The Driving Force of Nature
Leonardo da Vinci aptly summed up water’s importance for us when he said; water is the driving force of all nature.
Around the globe a water crisis is underway, some countries are feeling its impact as we speak, a large majority have opted the pigeon way of dealing with the issue while a handful are trying to look for a solution.
Approximately, one billion people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water and the majority of this population resides in the developing countries.
Pakistan is a water stressed country with access to clean water expected to decrease over the coming decades, therefore finding ways to conserve freshwater is central for the country and its people. Per capita water availability of Pakistan is 964 cubic meter, which is less than the threshold of 1,000 cubic meter for water scarcity.
As per Asian Development Bank’s 2013 report, Pakistan stands on 5thposition among the top ten ‘Water Insecure’ countries. In 2015, UN findings suggest that within next ten years in forty-eight countries, an approximate of 2.9 billion people will face water shortages to the extent of destabilizing these countries and in some cases even jeopardizing the existence of some of these states. Pakistan is on the list of these states as well. The additional fact, that we are one of the top three countries most effected by climate change makes it all the more important that we tackle our looming water crisis.
Given that we are an agriculture based economy, a large part of our population is dependent on this vital resource for its economic needs as well. This signifies that the impacts are not just limited at a micro level but of a macro scale simultaneously.
The lack of water goes beyond just having a direct impact, it intertwines with poverty, health and women and children problems. People who are generally stuck with unsuitable water, not able to afford an alternative are from the onset struggling with poverty. Consumption of contaminated water results in health problems, especially in children. As per charitywater.org, every nineteen seconds a mother loses a child to water related illness. It is mostly, the responsibility of women and children to collect water for their families and many have to walk up to three hours to get to the nearest source. In fact, in many countries this activity alone consumes most of the working hours for these women and children.
These families cannot afford to educate their children, as their limited resources are spent trying to meet their basic needs and medical bills. With no education or skill development, there is no room for families stuck in this system to work their way out of poverty. Without pause this vicious cycle continues and is transferred to the next generation.
We are generally not known for our long term approach, but this is no longer about securing our future. If we don’t start managing this precious resource now, our present would be in jeopardy. Practical and doable solutions do exist.
“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” — Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad
As mentioned in the first part of this series (Th e Driving Force of Nature — Part 1) the water crisis is no longer an issue about ‘securing our future’. It is threatening our present and therefore, it is time to adopt solutions that are capable of helping us either ‘go through’ or ‘go around’ this crisis sitting on our doorsteps.
Conserving water is both economically and technically feasible, providing a win-win situation, decreasing the burden on our water resources and reduce our need for expensive alternatives that are responsible for destroying wildlife habitat and displacing people. Measures need to be taken both at the macro and micro level.
One of the biggest cause of water wastage globally is the mainstream irrigation practices. Sixty percent of the world’s irrigation is wasted and it is estimated that adopted improved irrigation techniques can bring this proportion down to twenty per cent. Pakistan being an agri-based economy, it is one of the where a large amount of water is lost in irrigation. Current practices do not reach the target crops, losing the majority chunk to evaporation, seepage and surface runoff.
So what’s the alternative? Actually there are three alternatives that can be put to use. First is drip irrigation, which ensures that the right amount of water reaches the target crops putting an end to wastage. Then there is an option of using sprinklers, which we see commonly used in public places such as parks, university campuses, etc. Likewise they can be used quite efficiently for irrigation. Lastly, there is laser land leveling. Through this system the land is leveled with the aid of lasers to ensure that surface runoff is minimized and the farmers don’t need to use large quantities of water to ensure its reach to the crops on the un-leveled land.
Another commercial source of waste water are industries, who don’t treat their wastewater instead choose to release it to their surroundings. This is wrong both ethically and by law as under Pakistan Environment Protection Act (PEPA) 1997, section 12, it is mandatory for industries to treat their waste water before releasing it. In fact a few have shown through example that after treatment they can then recycle the water in their production chain further removing the burden on natural water resources.
Not just industries, individuals are also responsible for wasting this precious gift of nature, not considering its limited supply. So what practices can and should be adopted at an individual level to promote water conservation?
These are basic precautions that we all advocate verbally but forget to follow through. Switch off the tap while brushing your teeth and shaving, take shorter showers, and install small bore pipes in your homes. Close your taps while soaping your dishes. You should not be washing your cars every day and that too with a pipe. Likewise use a valve on your lawn pipes. Most important of all recycle your domestic water. This practice is adopted in many others countries already.
Water is patient but intelligence demands that we don’t test its limits to the point that it starts to resist the unnatural pressure and stops flowing.
Fatima Arif is Sr Officer Social Media, WWF-Pakistan.