Water security, a concept first emerged in the 1940s, is not only directly associated with food, energy, economic, and environmental security but also plays a pivotal role in ensuring a region’s military security [1
]. Conflicts and riots resulting from water insecurity are particularly widespread in weaker economies, further hampering their economic growth [3
]. Water security encompasses water quality, quantity, reliability, equitable access, as well as environmental sustainability of water resources [4
]. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030, presented in 2015, incorporates SDG-6 to “ensure availability and sustainability of water and sanitation for all” [5
]. Water resources are not only vital for species survival, but their optimal management is indispensable to improve livelihood, generate wealth, and eradicate poverty [6
Water insecurity and urbanization are two intersecting global phenomena with significant impacts on people, businesses, and the environment [7
]. Nevertheless, achieving water security has been an arduous task due to the ever-increasing population, precipitous urbanization and ongoing climate change. Rapid urbanization engenders significant socio-economic and environmental consequences [8
]. During the last century, the global human population has more than quadrupled, whereas freshwater withdrawal has increased roughly six times [9
]. Moreover, the world population is estimated to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, with 68% living in urban areas [12
]. Unprecedented urbanization and overexploitation of resources has reduced the quantity of available freshwater and caused excessive pollution deteriorating the ecosystem [13
]. Notably, the issue of a growing population is even more alarming in the developing world, where water supply and sanitation facilities are already inadequate [14
World Bank 2009 report states that the developing countries are projected to encounter a 70–80% cost of the total climate change damage [15
]. Additionally, the human population in those areas is becoming increasingly urbanized and wealthier [16
]. Cities are especially prone to the adverse impacts of climate change and their vulnerability to water-related disaster is increasing [17
]. Moreover, water demand has also been rising exponentially as a result of population growth and improved living standards in the developing countries, further intensifying the burden on the limited water resources and jeopardizing their sustainability [14
]. Surface water temperatures are in close equilibrium with the atmospheric temperature, and any change in the water temperature directly impacts the lifecycle of aquatic organisms [20
]. In addition, climate change is believed to affect nutrient loads in the surface waters, hence, escalating eutrophication, and the concentration of heavy metals and other contaminants because of increased industrial and municipal discharges [21
Pakistan is among the top ten countries most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change [22
]. The rise in global temperatures is predicted to alter rainfall patterns over the country, and consequently intensify the frequency and severity of floods and droughts [23
]. The nation with over 200 million inhabitants became a water-stressed country in the year 2000 and is predicted to become water-scarce by 2030 [24
]. Food and Agriculture Organization’s measurements indicate that the country’s pressure on its water resources is at a critical level of 74% in comparison with neighboring India, where this value is estimated to be 34% [25
]. The country’s water demand is estimated to increase annually at a rate of 10%, which is projected to reach 338 billion cubic meters by 2025 [26
]. However, the country’s per capita water availability has fallen from 1700 m3
in 1992 to 1090 m3
in 2012 [27
]. Human Development Report (2010) estimates that 10% of the country’s population does not have access to safe drinking water. In terms of drinking water quality, Pakistan lies in the 80th place among the 122 countries studied [28
]. Additionally, the country has a capacity to treat a meager amount of less than 8% of its total wastewater [29
], and the majority of untreated sewage is disposed into the water bodies. Waterborne illnesses are not uncommon in the country, with 200,000 children dying every year of diarrhea alone [30
Owing to the problems related to Pakistan’s water resources and urban sustainability, optimum analysis of water security is crucial. In recent decades, numerous conceptual assessment frameworks have been proposed to measure the water security. The national water security index developed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) analyzes water security performances using five key dimensions covering household, economic, urban, environment, and resilience to water-related disasters aspects of water security [31
]. Lautze and Manthrithilake (2012) follow a similar approach to estimate an overall water security index for countries in the Asia Pacific [32
]. Nonetheless, the majority of these frameworks are established on regional and national scales which make them less suitable on a local level [33
]. Moreover, scaling down water security assessments to a city level can offer additional benefits in the understanding and implementation of the relatively intricate concept [1
]. Consequently, researchers have put forward several indices and indicators to analyze water securities in cities around the world.
One such example is the sustainable cities water index, which consists of the resilience, efficiency and quality elements of urban water [34
]. To assess the sustainability of an urban water system, Ray and Shaw (2019) propose a water security index incorporating physical, socio-economic, and intuitional dimensions of municipal water systems [35
]. Shrestha et al. (2018) use seven dimensions of municipal water to calculate a composite index based on a community level metric in Kathmandu Valley. However, their research relies solely on the survey responses of different households in the area [36
]. Thapa et al. (2018) calculate the household water security index as the ratio of supply to demand for domestic water. The index was effectively implemented to cover the spatial and temporal variability of urban water security in Kathmandu, Nepal [37
]. Jensen and Wu (2018) adopt the process analysis method to establish several indicators primarily focusing on water availability, risks, and governance in Hong Kong and Singapore [7
]. Babel et al. (2017) and Aboelenga et al. (2019) propose an all-encompassing urban water security framework that captures social, environmental, economic, and organizational aspects of urban water into account [33
The research presented in this paper follows the urban water security index (UWSI) proposed by Babel et al. (2017) for analyzing urban water security in Islamabad. This index has been previously used in other cities, including Bangkok, Jaipur, Hanoi, and Addis Ababa [38
]. The index is derived using the DPSIR (drivers-pressures-states-impacts-responses) framework, which was developed by the European Environmental Agency for Integrated Environmental Assessment [40
]. UWSI serves as a robust diagnostic tool for highlighting shortcomings in the urban water systems where water managers and policymakers can effectively identify the effects of their strategies. Primarily, UWSI is composed of various dimensions, indicators, and sub-indicators that take into consideration all the drivers, pressures, states, impacts and responses associated with the city’s water security (Figure 1
]. To this end, each dimension is prudently chosen based on several factors, including but not limited to, its significance, ease of quantification, and data availability. Then, these dimensions are represented in terms of one or more indicators following SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) criteria. Finally, each indicator is measured with one or more particular variables (sub-indicators). The indicators and their corresponding variables are intended to cover all the dimensions of urban water security, as currently measured in the literature.
This article is organized as follows. Section 2.1
discusses the study area and its current water system in detail; Section 2.2
describes the data used, followed by Section 2.3
, where the method to calculate UWSI is demonstrated. Section 3
and its subsections reflect on the results of the current study. A detailed discussion is put forward in Section 4
, with a conclusion presented in Section 5
UWSI provides an insight into a region’s urban water security paradigm. Here, we followed the water security framework approach to obtain a holistic perspective of the current state of domestic water in Pakistan’s capital city. Five water security dimensions were carefully selected and were subsequently represented in terms of two or more indicators. We estimated the values of each indicator using several variables standardized on a scale from 1 to 5. The resulting values, along with their respective standardized scores, are presented in Table 8
. Our results reveal a UWSI of 2.8 for Islamabad, indicating that the metropolis has a moderately satisfactory urban water system where various aspects need significant rectifications. We notice that in Islamabad, certain variables of water security scored as high as 5, while others perform very poorly (Table 8
). The results of these variables are aggregated in Figure 3
. The outcomes of water security dimensions in Islamabad are visualized in Figure 4
and their significance is discussed in the following sections.
3.1. Water Supply
The water supply dimension was estimated using three distinct indicators; water availability, access, and quality. Water availability was measured in terms of freshwater resource, tariff affordability, and imported water. The availability indicator performs sufficiently well as the water tariffs are low; however, Islamabad’s reliance on transboundary water and the decrease in the country’s freshwater resources are the causes of concern. We also observe that Islamabad’s water supply is heavily subsidized by the city’s government, where citizens are charged, depending on the covered area of their abode, 2.25 to 5.5 US dollars per household per month. These subsidized water tariffs make water very affordable for the city’s middle as well as working class residents. The accessibility indicator also performed well as nearly all households are connected with piped water supply. However, it was noted that the water supply connections are not metered; therefore, citizens are not encouraged to conserve the invaluable resource of freshwater. Also, the piped water is supplied for only 2 h daily, therefore, the residents have to rely on household water tanks to have water accessible around the clock. With regards to water quality, residual chlorine concentrations measured at source at the water treatment plant in Sang-Jani were observed to be in the permissible range in all the samples tested. Nevertheless, nearly 40% of the total water samples collected from different locations in the city were found to be bacteriologically contaminated with E. coli and fecal coliform. The widespread presence of these contaminants poses a health risk to the city’s population, particularly children, elderly, and other immunocompromised individuals.
3.2. Sanitation and Health
Sanitation is regarded as an integral aspect of urban water security. Therefore, in this study, we used two dimensions measured by three variables to assess the state of sanitation and health in the study area. It was reported that up to 100% of the households in the area were connected with the city’s municipal sewage system. Moreover, the number of diarrhea cases recorded in a year, and per capita water consumption were used as proxy variables to analyze the hygiene aspect of the sanitation and health dimension. Our results demonstrate that Islamabad has improved water security in terms of sanitation and overall health condition. Despite the bacteriological contamination in the city’s drinking water supply, incidences of waterborne diseases in the city were found to be the lowest in the whole country. It may be attributed to the public awareness regarding disinfection through boiling etc. as well as overall hygiene practices of Islamabad’s residents. Per capita water consumption, estimated based on the water supplied by the CDA, was found to be satisfactory, indicating improved hygiene.
3.3. Water Economy
Islamabad’s water security performed very poorly in terms of water productivity. The country, in general, has a very low gross domestic product per unit of freshwater withdrawal. In Islamabad, more than 31% of the total freshwater produced is lost because of leakage in the piping system, and theft without generating any revenue for the city government. Similarly, unauthorized withdrawal of groundwater through pumping is rampant, particularly in the suburban and rural areas of Islamabad, leading to an excessive drawdown in the water table. Furthermore, none of the water connections are metered, making it impossible for the water supply agencies to accurately assess the city’s water needs or monitor its actual consumption. The indicator WASH (water and sanitation hygiene) expenditure explores the government’s investment in developing, improving, and maintaining water supply and sanitation infrastructures. Our results indicate that Pakistan has one of the lowest budgets in the world allocated for water supply and sanitation.
3.4. Environment and Ecosystem
The environmental aspect of Islamabad’s water was found to be ominously unsatisfactory, posing a danger to the citizens’ wellbeing, and creating a problematic challenge to maintaining the ecosystem. We observe that springs, lakes, and streams in the study area are heavily polluted with high organic matter concentrations and dangerously low levels of DO. High BOD and low DO levels are a grave danger to the survival of aquatic life in these water bodies. A major portion of the wastewater generated in the city enters the streams without any treatment prior to its disposal. Currently, the city is estimated to produce over 115 ML/D of sewage per day; however, Islamabad has only one treatment plant of 64 ML/D, which is also not operational to its full capacity. High levels of toxic heavy metals, including Cd, Cr, Ni, and Pb, were detected in the freshwater springs in the study area. These heavy metals not only impact citizens’ health directly through ingestion but also leach into the soil contaminating the groundwater. In addition, the majority of groundwater samples tested were found to be contaminated with coliform. Conversely, Islamabad has an optimum amount of green space per person, providing permeable surfaces that may assist in groundwater recharge in the rapidly urbanizing city. However, it was noted that vegetation cover has declined from 36.48% in 1993 to 25% in 2017 because of an accelerated increase in built-up areas [59
3.5. Society and Governance
This dimension measures the overall management of water as well as public awareness and support for water security in the region. We employ four variables to calculate the numerical value of this dimension. Questionnaires designed for the officials of water supply and sanitation directorate of the CDA were used to measure institutional and adaptability factors. Another questionnaire containing six multiple-choice questions was used to measure awareness, support, interest, satisfaction, and enthusiasm of the citizens in achieving and ensuring urban water security. The number of staff members working with the water supply and sanitation division of CDA was used as a variable to assess staff productivity. Islamabad’s water supply and sanitation department performs moderately satisfactory in terms of staff productivity. In general, the society and governance dimension shows that Islamabad’s water supply and sanitation are managed reasonably well and might be prepared for the upcoming challenges of climate change and population growth. Equally so, the results of anonymous public surveys also indicate that Islamabad’s residents are aware of the current problems of water security and are somewhat willing to participate in ensuring its sustainability.
Water security is an emerging new concept that has been receiving extensive consideration of both academicians and policymakers in recent years. It is achieved by providing people with reliable water supplies, and safety from extreme hydrological events, while protecting the natural environment [68
]. Nonetheless, population growth, urban sprawl, changing socioeconomics, and ongoing climate change have been the major hurdles in achieving and maintaining water security. Previous researches pertaining to the domestic water supply in Islamabad have pointed out numerous issues in water quality, availability, or management. However, the current study is, to the best of our knowledge, the first attempt to get a comprehensive depiction of the domestic water security by adopting a novel framework formulated by Babel et al. (2017). The framework provides a comprehensive understanding of water supply and sanitation, its governance, and productivity for a city. Previously, it has been successfully implemented in other cities such as Bangkok, Hanoi, Jaipur in Asia, and Addis Ababa in Africa, to measure their urban water security. In terms of water supply and sanitation, Bangkok and Jaipur measure reasonably well while Hanoi and Addis Ababa perform poorly. Hanoi outperforms Bangkok and Jaipur concerning the health of natural water bodies, but shows inferior performance with respect to water governance [38
]. Our results reveal that Islamabad’s water supply, sanitation, and governance parameters are comparable to that of Bangkok and Jaipur, and better than Hanoi. However, Islamabad performs significantly worse in terms of water productivity than the three Asian cities studied. Water environment, productivity, and governance aspects of urban water security were not assessed in the case of Addis Ababa.
Our results shed light on both the strengths and weaknesses of the current scenario of the domestic water supply. We observe that there is adequate coverage of piped water supply and drainage systems of the urban households in the city. Besides, low water tariffs make water accessible to the city’s economically underprivileged communities. However, there are some significant drawbacks in the current system requiring immediate attention from the authorities. First, the existing water supply may need an upgrade to reduce losses because of leakage and prevent the entry of pathogenic microorganisms into the drinking water supply. In Islamabad, it is not uncommon to see drinking water pipes being laid out in close proximity to the open sewers. More than two-thirds of the water samples from both households’ taps and filtration plants were found to be bacteriologically contaminated despite the optimum concentration of residual chlorine at source (treatment plant). Ensuring the safety of the tap water will also decrease citizens’ reliance on bottled water, therefore, reducing the consumption of single-use plastics. These non-biodegradable, non-recyclable bottles are not only responsible for causing a disproportionate amount of plastic pollution, but their production also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
Second, it is noted that the city does not have sufficient capacity to treat its generated wastewater, leading to its untreated disposal. Therefore, authorities must expand the size of wastewater treatment plants to guarantee that 100% of its sewage is optimally treated before its entry to the water bodies. We anticipate that the treatment of domestic wastewater will not only safeguard the health of natural water bodies, but the resulting effluent can be used to irrigate parks and greenbelts and produce valuable nutrients for the ornamental plants in the city. Additionally, the optimum use of treated wastewater can lower Islamabad’s dependency on freshwater, leading to a reduced withdrawal of water resources. Most importantly, the direct disposal of untreated industrial sewage is of particular concern as the high concentration of heavy metals found in industrial wastewater is a serious health risk to its water users.
Currently, Pakistan ranks among the biggest extractors of groundwater, with 6% of the total withdrawal for domestic use [69
]. The exponential upsurge in groundwater extraction because of an increasing demand has led to an imbalance between abstraction and recharge rates in the study area. In Islamabad, the water table has dropped from 12 m in 1986 to 35 m in 2015, and a further drop of 11 m is anticipated by 2025 [58
]. Driven by an unprecedented urban expansion, vegetation and barren lands are replaced by impervious built-up areas, thus, hindering groundwater recharge. In addition, the presence of total coliform in nearly two-thirds of the groundwater samples indicates possible infiltration of domestic sewage.
Water resource management is closely linked with economic growth and poverty alleviation. ADB 2016 report indicates that nearly 1% of the world’s GDP is lost because of water insecurity [31
]. Pakistan’s financial resources and budget allocations for water supply and sanitation have been deemed insufficient to meet its national targets [54
]. It is noted that Islamabad, and the whole country in general, performs very poorly in terms of water economy. Moreover, the country is estimated to bear an annual cost of $
0.75 million because of diarrhea alone, which can be minimized significantly by improving drinking water quality [70
To promote water conservation, we recommend that all connections must be metered, and the consumers must be charged according to their actual water usage as opposed to the current flat-rate tariff system. Moreover, water conservation practices on a household level, such as recycling and rainwater harvesting, must be incentivized to garner public interest. CDA may consider revising and increasing water prices, particularly for the affluent communities of Islamabad, to compensate for the additional cost of system upgradation and expansion. Additionally, the authority may implement Smart Water Management using Information and Communication technology to monitor and resolve water-related issues through real-time automated data. This state-of-the-art technology has already been in operation for the past few years in Bhalwal, Pakistan [71
]. An integrated approach toward urban water management, that entails corresponding development and management of surface, ground and recycled water resources while safeguarding the environment, must be followed to combat the challenges posed by urban sprawl and climate change [72
The present research has been an attempt to gain a holistic depiction of the current state of water security in the study area. Our study deduces that UWSI is generic and adaptable in nature and can be implemented in other similar cities around the world. In addition, it can be used as an assistive tool for efficiently managing urban water systems. Nevertheless, there are some shortcomings and constraints because of limited data and insufficient financial resources. For example, each variable selected to represent a specific aspect of Islamabad’s urban water has been regarded as equal, and its significance could not be determined according to its actual impact. Moreover, estimating the precise groundwater resource, its withdrawal, and recharge, was a challenge because of the insufficiency of relevant data. It is also pertinent to mention that we assumed Pakistan’s national per capita water resource availability, water productivity, and WASH investment to be homogenous throughout the country. Therefore, national values of these parameters were used to represent the corresponding variables in the study area. The accuracy of urban water security assessment can be improved by measuring local values of all the variables employed.