World Water Day
Dr Ahmad Saeed Bhatti
have lived without love, not one without water.”– W.H. Auden
The World Water Day is
celebrated on March 22 (today) to mark the implementation of
the UN recommendations (Earth Summit Agenda 21) to work out
proposals and undertake activities to emphasise reduction in
wasteful consumption of resources such as water.
Water is the most
important ingredient for food and agriculture, and most
basic to human life: one can survive for eight to ten days
without food, but without water for not more than two days.
Global warming ,
nevertheless, is a major water resource issue for many
reasons, according to Karrie Lynn Pennington and Thomas V.
Cech, co-authors of the book titled “Introduction to Water
Resources and Environmental Issues”. It is having a serious
impact on the age-old glaciers, permanent snow, sea ice and
polar ice caps.
Recently, the Union of
Concerned Scientists (UCS), a nonprofit science advocacy
group based in the US, drew the attention of the world to a
number of extreme weather events that happened around the
world recently, including the 2010 floods in Pakistan that
killed more than 1,600 people and displaced millions of
others, causing losses of Rs 324.5 billion to the national
exchequer; the worst drought in Russia, in decades, which
triggered wildfires and doubled the death rate in Moscow to
about 700; and the torrential rains in China that caused
massive flooding and landslides, killing more than 3,000
people. “The devastating heat, fires and floods during
summer are consistent with trends that scientists say were
caused by global warming,” maintains the UCS members.
According to James Edward Hansen, who heads the NASA Goddard
Institute for Space Studies in New York City, a part of the
Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the
maximum amount of CO2 that the atmosphere can hold is 350
ppm, if we want a planet similar to the one on which
civilisation developed and to which life on earth could be
adapted. The planet is, however, facing 390 ppm that is
increasing beyond the earth’s carrying capacity.
Bill McKibben, author, educator and environmentalist, in his
latest book titled “Eaarth”, remembers the earth as free of
all environmental problems. He also mentions about the 350
ppm CO2 as the target advocated by most nations at the
Copenhagen Conference. The pre-industrial CO2 that was 281
ppm in 2005 is currently 381 ppm, according to Mauna Loa
Observatory (MLO) in Hawaii, a premier atmospheric research
Many nations agreed to reduce
the CO2 emissions to an average of 5.2 percent below 1990
levels between 2008 and 2012. While the emissions in some
countries of the east fell by 33 percent due to an economic
downturn, they increased by 12 percent to 30 percent in the
US and many developing countries.
Needless to say, the
importance of land and water resources was also recognised
by the early man, who abandoned the hunter-gatherer habit in
favour of food production and settlement into communities.
That later evolved into cities, states and empires of
civilisation, which developed on river banks - many along
the Tigris-Euphrates, the Nile, Huang-He and the Indus are
In 1989, the Dutch Government
adopted a National Environmental Policy Plan (NEPP2) called
the “Green Plan” to identify all major environmental
problems and meet all concerned, i.e. industrialists and
citizen, groups to establish the goals and timeframe for
reduction in pollution.
No wonder, the early
societies relied primarily on small dams (water storage
reservoirs) for irrigation and food production, since the
changing weather patterns often gave fewer but irregular
natural water flows. Besides the construction of dams,
calendars were created by the Mesopotamians to keep track of
planting times, rainy seasons and floods (Norman Smith).
In modern times, the number
of large dams in the world that was 5,700 in 1950 has grown
to 45,000 today - 80 percent of which are in China, Spain,
Japan and the US as well as India (Pennington and Cech).
India now plans to build
additional 30-35 large and 135 medium dams (in addition to
other numerous sites) on the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum
rivers. If this happens, it will permanently deprive
Pakistan of the surface water flows by at least 33-35
million acre feet annually and add to the people’s misery,
i.e. lack of water for drinking, food production and energy.
Against this backdrop, the
National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is on record
of having warned that like 2010 and 2011, Pakistan would
face another terrible flood in 2012. Regrettably, it
happened and it affected nearly 30 million people in
Charsadda, Peshawar, Nowshera, Muzaffargarh, Rajanpur,
Laiyyah, Khushab, Muzaffarabad, Sargodha and lower Sindh,
while the government machinery, both at the federal and
provincial level, remained largely ineffective.
According to the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Pakistan
ranks 12th among the countries most vulnerable to the impact
of climate change, and this calls for a strong political
will and immediate action plan for its survival.
While the need for the
construction of a large reservoir like the Kalabagh Dam has
long been felt, the recurrent floods in the country also
necessitate a network of small dams to preserve flood and
rain water to avert inundation, ensure the availability of
water for drinking and agriculture, and meet the acute
shortage of energy.
Sine 90 percent of the water
is being used for agricultural production in Pakistan, an
additional 13 to 14 percent more water would be needed for
the production of food for the growing population.
The two striking examples of
construction of dams by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
during years of dustbowl and great economic depression (by
employing youth), and the founding of the US Corps of
Engineers by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802 for the
preservation of rain water and flood control project for
irrigation and drinking, contain important lessons for us.
Also, Sydney that has one of
the biggest water supply system in Australia depends on 11
dams, which can store four times more water than that of New
York and nine times that of London. Despite this, the
Australians are discontented and believe that the government
needs to do more to develop water storage facilities.
Pakistan spends a huge amount to foreign exchange on the
import of energy resources. The amount could double by 2030.
Currently, it is barely harvesting 6,500 MW (that is a major
bulk of the total generation) out of a hydel capacity of
42,000 MW of its waters, claims Robert M. Hathaway, Bhurnika
Muchhala and Michael Kugelman, co-editors of “Fueling the
Future: Meeting Pakistan's Energy Needs in the 21st
While Canada is the largest producer of hydropower in the
world, followed by US, the Itaipú Dam (643 feet high) in
Brazil and Paraguay is the largest hydropower dam that
caters to 25 percent and 78 percent of the power needs of
these countries; here, in Pakistan, the much need Kalabagh
Dam, unfortunately, seems to be buried once and for all.
The situation is quite grim. The contribution of agriculture
to GDP in the country has fallen to less than 20 percent
from an over 50 percent in 1947. Over 60 percent of its land
has been degraded and 93 percent of its people own barely
12.5 acre of land - with 60 percent possessing less than
Now that Pakistan’s population has risen to 180 million from
32.5 million in 1947, besides global warming and climate
change that are also on the rise, it is high time that the
construction of Kalabagh Dam is initiated, in addition to
building small dams to preserve rain water, as the shortage
of water and energy is growing.