Islamabad: Despite being rich in water resources, Pakistanis continue to face water scarcity because of the country’s inability to properly manage, use and protect water resources for socioeconomic and environmental sustainability.

Pakistan’s poor water management is conservatively costing the country nearly 4 per cent of GDP or around $12 billion (Dh44.07 billion) per year, according to a new report from the World Bank.

These costs are dominated by the cost of poor water supply and sanitation as well as floods and droughts.

Pakistan is well endowed with water but water availability per person remains comparatively low in the South Asian country, home to nearly 210 million people. “Pakistan does not make the best use of its water endowment,” says the report titled ‘Pakistan Getting More from Water’, stressing that water use is heavily dominated by agriculture sector that contributes around one-fifth of the GDP, but less than half of this is from irrigated cropping. Irrigation contributes around $22 billion to annual GDP.

Water wastage is high and agricultural yields are low in Pakistan as compared to most countries. The four major crops — wheat, rice, cotton and sugar cane — that use nearly 80 per cent of all water generate less than 5 per cent of the GDP — around $14 billion per year.

“Water security in Pakistan is reaching a critical point that demands urgent attention and reform,” said Illango Patchamuthu, World Bank Country Director for Pakistan. It is important to boost irrigation productivity while paying attention to the social and environmental aspects of water management, he said.

Although climate change and transboundary issues are generally cited as the major cause of water scarcity but the biggest challenges as well as opportunities are internal which require improving water use efficiency and productivity. To meet its growing water demands, Pakistan must “strengthen water governance and strategic water planning” with “strong collaboration between federal and provincial governments” and other stakeholders.

Water crisis was rated as the biggest risk to Pakistan by World Economic Forum and Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources also warned that the country could “run dry” by 2025. The alarming state compelled Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government to prioritise water by building dams.

However, William Young, author of the report deems that “New dams can help improve water security but will not address the most pressing water problems that Pakistan faces.”

Although Pakistan’s National Water Policy provides a sound basis for reform, but provincial water policies and legal framework need much attention, he says. “Irrigation systems need modernising; hydromel systems should be expanded; and urban water infrastructure, especially for wastewater, requires major investment.”

Besides economic costs, the report also highlighted the environmental degradation due to excessive water withdrawals and widespread pollution as well as poor social outcomes as waterborne diseases (cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, and diarrhoea) kill nearly 40,000 children each year in Pakistan.

To address water security, Pakistan needs to strengthen legal frameworks for water at federal and provincial levels; improve water data and information, establish provincial water planning and allocation mechanisms; reduce water wastage in agriculture sector and modernise irrigation and improve water governance.

Key Facts

— Pakistan’s poor water management is costing the country 4 per cent of GDP or $12 billion per year

— Four major crops that use nearly 80 per cent of all water generate less than 5 per cent of the GDP

— Waterborne diseases are killing nearly 40,000 children each year

Recommendations for improving water security in Pakistan according to Report:

1. Strengthen water data, information, mapping, modelling, and forecasting

2. Establish a multi-stakeholder process of basin-scale water resources

3. Establish provincial water planning and allocation mechanisms

4. Accelerate agricultural water productivity

5. Adopt conjunctive planning and management of surface and ground water

6. Construct limited new storage and reservoirs

7. Modernise irrigation and drainage

8. Reform urban water governance

9. Improve understanding and management of climate risks

10. Strengthen planning and management of water-energy interactions