Water experts call on policymakers to tap water’s economic potential

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LAHORE -A panel of experts has stressed the need for boosting water productivity for better use in urban centres through latest techniques and joint efforts as the resource is depleting at an unprecedented rate.

The experts spoke at length on Wednesday at a webinar held during 5th Karachi International Water Conferencetitled ‘Circular water economy in urban context’, moderated by Dr Mohsin Hafeez, Country Representative, International Water Management Institute (IWMI) Pakistan and Central Asia.

In his opening remarks, Dr Mohsin said that Pakistan was using even less than 1% of wastewater after treatment. He said that use of wastewater after treatment should be the key priority.

“We need to pump water back into the system after treatment to overcome the water scarcity in Pakistan,” Dr Mohsin said.

The IWMI representative said that water productivity needed to be enhanced for generations to come. He said that untreated flowing wastewater was polluting the entire food chain.

Dr Mohsin quoted the example of Australia wherepotable water was not used for flushing purposes and compared it to Pakistan where the use of potable water for flushing was very common.

In his address, Dr Pay Drechsel, research quality adviserat IWMI from Colombo, Sri Lanka, said that water reuse was the key component of a circular economy. He dispelled the impression that technology was pivotal to circular economy and said that business models and awareness was also needed in this regard.

Deploring water scarcity at the global level, Dr Drechsel revealed that 28 percent of world’s large cities, including Karachi, were moving towards Day Zero, a reference to the water supply shut off.

The water expert said the situation was becoming severe on a global level as farmers in Cape Town had to donate 10 million cubic meter water to the city.

“The drawback of water swap was the low quality of reclaimed water,” he said.

The IWMI official said that over 80 percent of the world’s wastewater was released to the environment without treatment.

Dr Simi Kamal, chairperson of the HisaarFoundation, admitted that policymakers already knew the solution to the burgeoning water crisis but adequate steps were needed.

“We are used to wasting any commodity provided free of cost to us,”she said.

Citing the example of Pakistan’s southern metropolis, Dr Simi Kamal said that exotic gardens were being set up in Karachi at a time when the city was already water starved. She laid stress on political, social and technological solutions to overcome the problems faced by metropolises across the world.

One of the panellists, WWF Pakistan’s Sohail Ali Naqvi,said,“We needed to shift focus to water replenishment as concrete layers in cities prevent water from seeping through land.”He said the recharge Pakistan programme was being implemented to tackle water scarcity.

In his concluding remarks, Dr Mohsin said that Pakistan was a water deficient country and efforts should be made to use unconventional sources of water for different sectors. He said that water pricing was not rational across the country.

“We need to create awareness among different sectors,” Dr Mohsin said, and regretted that wastewater treatment was not available in Pakistan in bigger cities.

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