By Halima Khan
Water is necessary for human survival and development while water is a scarce good. Conclusively lack of water hinders development and also dignified life. This assessment is obvious from global trends, as well as from Pakistan’s national and local struggles for better access to water.
According to figures available by the United Nations and other international organizations, 1.1bn people are devoid of sufficient access to water, and 2.4bn people have to live with no sufficient sanitation. In keeping to current trends the projection is that about 3bn people of a population of 8.5bn will experience water shortage by 2025. 83% of them will belong to developing countries, more often than not in rural areas where even today now and then only 20% of the population have contact with sufficient water supply. This definite lack of water is contrasting to the academic conclusion that there is enough ground water in all regions of the world to certify plenty of water supplies for all people. Only 6% of global freshwater is used by households, while 20% is utilized industry and another 70% by agriculture. The finale drawn from these framework conditions is that water shortage and the unequal distribution of water are global problems rather than regional problems that need international solutions.
Inadequate supply of drinking water is the foremost cause of diseases in developing countries. Already in 1997, the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development maintained that 2.3bn people suffer from diseases rooted in unsatisfactory water provision and quality. More than five years later, it was anticipated that 2.4bn people were suffering from water related diseases, and the World Health Organization reckons that 80% of all infections are traceable to poor water conditions. 5,483 people die daily of water caused diarrhea – 90 percent are children under five. Taking into credit all water linked diseases and deaths, international organizations estimated in 2001 that 2,213,000 people died because of derisory water supply – ten times more than the tsunami disaster caused in December 2004.
In 1995, UNDP considered Pakistan as country having among the highest water potential per person out of 130 countries that should severely perk up its water situation to prevail over the present crisis and prevent future ones. Obviously, Pakistan failed to make any progress. Subsequently in 2003, the United Nations dropped Pakistan’s ranking, because its overall renewable water resources per capita per year have been predicted as 114th out of 180 countries.
Only three percent of Pakistan’s sweet water resources are consumed for household purposes and drinking. Therefore the dispute on access to water in Pakistan is subjugated by irrigation disagreements, mega-projects of dams and canals, and climate modifications. The focal point is on water for agriculture rather than for people. This production oriented outlook continues in the debate about groundwater use and withdrawal. It is probable that surface water meets only 75-80 percent of crop water requirements. As a result, groundwater is merely seen as a reserve water resource for irrigation and food production, as well as the major factor for the growth of agricultural production in the late 20th century. With regard to the availability of safe and sufficient drinking water, Pakistan lacks reliable statistics. While data about the availability of water and field studies about water quality exist, there is no sufficient data that take both into account. To some extent it is recognized that lacking safe and sufficient drinking water is not a geographical but social problem.
Official records about the access to drinking water vary between 60 and 90 percent of households. In rural areas a decline of households with access to water is documented; figures about accessibility differ between 10 and 53 percent. In addition, having access to water in Pakistan is not parallel to access to safe and sufficient water supply. Pakistan’s water quality ranks as 80th out of 122 nations. The Pakistan Council of Research and Water Resources (PCRWR) estimate that approximately 50 percent of urban water supply is insufficient for drinking and personal use. This research takes information about availability and quality into relation and concludes that an average of 25.61 percent of Pakistan’s 159 million inhabitants have access to safe and sufficient drinking water. This computation shows that in rural areas only 23.5 percent and in urban areas approximately 30 percent can use their source of water without putting at risk their health. These results come close to a conclusion by independent experts who predicted that already in 2001, with prevailing consumption rates and a population growth of 4 million people per year, one out of three people in Pakistan would face dangerous shortages of water, “threatening their very survival”.
Deficient water supply is primarily a local issue rooted in national omissions to address the needs of the people in a sufficient manner. In order to address these issues properly, international advice, cooperation and standard-setting is needed. Human rights and human development are two sides of the same coin that is titled as water crisis. Pakistan spends officially approximately 80 times more into its military than on the provision of water and sufficient sanitation facilities to its people.
In the face of the minimal practical impact of the great number of world conferences, declarations and action programs, this dialogue has sensitized governments and international actors with respect to the issue of water shortage and the human right to water. Because of this sensitization, the institutions, bodies and agencies of the United Nations have been finally talking about the issue of water shortage increasingly from the standpoint of other dying out human rights, such as the right to food, health, shelter, education and development.