Challenges for new government

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NEWS & VIEWS

Mohammad Jamil

PEOPLE of Pakistan thronged polling stations in general elections and turnover of more than 55 per cent is indeed impressive. New government will be in place within a few days; however it faces economic challenges vis-à-vis ballooning trade deficit and current account deficit, fiscal deficit, and unsustainable debt mountain. Providing education, health and utilities are priorities of the PTI which will form governments in the centre, PK and perhaps in Punjab. However, construction of dams is the major challenge, because water is indispensable to agriculture. It is a critical input into agriculture of a country especially when it is situated in an arid or semi-arid zone. Loss of storage capacity due to sedimentation in Tarbela and Mangla Dams is adversely impacting the agricultural production. Pakistan has to import edible oils, pulses and other food items because Pakistan does not produce enough to meet local demand.
Energy shortfall had blighted Pakistan with the result that industry in all the provinces could not function to full capacity. PPP and PML-N governments relied on Independent Power Producers who used mostly furnace oil or other expensive fuel with the result that the cost of electricity became prohibitive. With the present tariff of Rs. 15 to Rs. 20 per unit, our industry cannot compete in the world market resulting in dwindling exports and adverse balance of trade. We have reached a situation where not one or two but a series of dams can save our lands from turning into deserts. How disturbing it would be for our farmers to see their lands uncultivated due to water shortage in a situation when 40-42 million acre feet water of Indus River goes waste in the sea annually, simply because we have no major dam to save this water.
In May, the Standing Committee on Planning Development and Reforms was informed regarding the allocation of Rs. 101 billion for the land purchase and related matters; the cost of land purchase for Diamer-Bhasha Dam is around Rs.50 billion while the cost for rehabilitation of affected people is Rs.51 billion. The cost of the reservoir portion of the dam is expected that the cost will increase by Rs.31 billion, the officials said. Out of Rs. 101 billion allocation, the federal government has released Rs.72.7 billion for Diamer-Bhasha Dam, and so far about 85 percent land for the project has been purchased. Total cost of the dam is estimated to be Rs.1,450 billion, of which Rs650 billion will be spent on the reservoir construction, the officials informed. The parliamentary panel was further informed that the prime minister has constituted a committee for resolution of dispute between Gilgit-Baltistan and KP.
Successful completion of the Diamer-Bhasha dam would help develop agriculture and also generate cheap energy for industrial development. The plus point is that the Bhasha Dam will eliminate flood hazards to a great extent and will reduce sedimentation in Tarbela reservoir, thereby improving the storage capacity and power output at Tarbela. However, Pakistan should also look for the unconventional sources of energy to meet 21st century’s needs. Many countries have benefited from sprinkler and drip irrigation distributed through pressurized plastic pipes. Previous government was focusing on Dasu hydro-electric project, which will produce more than 4000 mega watt. But the problem of water storage would remain, as it is run of river project. Therefore, construction of Bhasha dam should not be delayed in any case. India through its plans for river-change and construction of dams on Pakistani rivers is trying to create problems for Pakistan. The water issue between India and Pakistan is as old as partition when canals Head-works were unjustly given to India enabling her to interfere with the waters of those rivers which are crucial for Pakistan. As a result, only after six months of partition, India stopped the water of river Ravi and Sutluj, bringing a new-born country to the famine-like situation. Finally, the issue was somewhat resolved in 1960 when both the countries entered into an agreement known as Indus Basin Water Treaty. According to this treaty, India was entitled to use water of the rivers Sutlej, Beas and Ravi, while Pakistan was entitled to unrestricted use of the rivers Indus, Jhelum and Chenab.
According to terms of the treaty, India could use water of western rivers for the following uses: domestic, non-consumptive, (navigation, flood control, fishing and wildlife), agricultural and the generation of hydroelectric power and storage works but to the extent that it does not hinder supply of water required to meet Pakistan’s agricultural needs. In water-related issues, Pakistan has always been on the losing end. By being engaged in negotiations with Pakistan, India cunningly secures sufficient time to continue the unnoticed construction of its controversial dams. For that reason India balks at the indulgence of third party in all water related issues between both the countries and instead it insists on bilateral talks. By constructing one after another controversial dams, India is causing troubles for Pakistan which is already confronting a severe water crisis. Pakistan is an agricultural country; agriculture accounts for one fourth of GDP. Over 50% labour force is related to agrarian profession. The use of water in agriculture is 93% of total use of water by the country. So water is of paramount importance for Pakistan. The shortage of water means that our future generations may have to face hunger and starvation. Therefore, large reservoirs must be constructed on war-footing.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.

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