Pakistani farmers use tractors to pump water used to irrigate fields at the Kabul River on the outskirts of Peshawar. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: Pakistan is one of the top 10 countries with the lowest access to clean water, according to a latest study. The study entitled “The Water Gap — The State of the World’s Water 2018”, by WaterAid, was released on Thursday to mark World Water Day.

According to the report, some 844 million people globally are struggling to access life’s most essential requirement and at least 60% of the people live in water stress areas.

Pakistan ranks number 9 in the list of top 10 countries with lowest access to clean water where 21 million out of the total population of 207 million, do not have access to clean water. India, Ethiopia and Nigeria are the top three countries without safe water.

“Pakistan is facing severe challenges; industrialisation and the demands of agriculture, depleted and increasingly saline groundwater, rapid urbanisation and drought have all taken their toll.”

Highlighting the discrepancies between the richest and the poorest, the report suggests that 98 per cent of the richest people have access to clean water close to home as compared to 79.2 per cent of the poor.

According to the report, the major reasons people globally are deprived of access to water are: lack of financing and political priority, lack of institutions, lack of effective taxation, location, land tenure, discrimination, disaster and displacement.

Pakistan, is also, however, one of the most-improved nations for reaching more people with safe water by numbers since 2000, the report revealed. “Pakistan has reached water to 44 million people since 2000 — yet we see that while almost all its wealthy ones have access to clean water close to home, one in five people living in poverty do not.”

Commenting on the report, Dr Pervaiz Amir, Director of Pakistan Water Partnership, said that the report sounds a “bit exaggerated.” Talking to Gulf News, Dr Amir explained that, “There are two major issues of water availability and quality. Pakistan is mainly facing the problem of poor quality of water, such as high levels of arsenic in Pakistan’s groundwater.”

Dr Mohammad Ashraf, Chairman of Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) told Gulf News that, “Only 39 per cent of Pakistanis have access to safe drinking water in a country.” The levels of safety also vary from region to region, he said, adding that the rural areas face severe water issues.

Pakistan’s largest province, Balochistan — which lies in a zone that sees low rainfall — is facing severe drought and famine. The provincial capital, Quetta, is facing a catastrophic situation where the shortage of 20 million gallons of water daily, according to Quetta Water and Sanitation Authority. “Half of Balochistan is gripped by a drought which has affected people, land, water resources and wildlife,” according to Dr Ainuddin, chairperson of the Disaster Management Department at the University of Balochistan.

However, poor management of water and absence of national water policy has led to water crisis even in big cities like Karachi where roughly 20 million residents regularly face water shortages. A 2017 report by Indus River System Authority revealed gross mismanagement saying that “Pakistan dumps water worth approximately $21 billion into the sea each year due to lack of water conservation system.”

“Pakistan is a water-stressed country and is nearing the threshold of water scarcity. Access to safe drinking water in rural and urban areas is declining and the provision of potable water is a key issue that people face,” said Hammad Naqi Khan, Director-General of WWF-Pakistan.

Experts have warned that the impact of climate change on Pakistan’s already stressed water resources would be catastrophic if dams are not built and water is not conserved.

“Water conservation is essential for Pakistan. The government should urgently invest in small and big dams and store the rain water during rainy reason,” Dr Amir suggested.

The government recently proposed a National Water Policy which is hailed as a timely measure by experts even as PCRWR and Pakistan Met Office warned that the country could face severe drought by 2025. Dr Pervaiz Amir said that the national water policy which is already seven decades late “should not be delayed anymore.”