Floods Crisis 2022 and Issues of Clean Water & Sanitation in Pakistan (SDG 6)

It should be noted that 97% of the water on earth is salty and only 3% constitutes fresh water, out of which 2% is ice and only 1% of the world’s freshwater resource is used up for human industrial, agricultural, drinking and municipal needs. Groundwater constitutes 0.9% of the world’s freshwater resource and the rest 0.1% is rivers, lakes and wetlands. Earth’s water resource is linked with the global water cycle that starts with evaporation from the sea and ends up as rainfall in different parts of the globe to be driven downstream towards the sea through rivers and water channels thus feeding the croplands and groundwater etc. UN Report on SDG 6 states that a “40 per cent shortfall in freshwater resources by 2030 coupled with a rising world population has the world careening towards a global water crisis.”. The report also states that “Worldwide, one in three people do not have access to safe drinking water, two out of five people do not have a basic hand-washing facility with soap and water, and more than 673 million people still practice open defecation”. SDG Goal 6 vision is clean water and sanitation for all by the year 2030.

Although Pakistan has mighty Indus and its tributaries running through the country and also has a large resource of glaciers on its mountain ranges, as well as global warming and in recent years mismanagement of water resources coupled with a drastic increase in population has converted the country from water abundant to the water-scarce nation. Researchers have warned that by the year 2025 South Asia, including Pakistan would have an acute water shortage. Data shows that 20% of rural Pakistan does not have access to clean drinking water. There are areas of Baluchistan and Sindh where there are droughts while in another area there is abundant rainfall. Researchers and various reports show that Pakistan is among the 10 countries that lack access to clean drinking water, almost 80 million people in the country do not have access to proper toilets, therefore waterborne diseases are prevalent in the country.

The velocity of recent monsoon rain has created an unprecedented flood situation in Pakistan. A large part of the country was seriously affected by these floods that left mass destruction in its path. Whole villages (80% of houses in Pakistan) were washed away leaving no trace of the settlement behind. More than 3,500 people lost their lives, and 33 million were left homeless. 8,00,000 officially registered internal refugees living in make-shift tents. 1,460 health facilities have been affected. Education for 3.5 million children has been interrupted. Tens of thousands of people are affected by diarrhoea, malaria, acute respiratory infections, skin and eye infections and typhoid. Croplands were destroyed and would remain underwater for years to come due to a lack of governmental support that should have helped mitigate from dangers of floods. Roads and bridges and other infrastructure were swept away. “Two thousand kilometres of road and 98 bridges were damaged or destroyed over the past week, for a total of over 5,000 km and 243 bridges damaged or destroyed in the last 2.5 months”. Thousands of cattle and other farm animals have washed away, not to mention the adverse effect on bio-diversity that lived in these parts of the country. It is estimated that Pakistan’s economy has suffered up to the US $ 30 billion and the infrastructure rebuilding requirements are the US $ 10, billion. Although the development budget of the federal government is US$ 9 billion and can be redistributed towards infrastructural rebuilding. The long-term effect of the deluge would be food shortages, lack of raw materials for the industry thus increasing the cost of living for common people that were already under the burden of inflation that has reached 43% and COVID-19 and now floods, not to mention callousness and mismanagement by provincial administrations as well as National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in Pakistan.  According to the Report on Pakistan’s flood from 27 August till 2 September 2022, “The number of destroyed houses doubled since last week to over 436,000, with Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces most affected. Eight more districts were declared ‘calamity hit’ by the Government of Pakistan, bringing the total to 80 districts in five provinces. Some 1,600 km of roads were damaged or destroyed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa within the last week. High flood risks remain along parts of the Indus River, notably between Taunsa in Punjab and Kotri in Sindh. Humanitarian appeal for US$160.3 million to aid and protect 5.2 million flood-affected people launched on 30 August, drawing a good response from donors”. As for the sensation and danger of water-borne diseases in Pakistan the news that is coming out of the food-stricken areas is not good.  According to UN Office coordinating of Human Affairs, “Preliminary information indicates major damage to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure. Initial estimates are that some 20 per cent of water systems are damaged in KP, around 30 per cent in Baluchistan, and up to 50 per cent in the hardest hit areas of Sindh and Punjab. In Baluchistan’s Lisbella district, 19 water systems have reportedly been damaged due to floods. The extent of reported damages across flood-affected areas requires further verification. Access to safe drinking water is a significant concern, and communities are increasingly resorting to open defecation, heightening the risk of water and sanitation-related diseases. Cases of diarrhoea and water-borne diseases, respiratory infection, and skin diseases have already been reported”.

It should be noted that every year more than 30 million MAF waterfalls in the sea in Pakistan. Just last month in August almost half (15 million MAF) of water fell into the sea. The minimum cost of this water that went to the sea at WAPDA rates is calculated at US $ 10 billion. If there were water reservoirs and more dams in the country, if the mountains and water channels were lined with trees and natural growth, if the rain-fed water channels had been deep enough and maintained properly and if the land in and around had not been sold by the land mafia to the poor people for their settlements, than the devastation by this flood would have been minimized. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in the country should have taken into account the information provided by the weather radars in Pakistan and the world. They should know from historic data that there are floods in Pakistan every 4 years and heavy floods every 12 years and the flood in 2022 is twelve years from the flood of 2010. We did not learn from our past to rectify our future. Even today if the political forces in the country stop blaming the past governments and work for the economic uplift of the majority of people in Pakistan, especially in remoter areas, we might not only save ourselves from human and financial costs of future damages from natural and manmade disasters but also get some economic advantages from the rains that come so that this water can be stored and used to save the country from future droughts and water-scarcity as predicted. Infrastructure for clean drinking water and public toilets can go a long way in preventing water-borne diseases and also water purifying systems can help clean our rivers and water channels from human and industrial waste that is rendering our waters unsustainable for human, animal and water life, thus transforming the country into SDG abiding nation in all its goals, especially Goal 6.

Dr Qais Aslam, a former chairman of the Department of Economics at the Govt College University of Lahore, is now Professor of Economics at the University of Central Punjab in Lahore. With 36 years of teaching and research experience, he is author of two books and numerous research articles on Pakistan’s economy and a regular participant in TV talk shows on socio-political and economic issues. He can be reached at dr.qais@ucp.edu.pk and on Twitter @drqais4.

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