As Pakistan hurtles towards the close of the first two decades of the 21st century — proudly showing off its new and improved Big Boy WMDs, its numerous shiny shopping plazas that spring up almost daily across urban centres, not to mention imported luxury car showrooms — it appears to have forgotten the basics. London-based non-profit organisation Water Aid’s recent report — The Water Gap: The State of the World’s Water 2018 — ranks Pakistan nine out of 10 in term of lowest access levels to potable water close to home. Moreover, it finds that almost 22 million have no access to clean drinking water either inside or near their homes. This is not to say that no progress has been made. It has. The 44 million Pakistanis who did not have access to clean water back in 2000 now do. But much more needs to be done. Particularly when it comes to the state apparatus coming up with an action plan to deal with shrinking water tables and impending water scarcity. The tragedy is that much of the stress on the region’s water tables is due to waste. In November 2017, the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) found that Pakistan dumps water worth $21 billion into the sea due to a lack of water conservation systems. In addition, it said that the country would need three Mangla-sized dams to counter this. The country is also home to one of the most inefficient irrigation systems in the world. The Barki Institute of Public Policy Netsol noted in its 2017 annual report on the state of the national economy that this led to 60 percent of water passing through it being lost due to mismanagement. The problems created by declining water tables are compounded by lack of access to basic sanitation; not to mention increasing pollution. According to Water Aid, Pakistan is the seventh worst country when it comes to accessing safe toilets. Open-air defecation results in contamination of ground water sources — causing water borne diseases such as typhoid, cholera, dysentery and diarrhoea; with the latter killing 53,000 Pakistani children every year. And then there is question of heavy metals. Meaning that arsenic levels in groundwater are alarmingly high. With up to 60 million Pakistanis inadvertently consuming arsenic concentrations of 50-60 micrograms per litre; or 200 micrograms per litre in southern regions. WHO recommends that safe drinking water should contain no more than 10 micrograms per litre. Thus the issue of shrinking water tables can no longer remain on the backburner. Not when the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) warns of an acute water shortages by 2025; which would signal disaster for a country so highly dependent on agriculture to keep its economy afloat. Thus the incoming government must take Water Aid’s warning seriously, at both the local and regional level. Meaning that cooperation with India is a must. Our all-weather ally China can be called upon to provide much needed infrastructure development and monetary assistance towards this end. Considering how the political leadership across the great divide has suddenly remembered the sanctity as the Constitution now that elections are in sight — it would do well to also keep in mind that the latter ensures the right to life. For which potable water is a prerequisite. The biggest threat to Pakistan’s near-term future comes from within. In other words, the longer the country continues on the current path whereby it splashes cash on maintaining the world’s fastest-growing nuclear stockpile, say, the direr the future will be for this already resource-fragile nation. * Published in Daily Times, March 25th 2018.