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Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ and lessons for Pakistan

Cape Town is facing severe water scarcity and government has planned to introduce “Day Zero.”

Let me tell you what ‘Day Zero’ is.

Actually, Day Zero is when water supply in the city will be switched off completely. And believe me it will be horrific.

Day Zero

People will have to stand in lines to collect 25 liters of water per person per day. Day Zero is plan B of the South African government .

You may ask, what plan A is ? It is the set of rules that citizens have to follow now-a-days.

And they are stricter than you think!

Currently, each citizen of Cape Town can only use 50 liters of water (13 gallons) per day .

And if someone will use more than that, he/she will be fined and will have to agree to install a device that cuts off the water supply when the usage will cross the threshold.

Initially, government predicted “Day Zero” in the month of March 2018 ,then the officials made another analysis and pushed it back to April and then after another study to May 2018 and finally now they have told that it will be sometime in 2019.

Cape Town survives on rain water. The city has 6 large water reservoirs. The City of Cape Town describes Day Zero as the point when these main reservoirs will reach a storage level of 13.5%.

People will have to stand in long queues to collect daily water ration that will be 25 liters per person per day.

The reason why officials have postponed Day Zero is because people are saving more water.

It is important to mention the contribution of Cape Town’s farmers.Now, as the city is facing water crisis , farmers have reduced water usage to irrigate the fields.

With Day Zero pushed out, citizens have increased the usage.

City authorities are warning if people will continue to waste water, Day Zero could soon become a definite date again.

Authorities are also planning to increase water price to reduce the demand. Situation is critical. People and economy are suffering because of severe water scarcity.

What Cape Town is facing now, Pakistan may face after few years. And that will be extremely horrific.

According to Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, Pakistan may run dry by 2025! We take natural resources for granted without even considering the fact that they are scarce.

There is nothing like a free lunch and same applies to the natural resources. Just because now you have access to free drinkable water and that you may use it without even thinking of saving it, won’t preclude the working of this basic economic principle.

With no substitute at all, demand for water is perfectly inelastic.

Absolute scarcity of it will cause its price to skyrocket! Imagine going to the market to buy potable water for (suppose) Rs500 per liter.

If you earn in millions then that won’t be an issue in short run but if you belong to a middle class or below middle class then get ready to die of thirst! With no water at all, how one can think of agricultural output.

Pakistan’s economy is predominantly agricultural in character. It engages 45 % of country’s labor force and contributes 21 % to the GDP.

Ultimately, all we are going to get is millions of human casualties because of severe dehydration and malnutrition and crashed economy.

According to the experts, in last 58 years, Pakistan hasn’t built new dams. We can only store water for 30 days.

There are hundreds of millions of people across the globe with no access to potable water.

According to World Wildlife Fund, 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to drinkable water! Fresh water bodies are either drying up or getting polluted. International Monetary Fund has reported that Pakistan is the third most water stressed country in the world.

Most of the water is consumed and wasted by agricultural sector. Water used by it is largely untaxed, which makes it difficult for the government to recover the operational and maintenance cost of its supply.

Improper and highly inefficient methods of irrigation are the main reason behind water shortage.

Farmers use more water than it is necessary to irrigate the fields. Agricultural sector is also responsible of water pollution. Pesticides and Fertilizers that wash away from fields generate considerable water pollution which makes fresh water undrinkable.

Pollutants leaching into ground water have affected its quality. Population growth is also one of the major causes of water scarcity.

Open defecation and dumping of industrial waste in fresh water bodies also add to the pollution of water.

Every year Pakistan wastes Rs25 billion worth of water, as it only conserves 14 million acre feet out of 145 million acre feet that it receives annually. Country’s per capita water availability per year has been reduced by 80 %. According to PCRWR report, 69 % of water supplies do not meet the National Standards for drinking water quality.

In recent years we have seen public-private sector coalition to help farmers saving water.

A multinational firm in partnership with Punjab Agriculture Department through World Bank SMART program is encouraging farmers to apply drip irrigation on their fields.

Drip irrigation allows water to drip slowly to the roots either from above or below the soil with the sole objective of minimizing water evaporation, as it places water directly to the root zone. By the end of 2017, drip irrigation method has been used to water 68 acres of land and that ultimately helped the country saving 140 million liters of fresh water.

Not only drip irrigation method is being used for economizing water usage on agriculture but also methods like furrow irrigation and sprinkler based techniques, to water the fields, have been applied.

Smart soil moisture sensors are also being developed that measure soil moisture and store regular data updates in a cloud server from where farmers can get information about the area of the field that has to be watered , thus helping them efficiently irrigating the land.

We may say that if such technologies are being used, how come the nation may face absolute scarcity of water by 2025?

Actually, we need to expand the application of such methods across the country.

Government has to prioritize projects for the conservation of water . We need more artificial water reservoirs.

Dams with large water storage capacities have to be built. Work has to be done to preserve the quality of available fresh water. Scarcity of water is among the main problems faced by Pakistan today.

Question arises, what lawmakers are waiting for? Do they want to see Pakistan suffer? Unfortunately , it seems so !

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not represent ARY policies or opinion.