Not a drop to drink

THERE are not many statistics that evoke the pathos of the following: every minute, somewhere in the world, a child dies of a waterborne disease. This stark reality, which illustrates that governments are failing their people in very fundamental ways in many parts of the globe, is included in a report by three senior IMF staffers in the latest issue of the organisation`s Finance and Development magazine. It looks at various water-related issues, from lack of water for basic needs, to the consequences of such scarcity and different options for improving water-management policies. It is not surprising that Pakistan, as the third most water-stressed country in the world, finds a mention. The report suggests that we are squandering this precious resource by not placing a commensurate price on it: although agriculture consumes 95pc of annual surface available water, accounts for 20pc of GDP and employs 40pc of the workforce, the agricultural sector remains largely untaxed. In short, we are rushing headlong towards catastrophe unless we devise rational, well-considered policies for water usage.

The disproportionate diversion of surface water towards agriculture leaves Pakistanis highly dependent on groundwater for basic needs, including water for drinking. However, several studies have shown that the water tables in the country are plummeting at a potentially calamitous rate. In parts of Lahore, for example, they had fallen by up to 65 feet over a five-year period. Moreover, in that same city, the practice of injecting industrial discharge into deep wells with the use of pumping machines by factories situated far from the main disposal drains is polluting the aquifer itself. All over the country, the dumping of untreated sewage and industrial effluent into rivers and watercourses continues unchecked. All of which means that about a third of Pakistanis do not have access to potable water, and 200,000 under-fives die every year due to waterborne diseases. Without taking stock of these figures, and comprehensively addressing the looming water crisis, we as a people have no viable future.

Dawn Editorial