Promoting Water Conservation in Pakistan

Umer Malik, Asami Okahashi

Pakistan has a long history battling with its pressing water crisis. As an agrarian country, Pakistan has the majority of its economy threatened by water scarcity, whereas the local public sector finds it difficult to collect and implement solutions for water conservation. In 2019, UNDP partnered with the Government of Japan to launch the regional project “Matching Platform for Cities and the Private Sector” to offer a structured process for cities, private sector, and other diverse stakeholders to come together to co-design solutions for pressing challenges cities face and enhance participatory city planning. Under this project, UNDP cooperated with the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI)Stanford University (D-School), academia, youth entrepreneurs to fill the gap in Pakistan. The platform has made significant impact on Pakistan’s water conservation.

Water Crisis in Pakistan

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan is the third most affected country in terms of water scarcity. Today, around 40% of Pakistan population don’t have access to clean drinking water, and 80 percent of people living in 24 major Pakistan cities do not have access to clean water.  As the COVID-19 pandemic hit Pakistan in 2020, limited water resources became a huge obstacle for the government to distribute WASH facilities to enhance hygienic practices, especially among those living in rural communities and urban informal settlements.

Pakistan’s water scarcity didn’t happen overnight. If the problem of water shortage is properly handled, it might have huge and long-ranging geo-political, financial and ecological effects on Pakistan. Is estimated that even if a billion-dollar output is achieved for every million acre-feet of water utilized for agriculture, Pakistan’s water economy has the potential to increase total annual agricultural GDP to $200 billion from its current $50 billion (The Asia Foundation, 2017). However, there is still a long way to go for Pakistan’s water protection and efficiency.

There are multiple factors responsible for Pakistan’s water scarcity, among which the mismanagement of water resources and people’s low awareness of water conservation remain pressing and require immediate interventions. With little attention paid to saving water, it is often seen that people keep the water running even when it is not used. With limited water metering system in Pakistan, it is hard for the business sector to visualize their water usage to change the perception of citizens and for the government to promote evidence-based policy making. Also, with one of the lowest water tariffs in the world (e.g., 0.09 USD per cubic meter in Karachi) (Global Water Intelligence, 2012) as well as the huge amount of water unmetered, water service providers can hardly provide quality water service as they can’t barely achieve cost reco­very.

joint research by UNDP and Stanford D-School revealed the systemic causes of Pakistan’s water crisis, and pinpointed several key challenges, including the lack of water metering system and the low awareness of water protection. The results of this exercise informed the water saving interventions in hotels under the platform.

Bridge the Gap

In October 2019, city governments, citizens, NGOs, and private sector were invited to the same table to understand the water issues in Islamabad and co-design solutions for water recycling. This design-thinking session helped the participants understand the ground situation, gauge appetite, identify community partners, and develop clarity on the next steps.

With issues systemically identified, now how can cities reach out to digital solutions to help save wastewater? To connect cities to solutions from the private sectors and other stakeholders, an online bootcamp and challenge competition took place with the leadership of City of Islamabad in August 2020, aiming to source both digital and behavioral solutions to conserve water in hospitality sector. Out of 200+ registrations submitted, 12 teams were shortlisted to be part of the bootcamp structured as a three-day extensive learning experience for the participants. The selected teams have also benefited greatly from  feedback from participants). Innovative ideas from two local start-ups, Aabshar® and Piyasay, were selected as pilots for demonstration at two major hotels in Islamabad.

Pilot Implementation

Selected pilot innovation by private sector was implemented in the hospitality sector of Islamabad.

The Millennium Hotel in Islamabad installed 155 water optimizers in partnership with Aabshar®, which resulted in conserving 2.40m liters of water per month (the full coverage of the water optimizers can be downloaded here). In collaboration with Piyasay, the Ramada Hotel promoted artwork and story books at a number of places, driving the behavior change of employees, customers, and visitors to save water. 

The platform gave local start-up an opportunity to extend their business while helping the city save water. “Our product can save water to a huge extent, and we look forward to the future challenges and opportunities coming,” said the Aabshar team.

“I saw campaign messages everywhere in the hotel – my room, restaurant, and even bathroom. I did not think that’d affect me, but when I opened the tap, I realized that I was encouraged not to waste water,” said a hotel guest whose mind was changed by the water-saving artwork.

In addition, smart water metering systems were also installed in 14 rooms of Ramada Hotel, and they showed a 132,000-litter reduction of water consumption within a 45-day pilot. According to a survey with managers at the two hotels, the level of satisfaction of water saving was also greatly improved by the pilot project. These results would be utilized for the ongoing discussion between the government and UNDP to enhance evidenced-based policy making for the government. 


The success of the Matching Platform in Pakistan was scaled-up by setting a good example for other sustainability-related practices by local government and UNDP.

The lessons-learnt from the platform was shared throughout the Pakistan Cities Conference to help discuss urban issues and solutions in Pakistan, the value of which was acknowledged by Mr. Yusuke Shindo, Minister and Deputy Head of Mission at Embassy of Japan in Pakistan (see the video here).

 Also, the overall success of the Matching Platform in Islamabad and proactive knowledge sharing with other cities across the country made a positive influence on the city of Quetta, Karachi, and Faisalabad, where water-saving initiatives, public-private collaboration, and participatory planning was implemented and enhanced.

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