and if we are to escape from the water crisis or at least mitigate its impact, every faction of our country needs to work towards working out and implementing solutions, both shorter and longer term. Where water storage schemes are given importance, water conservation needs to be emphasized equally because the Kalabagh won’t help if we do not close the tap while brushing our teeth.