To commemorate World Water Day, a panel discussion on the current water scenario in Pakistan hosted by the World Wildlife Fund Pakistan, was hosted by Lahore University for Management Sciences (LUMS) in collaboration with Nestlé Pakistan. The panel discussion was moderated by Mr. Sohaib Anwar– Senior Project Manager, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) with panelists Mr. Hammad Naqi– CEO, WWF-Pakistan, Mr. Nisar A. Memon– Chairman, Water Environment Forum (WEF), Dr. Zakir Hussain Dahri– Principal Scientific Officer, Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC), Dr. Imran Saqib Khalid –Head Environment and Climate Change Program, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Dr. Abubakr Muhammad –Director, Center for Water Informatics & Technology (WIT) – LUMS and Mr. Zameer Ahmad Somroo – Regional Director, Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR).
The panel not only brought together senior members of various water related organizations but also focused on discussions around the issues of water-scarcity, the difficulties that stem from it and the importance of water conservation. During the discussion, panelists were of the view that issues that are escalating the existing water-crisis are lack of communication and education on the subject, poor governance of water resources and lack of investment and infrastructure development.
Mr. Naqi, while discussing the role of WWF-Pakistan in water conservation pointed out that under-valuation of the resource among the masses as well as lack of governance in this regard has made matters worse. “We undervalue water. Not only should it be considereda precious commodity but we also need to understandits socio-cultural value. Only then we can manage the existing resources effectively,” said Mr. Naqi.
Dr. Dahri also termed water a ‘finite resource’ which is being unevenly distributed. While talking about the research PARC was conducting on water management, he stressed the need for the private sector to play a greater role as the issue is too big for the public sector to handle on its own. “While we are already working with public sector organizations to assist rural areas in tackling water-issues, there is an urgent need for investments from the private sector. Without it, we cannot achieve our goal of water conservation and rehabilitation, ”added Dr. Dahri.
Dr. Khalid, while building on Dr. Dahri’s argument gave examples of water scarcity in rural areas around Pakistan and the need to monitor the usage of water around Pakistan. According to him, there are certain areas of the country where water-scarcity is alarming while other regions are able to afford the luxury without any trouble. In this regard, he stressed the importance of effective water-governance and the need for public participation in the conservation process.
Mr. Memon speaking as a representative of an organization of water professionals also discussed governance issues, the need for an integrated solution and the role of infrastructure in water protection.
He believes that while good efforts had been made to put the infrastructures in place, they needed additional funding to maintain and upgrade, stating, “Water is about survival. Within the territory of Pakistan are multiple glaciers and rivers which are our nation’s assets. These glaciers are at riskdue toclimate change and further investment is required to protect these assets. “
Mr. Memon, however, said that the government should have done more in terms of implementation as there are already policies in place to protect and conserve water. He suggested that policies be made public for transparency and to ensure that they are carried out. Mr. Somroo seconded Mr. Memon’s observation about lack and responsible implementation of policies that have already been devised. He further added that for better resource management, myths relating to traditional, less efficient farming techniques needs to be busted. He said that small and medium farmers need to be trained so that they can be equipped with latest technology.
“There are major water challenges and we must come up with alternate solutions. Infrastructure alone is not enough. Weneed to address the issue at the grass-root level; changing the mindset of farmers by educating them about water conservation and effective water management.” Dr. Muhammad, on the other hand, explored both the social needs of water usage in Pakistan, as well as, the capabilities and limitations of technology when it comes to water management. According to him, we need to take the help of technology in understanding the crisis at hand and deploy mechanisms that will help us determine the extent of the issue and its severity.
LUMS and Nestlé, working together, have developed smart soil moisture sensors that read the moisture or water level of the soil. These sensors then regularly send data updates to a cloud from where the farmers receive information about which areas they should irrigate and how much to irrigate. This process helps in both saving water and increasing the yield by reducing the chances of under or over-irrigation.
In conclusion, it was agreed upon by the panel that the best way forward is better governance amplified by combined efforts of the masses. In this regard, imparting education and creating awareness about the issue is of prime importance. The government needs to work together with the masses, communicate and educate the public on water efficiency and usage, while recharging the country’s existing water sources. Only then can we limit the repercussions of the matter at hand and provide our future generations with the luxury to enjoy this resource.