Nisar A. Memon
Pakistan, a South Asian state of about 200 million people, has a rich cultural heritage endowed with terrain ranging from high mountains through the plains to the coast line of 1,046 km long extending from Indian border in the east to the Iranian border in the west.
Its territory houses the world’s number two highest mountain of K2 and over 7239 known glaciers. The Indus, Chenab and Jhelum Rivers provide water which flows from China to Pakistan passing through India. The river water combined with rain water, for our land mass of 770,850 sq km, with world’s largest irrigation system which serves over 36 million acres of contiguous land, with its canal and ground water.
The country, since its inception in 1947, has built up a standing army, air force, navy, nuclear and missile defense systems to provide its people and territory the security from any aggression. In addition, it has built educational and research institutions to make its security impregnable. Pakistan’s security has interdependence of human, natural resources, infrastructure, institutional and territorial security. However a resource which is not sufficiently recognized as major security consideration, is water.
Water is fundamental to life and security of people of Pakistan. We need clean drinking water to sustain human, plant and marine life. Today, despite initiatives and investments by various governments, large majority of our people remain without clean drinking water with its direct and indirect impact on health, economy and security of the country.
Agriculture is the main stay of our economy and accounts for 93% of water from the Indus, although agriculture contributed 19.53 % of our GDP but employed bulk of our work force, while about 2%used for drinking and remaining for the industry. The industrial sector contributed 20.88 % to our GDP, discharges water after use, into the rivers and sea without adequate chemical treatment thus polluting water. This affects security by weakening our economic development, corroding our naval vessels – especially at Karachi harbor, besides destroying marine life with its immediate and long term economic impact.
Lack of satisfactory solid waste management has time and again been the cause of downing of our expensive air force aircrafts during take-offs and landings from their bases, specially the Karachi bases, compromising our security.
Civilizations that grew on the banks of our rivers thousands of years ago nourished its people and gave them security with basic agricultural tools, but in present day our agriculture continue to face the challenges de-spite elaborate irrigation system, experience and available technology.
The climate change has added a new dimension to our security. Lack of sharing necessary data and information of the water flows, glacier melts, large scale occupation of glacier like Siachin by Indian military forces tantamount to murdering mother glaciers. This is resulting in increased melting and creating phenomenon like glacier lake outburst flood (GLOF) witnessed in Pakistan at Ataabad Lake, Hunza and disrupting economy and security. The installation of early warning systems and data exchange between the upper and lower riparian though necessary is far from satisfactory levels.
Climate change resulted in unprecedented massive rains in 2010 caused by simultaneous floods in Indus and Kabul rivers which brought untold misery to human life, economic damages and exposed our security. UN described it ‘greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history’. The frequency of tropical storms in Arabian Sea has increased to double than 20th century and sea water intrusion is destroying good agricultural lands. In 2015 due to rising temperatures and monsoon currents from Bay of Bengal, northern mountainous region of Chitral experienced for the first time such devastating floods causing loss of human life and disrupting the fragile economic life.
Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change is best summed up by this para from IPCC77 Report:
Key risks for Asia are increased riverine, coastal and urban flooding, leading to widespread dam-age to infrastructure, livelihoods and settlements (medium confidence), increased risk of heat-related mortality (high confidence) and increased risk of drought-related water and food shortage causing malnutrition (high confidence)”
WMO Statement on Global Climate 2015 reported that 14 of 15 hottest years have been in 21st Century. Human-beings are adding about 2ppm CO2 to the atmosphere every year with its adverse impact on life. Both natural and man-caused disasters can be managed by several actions such as: protecting our water as-sets like glaciers, increased cooperation among riparians in sharing data, information, forecasts and installing early warning systems.
The water availability by Falkenmark index puts Pakistan at about 1000 cubic metres per capita thus we are in list of water stressed countries. It is estimated that by 2025 we shall be about 858 cubic metres per capita to put us in the list of water scarcity countries. These estimates speak loud and clear of need to contain our population growth.
Generating clean hydel energy supplemented by solar and wind electricity, managing water efficiently by use of technology and price mechanisms will result in diverting our constrained resources to damage prevention rather than damage management. This will also help decrease allocation of resources for adaptation pro-gram. Our security will be greatly enhanced by economic growth and relieving our armed forces to defend the territorial frontiers instead of participation in disaster management.
Globally we need to take proactive role in implementing Paris Agreement and getting the due share of global allocations to reduce the impact of climate change mainly caused by developing countries while we take the brunt on two scores: one in diverting our resources to fight the global war of climate challenges and the other is to expose our security by remaining in the list of developing nations.
We have to fight this battle with increased education of water environment and climate change at schools, colleges and university levels. Our people at the grass root cannot be left to the vagaries of nature and man-made disaster, as such the need for a massive campaign by citizens from all walks of lives. The climate change effects of past and coming days can be mitigated by several livelihood measures including the eco-tourism to save new tourism areas like Gilgit Baltistan and wilderness tourism sites in our coastal belt.
Will the nation wake up to face these realities in the interest of our security? Will our media focus on water related security rather than creating unwarranted sensationalism on non-security matters? I believe, a grass root campaign will encourage our media to join in this crusade by highlighting the gaps in planning, execution and governance in our water related security of the country.
Nisar A. Memon is currently Chairman – Water Environment Forum Pakistan, Member – Board of Governors US-Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies in Water, Mehran University. His active national engagement with water commenced in 2003 when as Pakistan Senator was named as Chairman Parliamentary Committee on Water Resources. Since 2006 engaged with World Bank supported regional dialogue.