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Is Pakistan heading toward absolute water scarcity?

To say the least, our relationship with water is, and has always been, strained. Reports revealed that Pakistan has the 4th highest rate of water consumption in the world (AsiaNet Pakistan).

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) claim that the nation could in fact “run dry” by 2025 – reaching absolute water scarcity.

The availability of water is vital for our entire value chain.

A study conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization in 2011 reported that 94% of water withdrawn was used for agricultural purposes. That is a staggering number for an industry whose main crops – wheat, rice, cotton and sugarcane – have reportedly produced less than just 5% of the GDP.

A decade later, this water usage for the subsector can only have increased, what with the huge rise in population and therefore inflating demand. Yet, the percentage contributed to the GDP has unfortunately remained largely constant (World Bank, 2019).

In addition, the existing reservoirs’ storage capacity cannot sustain this population boom while the capacities in themselves have also reduced over the years. This does not apply just to this one, albeit dominating, industry, but is applicable across the board.

It takes about 2,700 litres of water to make just one cotton t-shirt. Nonetheless, this is not an issue of quantity alone, but of quality too. Not only are the water utilization techniques and systems subpar and inefficient, hence leading to substantial water wastage, but Pakistan’s overall water management practices are highly unsustainable.

The water itself comes into question; that which has been coming into our usage over the past few decades hasn’t changed much – and that is what is questionable. Pakistan is unfortunately among the top 10 countries of the world with the greatest number of people living without access to safe water. About 36% of the groundwater is classified as highly saline.

This is mainly because, despite the minor improvement in water use efficiency, the collection, treatment and disposal of sewage effluent are all grossly inadequate.

Most water supplies are therefore contaminated. And in view of the rapidly growing population, urbanization, industrialization – and inevitably, pollution – the situation is likely to get worse.

Focusing on replenishment and conservation of water resources, in 2007, the Coca-Cola Company announced that they intend to replenish 100% the equivalent amount of water that it has used in its operations (to produce its myriad of beverages). The goal was to give this back to nature and communities by 2020 – a goal which they reached in 2017. In fact, based on global water use assessments validated by LimnoTech and Deloitte in association with The Nature Conservancy, an estimated 191.9 billion litres of water was returned to nature and communities – equivalent to circa 115% of the water used in the beverages.

In Pakistan, the beverage company has replenished over 2.7 billion litres back to the communities and have achieved water efficiency of 30% across their supply chain in the last five years through upgraded facilities.

Projects such as these for water sanitation and infrastructure, watershed support and even reforestation are vital. Other environmental pressures will continue to play a key role as obstacles toward economic development. However, there is an urgent need to respond to these very pressures and these are a few ways by which the growing imbalance between water supply and demand can be somewhat controlled. Just as we cannot and need not be a totally carbon neutral world, we cannot deter progress. What we need are greener innovations and solutions for modern day functions.

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