Thursday, February 10, 2011

A possible water scarcity crisis in Pakistan

While the water from last year's flooding in Pakistan is still drying up, the country could face another water related problem in not having enough. The flooding did extensive damage to irrigation and sewage facilities that were already in poor shape before the flooding. Experts warn that if repairs are not made quickly Pakistan could see severe water shortages within 25 years.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Timothy Spence has this anylasis of the Pakistan water problem.

"There are so many other priorities that the government is facing, particularly at a national security level, and to be frank, Pakistan’s government has never really made genuine, sustainable commitments to human development and human security issues, such as guaranteeing better access to water for the masses," says Michael Kugelman, an Asia analyst at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington.

A Woodrow Wilson Center report titled ‘Running on Empty’ that Kugelman oversaw in 2009 warned that Pakistan’s water situation is "extremely precarious" and that the South Asian nation could face widespread shortages within 25 years. He said last year’s floods exposed the government’s neglect of infrastructure, including dams, "one of the big manifestations of the water management policy failures."

"I think you could argue quite conclusively that if repairs had been done in a more timely fashion or more efficaciously in the last few years, that the damage from the flood would not have been as extensive as it was," Kugelman told IPS.

Aid officials say restoring water and sanitation services - already inadequate before the inundations - remain a priority six months after torrential rains turned the Indus River and its tributaries into destructive torrents. Floodwaters raged from July through September, causing nearly 1 billion dollars in damage to dams and irrigation systems and 93 million dollars damage to water and sewerage facilities, according to relief agencies. The U.N.’s humanitarian affairs agency says only 59 percent of the 1.9 billion dollars in immediate recovery aid has so far been provided.

Lack of safe drinking water, stagnant pools and wrecked or non-existent wastewater disposal are creating a health threat that is magnifying flood recovery problems.

The Red Cross and the South African anti-poverty group ActionAid have both warned that waterlogged and silted croplands are threatening subsistence farming and creating food shortages, and that malnourishment - particularly among children and mothers - is growing.

The Red Cross reported on Jan. 21 that four million people lack adequate shelter, and contaminated water supplies in southern Pakistan are "creating breeding grounds for waterborne diseases."

The U.S. State Department said that more than a million children are at risk of contracting infectious diseases, including waterborne ailments that were a main cause of death among children before the 2010 inundations.

Aside from urgent recovery needs, donors and analysts say Pakistan must address its future water management practices if it is to serve its rapidly growing population of 170 million.

A flood damage report prepared by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank says the country’s water supply and sanitation services "fail on three accounts - quality, access, and sustainability of services."

"Piped water supply is frequently intermittent and not potable; only 35 percent of the population has access, at best for 3-6 hours a day in all but the largest cities. Sewerage services are inadequate with most households not connected to a system; 33 percent of rural inhabitants have no toilet," says the 188-page report issued in December.

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