Pakistan's Water Challenges: A Human Development Perspective
Abstract This paper gives an overview of the human and social dimensions of Pakistan’s water policies to provide the basis for water-related policy interventions that contribute to the country’s human development, with special attention being given to the concerns of women and the poor. While Pakistan may not be a water-scarce country, water stress, poor water quality, and inequitable access to water adversely affect large portions of the population. Considerably less water is available in Balochistan and Sindh. This is also the case for people at the tail end of the irrigation distribution system, and for the poor. Though women have a distinct role in water management for domestic and productive purposes, they are hardly represented in user groups. This suggests that water management, rather than water availability, is at the core of Pakistan’s water crisis. The unequal distribution, coupled with population pressure, rapid urbanisation, and increasing industrialisation, poses a serious challenge to water management in Pakistan in the 21st century. Insufficient access to and poor quality of water resources are the major obstacles to human development in Pakistan. This takes several forms. Water-related diseases such as diarrhoea, hepatitis, dysentery, and malaria are among the main causes of death. Industrial water pollution poses direct health hazards and indirectly threatens sources of livelihood, for example for fishing communities. Insufficient water for food production, loss of soil fertility through water-logging and salinity, seepage, unequal distribution in the irrigation system, and droughts lead to reduced agricultural production and thus endangers small farmers’ food security. Domestic water supply as well as irrigation management both saw a shift towards more participatory and privatised approaches during the 1980s and 1990s. Assessments are mixed about the success of the participatory schemes. Overall, the availability of safe drinking water in all provinces dropped between 1995 and 1999. In irrigation, due to a focus on physical targets rather than on capacity building in water user associations (WUAs), the positive effects of these schemes were largely appropriated by the economic and political elite, increasing the marginalisation of poorer farmers.