Observing World Water Day

Today is World Water Day. It is a day celebrated around the world each year on March 22 to raise awareness of the importance of the world’s freshwater resources to humanity and the need to conserve them and treat them in a sustainable and responsible manner. The issue that this day highlights is of vital importance and high urgency to the entire world.

Water is one of the most important substances in the world. Besides being very important to human industry and to the running of the natural world, it is a substance that is vital for human life and all other life on Earth. The vast majority of all water on Earth, 97 percent, is saltwater, water with a salt content so high that human beings and a large proportion of other living things cannot drink it. Another 2 percent of all water on Earth is in the form of ice, especially in glaciers, and so is generally inaccessible to usage. That leaves only the remaining one percent, which is present on land in the form of rivers, lakes, wetlands, and groundwater, to be easily available for use by people.

The most important use of water by human beings is for drinking. Water is vital for the human body and a person needs to drink several cups a day in order to stay healthy and can die after three days without water. The next most important use for water is agriculture, as the other living things we raise for food also need water. Agriculture is in fact the world’s biggest user of water. Both of the mentioned uses of water require freshwater (small exceptions exist for agriculture such as farming marine fish). Water is also used for innumerable other actions from making pottery to many forms of industrial manufacturing to, transportation over bodies of water. In most of these cases, saltwater can do as well as freshwater.

One of the harshest realities in the world is that as the human population grows, being currently at seven billion, the world’s natural supply of freshwater will not grow with it. So far, that is not actually having severe consequences but human society and activity is having many effects on the environment that negatively impact water resources. People also may not have the means to adequately use water resources yet. Also, water can affect people in many ways.

World Water Day is denominated to highlight the issues concerning the relationship between human beings and freshwater. This includes water scarcity, flooding, sanitation, pollution, and waterborne diseases. Truly, many of the biggest problems people face on earth concern water. Pakistan is a country with grave water-related issues. It is one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to water problems, many of which often lead to severe crises. Many hazards that exist and disasters that occur are related to freshwater. As such, water is an ever-present concern in disaster risk management. PPLDM therefore enthusiastically observes World Water Day.

The two biggest freshwater hazards in the world are drought and flooding. In 2015, the World Economic Forum labeled water scarcity, when water supplies are inadequate to meet demand, as the biggest problem the world will face in the next decade. Drought is disaster-level water scarcity. It has been a major hazard for humanity throughout history. Flooding is when there is such a massive increase in water in the natural environment that land which was once dry is covered in still or running water. In floods, water becomes a destructive and powerful natural force, destructive to people and societies in various ways. Famine, a catastrophic shortage of food, is commonly caused by drought and is to a lesser extent caused by floods. Famine can also be caused by waterlogging, when soil becomes saturated with water, and by salinization, when water in the soil becomes too salty. Both inhibit most forms of agriculture. One of the most common ways that disease enters the human body is through drinking water. Many epidemics that occur are of waterborne diseases, caused when pathogens spread in the water supply or when people in large numbers use unsafe sources of water. Landslides and sinkholes are other disasters that can be caused by water and wildfires, desertification, and dust storms can be caused by decreasing water supply in the environment. Management of all these hazards can be done in an integrated way because freshwater is in an interconnected system.

The hydrological system across the nation of Pakistan is precarious and not as reliable as it is in many other countries. Pakistan’s main source of water is the rivers that flow from mountains. A vast region of mountainous terrain, including the world’s biggest mountains, surrounds Pakistan from the west and north. The Indus River is the biggest river in Pakistan, flowing through the country from north to south. It begins in Tibets and flows down from the Himalayas. In Punjab, it links with four rivers flowing from the east. Together, they make Punjab a fertile land. Some rivers like the Kabul and Swat river flow from the west through Khyber-Paktunkwha and into the Indus. The Indus River then flows down the middle of Sindh and enters the Arabian Sea, forming the Indus Delta. Across the wide expanses of Balochistan, some small rivers flow from the northern highlands to the ocean.

The climate of Pakistan is arid. Only in the high-altitude areas, such as the Karakorum and Himalayan mountains, is the soil kept constantly moist by the air. Most rainfall over the country occurs during the summer monsoon season, when air currents from the Indian Ocean dump heavy rainfall across the country from late June to September. On average, half of all rainfall in Pakistan every year occurs in July and August. Outside of the summer monsoon, most rainfall is delivered by clouds driven by the Westerlies from the Mediterranean to western parts of Pakistan, usually during the winter. These are very erratic.

So Pakistan has a natural situation in which rivers flow through very dry terrain and rain comes only sometimes during the year. To cope with this, Pakistan has the world’s largest irrigation system around the Indus. It has been developing for four thousand years and made civilization there possible. Many other irrigation systems also exist in other parts of the country. A large network of canals connects to the rivers and spreads water over wide areas. Large reservoirs also exist for the purpose of storing water. In areas where the only source of water is rainfall, spate irrigation exists, which includes features such as earthen structures that slow the flow of running water so that it is absorbed into the soil more. Across Pakistan, groundwater supplies are extensively harvested through tubewells.

The difficult conditions prevalent across Pakistan make the vulnerability of people to water-related hazards high. There are many water challenges in the nation. The monsoon rainfall system is very erratic, often causing flooding or drought. Flooding is one of the biggest natural hazards, with monsoon rainfall creating floodwaters that move down the western and northern mountains at destructively fast speeds and collect in the Indus Basin to form large bodies of water. Drought occurs from time to time while smaller water shortages are common. Much of Pakistan’s water supply, especially underground, tends to be contaminated with harmful substances such as pathogens, pollutants, and heavy metals. Recent reports suggest that a lot of groundwater contains dangerous levels of arsenic. Water shortages often force Pakistanis to drink from such unsafe water. Waterborne outbreaks are common, especially during flooding.

Human impacts on the environment cause significant water problems in Pakistan. The country has a population of 180 million and growing and is on its way to becoming a water-deficit country. Global climate change is showing signs of putting Pakistan’s natural water cycle into haywire. For example, severe floods occurred every year from 2010 to 2015. There is widespread deforestation in the country’s mountainous regions, increasing water erosion and making floods more likely.

All in all, water is a big challenge in Pakistan and finding ways to manage the country’s water is one of disaster management’s top priorities. Water is a top national issue. It is fitting that World Water Day comes just before Pakistan Day. It should remind us of how important managing our water is for our well-being and future as a nation.

The United Nations, through its agency UN Water, sponsors World Water Day and selects a theme each year that should be focused on each particular issue. For World Water Day 2018, the theme selected is “Nature for Water”. It encourages us to turn to nature for solving water problems and manage water by working with nature. It is a critical idea. In the twenty-first century, we turn mostly to technology for doing things, including water management. But water is part of nature and nature supplies us with our water resources while advances in technology and development are usually responsible for environmental problems. Increasingly, it is being recognized that maintaining natural systems and finding solutions based upon what happens naturally is usually an efficient and sustainable way to meet challenges related to water.

PPLDM is a big supporter of working with nature and finding natural solutions. When it comes to natural hazards, we believe that is the way forward for Pakistan. Hazards are only worsened when one exploits nature in an unsustainable manner. There is much to show that accommodating nature rather than fighting against it is the correct method of protecting ourselves from hazards that exist in nature. This will work in Pakistan for disasters as well as for other problems.

Helping nature and getting help from nature is a major principle that PPLDM upholds and much of our effort and endeavor will go in this direction. There is so much that can be found in nature that can benefit us. We only need to start looking for it in a way that is sustainable and beneficial for nature as well.