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Challenges and Approaches towards Urban Water Demand Management in Pakistan.

Byline: Nusrat Zahra and Amjad Abbas Khan

Drinking water is the most essential and highly effected natural resource throughout the world especially in developing world with less management approaches in practice. In Pakistan, safe drinking water is accessed to just 20% population leaving rest of 80% population with unsafe water usage. Here multiple physical and chemical contamination sources contribute to deteriorate water quality of surface and groundwater resources1. The other major problem is of water conservation and accessibility and 21 million people mostly from poor class does not have access to safe drinking water while 98% higher class population gets water easily for daily use. The head to head implementation of water related policies can reduce stress over managing resources and inculcate awareness among users2.

Water Demand:

Water Demand is considered to be the amount of water used by customers in a water system. Water demand is a mutable phenomenon as multiple factors are associated with its disparate structure. Global water demand varies with multiple activities in different regions of the world. Among all other factors human consumption is most important which ascends in urban areas especially for domestic purposes. Water demand is actually the ratio of water consumption which canopies the distribution network within the system. Alo ng with consumption water loss due to leakage or poor utility generates variations in demand rate with more or less constant values depending upon the technology and awareness of users3.

Water Demand Forecasting:

Water demand forecasting practices support in predicting the water consumption behavior and to understand the commercial, residential and industrial activities. Normal urban development can be ensured using short, medium and long term effective time scales for water demand and consumption forecasting. Short term evaluation covers hourly, daily and weekly water utility involving real time water activities, operation, control and management of the system. Medium scale appraisal inculcate monthly, seasonal variability of water demand while long scale strategies measure the time period above than a year. In water demand forecasting temporal variations and consumption approaches needs to be consciously considered4.

Water Resources of Pakistan:

Pakistan is located in south Asia, second biggest country in terms of population in south Asian region and sixth in the world. According to sixth population census conducted in 2017 total population of Pakistan is 207,774,520 with average annual growth rate of 2.405. Population growth has emerged an immense pressure on water resources and demographical changes increased themultipurpose water utility within country. Freshwater resources of Pakistan consist of surface water that melts from northern glaciers a nd flows in Indus river basin. Groundwater resources are recharged by freshwater comes from rainfall or rivers in aquifer through infiltration of surface water in permeable rocks6.

Water resources of Pakistan are diminishing very quickly because here rainfall patterns are neither constant nor sufficient to encounter the needs of present era. The country receives around 70% precipitation during summer monsoon from July to September. The maximum infiltration of water to recharge aquifers takes place during this season. The surface water system including Indus and its eastern and western tributaries supply around 138 million acre feet water per year out which Indus the longest river alone supplies 65% of total amount of water following Chenab with 19% and Jhelum 17% respectively. Thick layer of unconfined aquifer is present in alluvial plains of Pakistan containing the potential of over 50 million acre feet but exploitation, over extraction and mismanagement is causing depletion of precious water resources8.

Pakistan consist agrarian based economy which compel more surface and ground water utility with population density 190 persons per square kilometers. Water needs are increasing without resource planning and out of total present water resources 6% water is consumed in industrial and domestic sector. In 1952 per capita water availability was 5600 cubic meter which is dropped to 1017 cubic meter feet till 20189. This water availability is not evenly distributed in country and in few areas of desert climate like Thar region per capita water availability is even lower to 100 cubic meters. A huge decline is observed in water resources of Pakistan as seasonal variations are there in surface water flow and average river flow during the month of December remained just above 40,000 cusecs in last ten years and above 450,000 cusecs during July and August. Water utility remains constant while flow is not persistent throughout the year10.

Water Accessibility:

The accessible water resources are based on Indus river system including surface and groundwater resources dependent mainly on eastern and western tributaries of Indus River. The plains and valleys are formed by the deposition of Indus and its tributaries containing unconfined aquifers. In Punjab major cities including Faisalabad, Multan, Sargodha, and Lahore contain deteriorated brackish groundwater while river proximate places have better groundwater reserves. In southern Indus plains of Sindh province condition gets problematic and groundwater supplies are more saline with less discharge from aquifers. The situation even worsens with moving towards eastern deserts and western ridges at Indus plain borders. Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces have more complicated aquifer formation11.

In Baluchistan landforms consist of sandstone, shale stone and limestone with diverse sand silt and gravel proportion containing confined aquifers with limited water reserves. There groundwater table is deep with waned quality and surface water is also limited due to less precipitation and arid climate12. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa both surface and groundwater resources are available to limited extent. It is irrigated by western tributaries of Indus River, small streams, creeks and waterfalls from surrounding mountains. Groundwater resources are present in alluvial aquifers and intermountain valleys witch are being extracted through 13000 private and 491 public tube wells at the rate of 2 million acre feet per year. The water resources of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are also vulnerable to over extraction and quality deterioration due to mismanagement and unplanned utilization13.

Pakistan after 2010 became part of the list of water scarce countries and situation gets much worsen for water accessibility as fresh water contamination problem is severe within the country. With increasing population and economic development immense liquid waste is produced without enough considerable disposal arrangements so it pollute freshwater and make it impractical for domestic use. Waste water ultimately contaminates surface water and groundwater aquifer after penetration and cause salinity, damage of physical and chemical properties of fresh water and inaccessibility14.

Accessibility to Safe Drinking Water:

Pakistan ranked 9th among top ten countries having minimal access to safe drinking water globally with 21 million victims of unclean drinking water out of 207 million population. Here accessibility of safe drinking water is related to social status of population and 98% population from higher classes has easy access to safe drinking water and overall only 39% population has access to safe drinking water. The key barriers in access of safe drinking water include lack of financing and socio-political priority, location, ineffective tariff collection methods and less taxation strategies, disaster and displacement, land tenure, rural and urban discrimination etc. Pakistan has improved its structure in providing safe drinking to most of its population by the year 2000 but still 20% of lower and lower middle class of Pakistani society do not have access to innocuous drinking water.

Water accessibility varies in provinces; around half part of the biggest province Baluchistan facing drought conditions and lowest drinking water accessibility with less availability. There rural to urban migration increased with drought and famine and provincial capital city Quetta face shortage of 20 million gallons per day. Poor water management, less storage and conservation capacity has led to water scarcity situation in Pakistan. Due to mismanagement and improper water conservation system Pakistan dumps water of worth 21billion dollars into the Arabian Sea every year15.

The higher drinking water contamination amplified water borne disease patterns, with maximum ration Punjab province suffer skin problems, gastrointestinal distress, hepatitis, kidney damage, circulatory system problems and blue baby syndrome. It is reported that around 20 to 40 present beds in Pakistani hospitals are always occupied by patients of water borne diseases16. Hygiene interventions to reduce water contamination and stabilize water quality are required to promote through management, education and awareness. Along this improved sanitation facilities can reduce the threats of water borne diseases within the country. Pakistan emerged one in top five countries with high risks of children mortality through insecure water utility practices17.

Drinking Water Demand in Urban Areas of Pakistan:

In urban areas of Pakistan only 41% population has access to safe drinking water and situation is worse in rural areas with fresh water availability for 32% population. Here more than half of urban population does not have cheap access to fresh drinking water. Under or less investment and political interest for water infrastructure management is the main reason of water crisis in urban areas. The insufficient water quantity and deteriorated quality made it difficult to satisfy water needs of society causing low cost recovery with public dissatisfaction and disinterest toward community water supply system. Low cost recovery forbids water and sanitation agencies to rehabilitate and facilitate water distribution and continuous supply to community. The entire system is in dilapidated condition enforcing abysmal situation and the chances of early improvement are quite impossible.

Pakistan has signed the agenda of Sustainable Development Goals by United Nations Organizations and assimilated their goals of supplying safe water to entire population through water network expansion in national plan through a resolution passed by the parliament. Now need of improved sustainable strategies to enhance environmental and finance friendly system of water supply has arisen with increasing demand of urban society18.

Challenges to Urban Drinking Water Sustainability:

Pakistan is facing energy crisis from decades and water system requires constant energy from water extraction to distribution. So energy crisis is one of the obstacles to water resource management adding financial constrains for water infrastructure advancement. Financial compel starts from improper tariff collection mechanism and user mistrust in willingness to pay. It is required to investigate a mechanism to promote reliable quality water supply system to improve public satisfaction and develop budgetary framework. The distribution infrastructure within the cities is old and entire system needs improvements which involve high expenditure so water quality cannot be ensured even after progress in treatment processes. Although all problems are interrelated therefore an optimal management strategy is required to consider all factors for holistic solution. The financial sustainability is key factor to attain water resource management as cost is major element to balance demand and supply system19.

Only 65.2% urban households of ten biggest cities with 54% share of total urban population in Pakistan have access to community water supply system. Population increase has led to enormous urban sprawl and converted the suburbs in extension of cities.

The meager sewerage management system and poor waste disposal mechanism of all cities has led to environmental pollution and contamination exposure to surface and groundwater system. The ratio of Poverty is also high in urban areas and 6 out of 10 major cities of Pakistan have double digit poverty statistics. Out of all cities poverty rate of Quetta is highest with 46% value and Islamabad is lowest with 3% poor population. The increasing urbanization has emerged demand of informal settlement instead of facilitated housing structures lacking in basic comforts. The application of adaptive economic policies and constructive technological innovations with realistic approach are to implement for sustainable social development20.

National Drinking Water Policy 2009:

The Ministry of Environment stated National Drinking Water Policy in September 2009 to provide safe and clean drinking water in an adequate quantity to whole population in affordable and sustainable manners. The major goal of the water policy is to enhance the life quality by controlling water contamination and reducing cases of illness and death triggered by waterborne diseases. For this purpose special guidelines are provided in policy to increase access toward safe water for drinking and other domestic use, conservation and protection of surface water and groundwater resources, appropriate technology invention and standardization, water safety and treatment, public awareness, community participation, public private partnership, capacity development, emergency preparedness and response, research and innovative development, and coordinated planning with implementation procedures.

Keeping in view the water scarcity threats policy elucidates the structure to achieve the objective of water availability to all population till 2025. The remaining objectives relates to conservation and protection of water resources, safety and treatment of water resources, supply of safe drinking water for domestic and commercial purposes, community participation, suitable and cost effective technology intervention, improving capacity to related organizations and agencies, public-private partnership, inter-sectional collaboration and research activities21.

Pakistan 2025 One Nation-One Vision 2014:

The elements of this visionary report cover the areas of water, food and energy, inclusive growth, regional connectivity, population, governance, private sector and knowledge economy. The report assumed available per capita water resources abridged to <1100 cubic meters and water storage capacity restricted to 30 days classifies it a water stressed country. It concludes that a comprehensive water strategy is required to improve water storage capacity and to minimize the water loss in all sectors. This water scarcity with contamination threats can affect international trade for clean and sustainable production certification. The top five goals explained to reduce water demand and supply imbalance are:

* Enhancement of water storage capacity gradually from 30 days storage in 2014 to 45 days in 2018 and 90 days by 2025 to contend the needs of all provinces.

* Waste reduction through proven mechanism and technology; promote conservation and rationalization of pricing for efficient structure development.

* Effective allocation for provincial and national priorities with socio-economic consideration.

* Institutional networking for efficient water management (both surface and groundwater resources) with sectroal and regional division.

* Ensure accessibility of safe potable water to every individual in Pakistan.

The mentioned solutions to reduce water scarcity involve application of water usage charges, technical advancement and social consideration, start of comprehensive educational plans for users about judicious consumption and rain water storage facilities at government and community level22.

Drinking Water Demand Management:

An integrated approach is necessary to estimate the overall water consumption especially for urban water demand management. A complete water balance framework is required to approximate the actual gap between water demand and supplying facilities in urban areas. In 21st century Federal, provincial and local government enacted policies and plans to reduce water shortage in urban areas ofPakistanbut considerable number of households in all provinces are enforced to use precarious drinking water due to multiple socio-economic factors. The main problems in water demand management include overage infrastructure, water contamination, mismanagement in tariff collection, incognizant ground water withdrawal, public mistrust on government organizations, lack of public awareness programs and policy implementation plans23.

Inclusive Short-term Water Management Approach:

Exact and effective daily, weekly and monthly based water need forecasting is required to, maintain and improve urban water supply system and infrastructure development. Short term water demand depends upon daily weather conditions of an urban area with comprehensive supply structure. While combining diurnal temperature, humidity and precipitation record the actual demand can be extracted so it is necessary to observe daily conditions for actual demand forecasting of urban areas. In summer season water demand from residential areas as well as industries may show increasing trends than the statistics of winter season demand forecasting24.

Comprehensive long-term Water Management Approach:

Urban municipalities are planning for water resource management worldwide but for cost effective and sustainable water provision operative long term management approach requires to be implemented. In urban centers of Pakistan, along with technological improvements in prevailing water supply systems it is necessary to regulate water using habits of residents for demand monitoring. For this awareness campaigns, educational programs for valuable water conservations and pricing patterns can become effective tools25.

A complete assessment of future water resources and their utilization for domestic and commercial activities to plan serious procedures of policy implementation is essential to improve water system of the country. Water contamination threats can be controlled with waste water management policies, strategies and better utilization of liquid waste after environmental impact assessment and treatment26.In Pakistan, for long run water assessment the infrastructure of water distribution system must be updated with time. It is essential to explore the physical structure of water supply and public perception with satisfaction level towards water quality and supply system of urban areas to investigate the social considerations of water supply system for complete management27.

Notes and References

1 M. K. Daud et al., "Drinking Water Quality Status and Contamination in Pakistan," Bio Med Research International 2017 (August 14, 2017): doi:10.1155/2017/7908183.

2 Sana Jamal, comp., "21 Million in Pakistan Don't Have Access to Clean Water: Report," Gulf News Asia, March 22, 2018.

3 GaelleThivet, and Sara Fernandez, "Water Demand Management: The Mediterranean Experience," Tech. Global water partnership, (2012): 12, 13.

4 Carlos Pena-Guzman, JoaquinMelgarejo, and Daniel Prats, "Forecasting Water Demand in Residential, Commercial, and Industrial Zones in Bogota, Colombia, Using Least-Squares Support Vector Machines," Mathematical Problems in Engineering,2(October 2016): doi:10.1155/2016/5712347.

5 "Provisional Summary Results of 6th Population and Housing ...,"accessed February 14, 2019,

6 Amir Haider Malik, "Integrated Urban Lei River (North Pakistan) Water Resources Management," International Journal of Water Resources Development 16, no. 1 (2000): , doi:10.1080/07900620048590.

7 Pakistan,

8 Muhammad Hanif, Water Resources in the South: Present Scenario and Future Prospects, report, ed. M. M. Qureshi, Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (Islamabad, Pakistan: COMSATS, 2003), 11, 12.

9 FaheemJehangir Khan and YaserJaved, Delivering Access to Safe Drinking Water and Adequate Sanitation to Pakistan, working paper no. 30, Pakistan Institute Of Development Economics Islamabad (Publications Division, PIDE, 2007), 8,9.

10 "WAPDA," Water and Power Development Authority, accessed February 16, 2019,

11 Ayaz Ahmed, Henna Iftikhar, and G. M. Chaudhry, "Water Resources and Conservation Strategy of Pakistan," The Pakistan Development Review 46, no. 4II (2007): , doi:10.30541/v46i4iipp.997-1009.

12 F. Van Steenbergen and W. Oliemans, ILRl Workshop: Groundwater Management: Sharing Responsibility for An Open Access Resource, report, ed. A. Schrevel, ILRl (NETHERLANDS, 1997), 93, 94.

13 Waheedullah, GulDaraz Khan, and Asher Samuel Bhatti, "Regional Groundwater Flow Assessment in a Site Specific Portion of Peshawar Valley in Pakistan," Journal of Resources Development and Management 2 (2013): 21.

14 Muhammad ArifWatto, "Re-thinking the National Water Policy," DAWN, June 19, 2018.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid, 6-7.

17 Ibid, 9.

18 Ibid.

19 Danyal Aziz, "Water in the City," The News Karachi, October 08, 2018.

20 "Access to Safe Drinking Water Remains a Problem: Report," Pakistan Today, July 20, 2018.


22 Pakistan, Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform, Planning Commission, Pakistan 2025 One Nation-One Vision (2014).

23 Seckler, David William. World Water Demand and Supply, 1990 to 2025: Scenarios and Issues. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute, 1998.

24 Di Tian, Christopher J. Martinez, and TirusewAsefa, "Improving Short-Term Urban Water Demand Forecasts with Reforecast Analog Ensembles," Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management 142, no. 6 (January 27, 2016): doi:10.1061/(asce)wr.1943-5452.0000632.

25 Oliver M. Brandes and Keith Ferguson, "The Future in Every Drop: The Benefits, Barriers and Practice of Urban Water Demand Management in Canada," report, University of Victoria (Victoria, BC: POLIS Project on Ecological Governance).

26 Md. Arfanuzzaman and A. AtiqRahman, "Sustainable Water Demand Management in the Face of Rapid Urbanization and Ground Water Depletion for Social-ecological Resilience Building," Global Ecology and Conservation 10 (April 2017): , doi:10.1016/j.gecco.2017.01.005.

27 Romano, Giulia, Nicola Salvati, and Andrea Guerrini."Estimating the Determinants of Residential Water Demand in Italy." Water 6, no. 10 (2014): 2929-945.
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Publication:Journal of Pakistan Vision
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jun 20, 2019
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