Every year the United Nations offers a reminder that water, the resource that made life possible on Earth, must be protected and preserved. Being celebrated on every March 22 since 1993, the theme of this year’s World War Day was ‘Water and Sustainable Development’. The aim of the theme is to build an understanding of how water can be used in a sustainable manner to aid development. The reality of the water crisis around the world is that over one billion people are without access to clean drinking water. The problem is less that of a lack of water and more of a lack of access and management. The world’s water problem, like many others, is one created by humans themselves.
Celebrated across the world, the day usually receives scant attention in Pakistan. Experts often deliver the warning that lack of water will be the next major crisis in Pakistan. Some would argue that it already is one. A report last year argued that Pakistan’s water crisis offered an existential threat – one as big as terrorism – to the country. While this may be a bit of an overstretch, it is worth heeding the advice more carefully. The lack of adequate storage and wastage of major chunks of the water that makes its way into unlined canals is compounded by the fact that Pakistan is dependent on its rivers for most of its water, and the flow in these is dependent on the 54-year-old Indus Water Treaty. There are also issues over the rights of the upper and lower riparians, with Punjab and Sindh often in conflict about who gets what share of water. The country’s poor rarely have access to clean drinking water. The provision of clean water has been outsourced to private corporations and private contractors in the form of bottled water and water tankers. The political economy of water in the country is managed by keeping a delicate balance, but with the country’s population crossing 200 million how long will this sustain before a serious crisis? The drought in Thar should have served as the required warning. But no one has taken it seriously till now. The World Water Day reminds us that water is a right that belongs to all. Without proper planning and focused conservation, this is a timely reminder to redirect our energies towards water.