By Oneir Raza
The gradual global climate change, since the industrial revolution, has mainly manifested in the form of global warming, which in turn resulted in the international response to environmental degradation. Climate change has resulted in extreme climatic events around the world in the past few decades. Floods, droughts, tsunamis and cyclones are now seen as common phenomenons in many parts of the water. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported the adverse effects of climate change on water resources, anthropogenic activities, natural resources, and population. A rise in sea-levels, melting of ice caps and glaciers, proliferation of water-borne diseases, degradation of eco-systems and loss of diversity are also direct impacts of global warming.
To understand the dilemma of water security, we first need to look at the distribution of water on Earth. Ninety-eight percent of the water is salt water, the remaining two percent is fresh water out of which seventy percent is ice and snow and the remaining thirty percent is groundwater and surface water (rivers, streams, lakes etc). These proportions are said to be altered due to climate change as the melting of polar ice caps into the sea turns the fresh water into sea water. The effect of global warming has increased water in the atmosphere. Warmer air results in the decrease of snowfall and increase in rainfall which results in heavier rainfalls. These heavier rainfalls accelerate the movement of water from the atmosphere and oceans and thus, decreases our ability to store and use it. Climate change will also lead to the reduction of rainfall in several dry regions and the ultimate impacts of this all would be an increase in the floods and droughts throughout the world.
Water scarcity is becoming an existential issue for Pakistan. Due to its fast depleting natural water resources, the country is facing a grim and bleak future in terms of its water-security. The per capita water availability has fallen from about 5,600 cubic meters available at the time of independence in 1947 to 1,100 cubic meters in 2005. It is expected to hit below 700 cm per capita by 2025. Pakistan is affected by climate change in more than one way; from glacial melting to greenhouse emissions to an irregular rainfall pattern to the occurrence of floods and droughts. Heavy floods came in Pakistan in the years 2010, 2011 and 2012 which cost a myriad of people their lives and created ‘environmental refugees’ in the country. Pakistan is said to be one of the most water-stressed countries in the world as it has a surface water potential of 141 million acre feet (MAF) and an underground water reserve of 55.5 MAF. A German think-tank, Germanwatch, which is advocating for the preservation of environment, has recently put forward its latest report which is its Global Climate Risk Index 2018. Pakistan ranked 7th on the list of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. In its previous report of 2016, Pakistan was ranked 40th but it has now entered the danger zone of the top 10 countries on the list.
The direct effect of climate change is not the only threat to the water security of Pakistan. A rapid increase in population is another fear of the environmentalists in Pakistan. Being an agrarian based economy, Pakistan is heavily dependent on its irrigation and water supplies. An increase in population would mean more mouths to feed and thus more pressure on the agriculture-dependent economy of Pakistan. Being a growing economy, Pakistan’s industry is also growing and not necessarily keeping the water pollution in control nor having efficient water saving mechanisms. All this results in more demand of water and eventually water scarcity.
In order to counter the threat of climate change to water-security, the policy makers on local, national and provincial levels need to integrate the social, environmental, technical, administrative and financial tools into their policy making process. An increased effort in recycling and reusing of water resources and developing water-saving technologies by the government and water industry should also be prioritised. Awareness to the general public on the adverse effects of climate change and the implications for Pakistan should also be given. Pakistan has to develop an efficient mechanism in order to deal with the climate induced water scarcity otherwise, it will result in a calamity that no one is prepared for in this country.
(The author is a research student of International Relations at National Defense University, Islamabad)
Nov 14, 2018 0
The 2018 Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) annual conference is scheduled for April 8 to 11 in Boao, Hainan Province. The forum will be themed "An Open and Innovative Asia for a World of Greater Prosperity."
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