FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 20

World Water Day: A stark reminder for Pakistan

World Water Day is observed annually on March 22 in order to focus attention on the importance of freshwater and the sustainable management of freshwater resources. It also underlines the need to take action to tackle the global water crisis in support of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030.

The day is aimed at accelerating change to solve the water and sanitation crisis across the world. With a resolution adopted on December 22, 1992, the United Nations General Assembly declared March 22 of each year World Day for Water to be observed starting in 1993. The theme of World Water Day 2023, “Accelerating change” is a wake-up call to do more to solve the water and sanitation crises. We need collective and urgent action by governments, regional associations, and global development partners. We also need to understand the complex interplay between water and energy supply and demand, food ecosystems and the impact of climate change to address the diverse needs and use of water.

The global water crisis is a critical issue affecting millions of people worldwide. According to the United Nations, 2.2 billion people lack safe drinking water, and 4.2 billion lack access to safe sanitation services. The ramifications of this crisis are devastating, as it affects everything from health and hygiene to food security and economic development.

Ahead of this year’s World Water Day, the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published a detailed report, the World Water Development Report 2023. Published on the occasion of the first major UN conference on water in over 45 years held in New York between 22 and 24 March, the report reveals some stark truths about water scarcity around the world.

According to this year’s World Water Development report, 26 percent of the global population (2 billion people) in 2020 didn’t have access to safe drinking water, while over 46 percent (3.6 billion) lacked access to basic sanitation.The need to tackle this crisis cannot be overemphasised. With the world’s population projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, the water demand will rise alarmingly. Climate change is also exacerbating the problem, with more frequent and severe droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events.

The global urban population facing water scarcity is projected to potentially double from 930 million in 2016 to between 1.7 and 2.4 billion people, in 2050.The UN water report underlines the growing demand for water worldwide by roughly 1 percent per year over the last 40 years, noting water use “is expected to grow at a similar rate through to 2050, driven by a combination of population growth, socio-economic development and changing consumption patterns”.

This phenomenon is particularly strong in developing countries and emerging economies, where industrial growth and rapid increase in the population of cities are worsening factors. According to an estimate, 10 percent of the global population lives in countries with high or critical water stress, and up to 3.5 billion people live under conditions of water stress at least one month a year, says the report.

Therefore, it is essential that we take action now to conserve water and ensure its sustainable use for future generations. Water conservation is crucial for ensuring a sustainable future for our planet, and we are all responsible for doing our part. We can reduce water stress, preserve ecosystems, and save money by conserving water. According to experts, the estimated cost of meeting UN goals, to ensure all people have access to clean water and sanitation by 2030, is between $600 billion and $1 trillion a year.

To this end it is important to form partnerships with investors, financiers, governments and climate crisis communities to ensure that money is invested in ways to sustain the environment and provide potable water and sanitation to those who lack it.Massive investments in integrated water development and management are central to achieving sustainable water, food and energy security while assuring green and inclusive growth.

Pakistan is among the most water-stressed countries in the world, with its water availability per person dropping by 78% since 1951. The country is heavily reliant on the Indus River Basin, which is vulnerable to climate change and unsustainable water use.

According to the World Bank, an estimated 63 million Pakistanis lack access to clean water. Water scarcity affects more than two-thirds of Pakistan’s population, with nearly 40% of households having no access to piped water. Pakistan has the world’s fourth-highest rate of water usage, and the country’s water demand is projected to exceed supply by 2025. Over 53,000 children under the age of five die each year due to waterborne diseases in Pakistan. The World Resources Institute ranks Pakistan as the third most water-stressed country in the world.

To address the water crisis in Pakistan, combined action by the government, businesses, communities and individuals is needed. Among other things, we need to invest more in water infrastructure projects that can reduce leakage, improve storage, and provide better access to clean water for all. At the same time, measures should be taken to support farmers in adopting water-efficient irrigation methods, and promote sustainable farming practices to conserve water.

An urgent need is to increase public awareness of the worsening water crisis and the importance of water conservation through education and outreach programs. World Water Day is a stark reminder of the existential challenge facing Pakistan in the water sector.