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Hareem Saleem

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Hilal Her

Finding the Balance – Population Growth and Water Conservation

January 2024

The concerns surrounding Pakistan’s water problem and its direct link with overpopulation are becoming increasingly prominent, and with good reason. The relentless growth of Pakistan’s population has become a burden on its water resources. The increased requirement of water for everyday use, drinking, cleaning, sanitation, agriculture and in the manufacturing industry to meet the needs of an ever-increasing population puts a lot of stress on the existing sources of fresh water. The water demand has intensified in almost all of the country’s sectors, leading to over-extraction from already stressed water sources. The presence of water stress is undeniable and cannot be overlooked, whether it is observed in urban areas experiencing severe water shortages, inadequacies in agricultural areas, or contamination of reservoirs and water bodies. The good news is that water is a renewable resource but, at present, the speed at which it is consumed is much faster than the speed of renewal. It must also be remembered that Pakistan has ample fresh water sources, the only problem is that most of this water is lost because we do not have adequate conservation measures in place, so it necessitates developing effective conservation strategies in addition to conscientious usage.
The population of Pakistan has grown from 34 million in 1951 to over 220 million as of 2021. As a result, the demand for water has skyrocketed, and the water supply is struggling to keep up. According to the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) 2016, the per capita availability of water in Pakistan has decreased significantly over the years. Per capita surface water availability has declined from 5,260 cubic meters per year in 1951 to around 1,000 cubic meters in 2016. This is considerably lower than the internationally recommended threshold of 1,700 cubic meters per person per year. As per International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan’s per capita annual water availability has reduced from 1500 cubic meters in 2009 to 1017 cubic meters in 2021.
Pakistan faces the imminent risk of becoming the most water-stressed nation in the region by 2040 due to various factors, such as climate change, population growth, mismanagement of water resources, outdated irrigation methods, obsolete water transmission infrastructure, insufficient reservoirs, etc. A recent report, “Water Crisis in Pakistan: Manifestation, Causes and the Way Forward,” published by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) in 2022 presents alarming numbers that highlight the seriousness of the issue. Pakistan is ranked 14 out of 17 countries with “extremely high water risk” classification, primarily due to the wastage of one-third of its available water.
The population dynamics of Pakistan and water scarcity are indisputably linked, necessitating comprehensive steps to tackle this two-pronged issue. While population control is a complex issue that necessitates a longer timeframe for effective solutions, water scarcity is a pressing concern that can be addressed in a shorter period through water conservation that should be prioritized for immediate action. This article explores strategies that can effectively address water scarcity through conservation and mitigate the effects of an ever–increasing population in Pakistan. But before we delve into solutions, let us first discuss in detail the link between population growth and water scarcity.
How Does Population Growth Affect Water Scarcity?
Despite the fact that our planet is predominantly covered in water, only a small portion of it is actually safe and suitable for human consumption. Now, let’s consider a scenario where the quantity of safe water available remains more or less constant, but the population relying on this water source grows exponentially each year. This causes water scarcity, a problem that will keep growing bigger as the population does. In Pakistan, we can safely assume, one of the primary causes of water scarcity is the rapid increase in population, which has outpaced the renewability of water resources, leading to steady depletion of reserves. Therefore, it is important to understand the correlating factors of overpopulation’s effect on water scarcity.
The agriculture sector in Pakistan is widely recognized as the fundamental pillar of the country’s economy. This sector is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of an excessive population. The need to meet the increased food demand resulting from population growth leads to intensified crop farming, necessitating increase in the substantial water usage. In addition, it should be noted that a significant amount of water allocated for irrigation in Pakistan is squandered due to the absence of technological advancements such as drip irrigation in the agricultural sector. Hence, the challenge of feeding a growing population while simultaneously ensuring the sustainable utilization of water resources remains a problem for the country.
Overpopulation exerts pressure on industrial sector as well, particularly the manufacturing facilities, to meet the rising demands of an expanding population. This has led to the extensive usage of water, resulting in substantial water wastage throughout the manufacturing process. Additionally, untreated wastewater full of toxins is released back into freshwater bodies due to lack of infrastructure as well as regulations. When this happens, lakes, rivers, and coastal waters become significantly polluted, and their water becomes unfit for human usage, ultimately resulting in water scarcity.
The growing urban environment also requires additional water resources and sophisticated management methods to guarantee the equitable distribution and efficient water usage. The expansion of urban regions is exacerbating the already strained water supply in residential, industrial, and commercial sectors. The detrimental effects of this are evident in the form of water scarcity, depletion of land resources, pollution, climate change, and so on.
Pakistan also suffers from a shortage of water storage infrastructures e.g., dams, etc. This issue has been neglected, despite the dire water scarcity issue. Owing to a burgeoning population, the amount of water accessible per person is diminishing, exacerbating the already declining state of natural sedimentation. According to the Indus River System Authority, the country loses over $21 billion worth of water annually due to inadequate storage facilities.
The presence of an excessively large population has an even greater effect on water conservation due to the influence of climate change. Fluctuating weather patterns, erratic rainfall patterns, and increasing temperatures disturb the fragile equilibrium of water accessibility. Consequently, this results in limited availability of clean water, ultimately impacting the wellbeing of the general population and increasing the financial strain on healthcare systems. Hence, it is imperative to integrate sustainable water management techniques, including various climate-resilient strategies, in order to alleviate the risks linked with the changing environmental circumstances.
The cherry on the cake is the lack of awareness in general population about conscientious, responsible and sustainable water use practice, and the issue of water scarcity. Most people are not careful with water in their daily lives and seldom feel the need to adopt ways to conserve water. 
How to Conserve Water?
Conserving water helps us in ensuring a continued supply of water for an extended period of time. Water scarcity is influenced by various factors, but rapid population growth stands out as a primary underlying cause. The need for conservation has become a necessity due to the depletion of water resources and the growing population’s increasing demands.
It is imperative to recognize that the responsibility of conserving water lies with every individual. While the responsibility of developing infrastructure and reservoirs for water conservation lies with the government, individuals have to play their role as well. There are a number of ways to save water in our daily lives like saving water in our daily hygiene, cooking and cleaning, checking for leaks, looking for alternate methods for activities that require too much water like in washing cars or floors, reusing water from the kitchen to watering plants, utilizing collected rainwater for gardening or washing purposes, etc.



In agricultural sector, there are practices that can be adopted for water conservation, e.g., chisel plow aeration of highly compacted soils, furrow diking to keep from uncontrolled overflow, leveling the land surface to distribute water equally, and using technological solutions like drip irrigation, etc. Improved irrigation practices can reduce the water needed to irrigate a crop successfully by decreasing evaporative losses and providing water when generally required by the irrigated plants. Moreover, rainwater collection and utilization can also reduce dependence on irrigation water from dams.
Conserving water in industrial sector is a crucial step towards the sustainable resource management. The most practical solution is recycling and reusing water from the industrial units and adopting strategies like cooling water recirculation, etc. Efficient infrastructure and facilities should also be established to combat water pollution caused by directing industrial waste into freshwater ecosystems. By implementing water-efficient technologies, optimizing processes, raising employee awareness, conducting regular maintenance, exploring rainwater harvesting, collaborating on innovative solutions, etc., manufacturers and industrialists can significantly reduce the wastage of water and contribute to a more sustainable future.
In light of the present circumstances, it is crucial for Pakistan to construct additional dams in order to store surplus water that is wasted. Provisions should be made to store water during the monsoon season, as the surplus water ultimately drains into the ocean. Pakistan is home to large glaciers and many rivers, which is a blessing but at the same time, during periods of heavy rains, it experiences a huge increase in the volume of water in its water bodies that causes flooding in them. There is need to build more dams and reservoirs to collect this flood water to be used in agriculture, etc., instead of wreaking havoc in the plains and eventually getting wasted.
Mitigating the impact of an oversized population on water conservation necessitates tackling it by laying down and implementing diversified strategies and approaches. Despite efforts, the issue’s complexity underscores the need for sustained commitment, collaboration, and relevant stakeholders to form effective strategies and address the adverse impacts of overpopulation and water scarcity on Pakistan’s development.


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Hareem Saleem

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