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Water accountability & accounting

Nisar A Memon
IN Pakistan, the change of guards at the helm of affairs took place in August 2018. Considerable discourse has taken place on governance, especially on economy. Innumerable ministers, advisors, assistants, committees, experts have been appointed. Media proactively participated with news and views on economy along with the statements of international donors and advises from the visiting dignitaries in print, electronic and social media. Solutions after solutions, being implemented to create additional revenues to meet the government spending causing inflationary burden on citizens which is giving rise to dissatisfaction and even disillusionment. The burgeoning cost of living increases is bringing in new forms of corruption. Despite prevalent democratic dispensation with open media, Parliament and laws such as right to information, nation is groping in dark on quantum of various security assets.
We shall here focus on the most important security asset – the water. Water is life giving and life sustaining. Food sourced from agriculture requires fresh water. The source of fresh water are rains, snow melt, rivers. We are mainly dependent on four rivers – Indus, Kabul, Jhelum and Chenab. We have Indus River System infrastructure, even though old and outdated; we have1960 Indus Water Treaty which partitioned water by assigning most of the water of Sutlej, Beas and Ravi for use by India while Indus, Jhelum and Chenab for Pakistan. Notwithstanding the fact that we have telemetry installed in our Punjab province for measurement and reporting of water flows into barrages and canals; we continue to have manual measurement and reporting in Sindh, Balochistan and KP for the water flows. These systems, whether technology based or otherwise, are subjected to political and administrative influence resulting in manipulated reporting beyond imagination and understanding of not only of the common citizens, but even of technical professionals, executive and political leadership. Data manipulation resulting in incorrect and misguiding figures of water flows, as well as water losses causes inaccurate assessment of real status of water, an important security asset. Human societies are best governed by trust which emanates from well-designed management systems to deter mischief and manipulation. The first step towards eliminating it is to take the readings of all indicators when new management takes over. Even though many months late, it’s never too late to make honest endeavour by putting in place system of Water Accounting and Audit (WA&A) which is key to water resource management, specially in countries like Pakistan where water scarcity looms large with associated risks and uncertainties for teeming millions. I understand, WA&A has never been undertaken in Pakistan even though Sindh requested IRSA for water audit. 
Worldwide, WA&A is considered vital element of planning procedure and is practised extensively in societies desirous of developing their water economies. In 2016, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released its Water Report 43 which Water Accountability and Accounting sets out the concepts of WA&A and provides practical advice for its planning and implementation. Strategies addressing water scarcity need to be based on a thorough understanding of the water balance, including water supply and demand and its spatial and temporal dimensions. This can help achieve the objective of better use of water related information for matching and adopting strategies to differing biophysical and societal contexts. Water accounting is the systemic study of the status and trends in water supply, demand, accessibility and use in specified domains. Water auditing on the other hand is a step forward by placing trends in water supply, demand accessibility uses in broader context of governance, institutions, public and private expenditure, laws and wider political economy of water in specified domains.  Besides aligning the needs and priorities of key stakeholders, WA&A can bring standardization for rapid water accounting through remote sensing for productivity and trust building between the provinces. We do not need to invent the wheel since FAO has applied these in various river basins.  In November 2017, FAO released a comprehensive ‘Water accounting and auditing – A sourcebook’ which can guide us in protecting this vital resource to enhance our security. The adoption of this kind of open and transparent system will result in needed standardized system in all the provinces within Pakistan for adopting strategies for making raw data, outputs, findings and recommendations for implementing in letter and spirit the 1992 Water Apportionment Accord between the provinces by Indus River System Authority (IRSA) and water decision making by Council of Common Interests (CCI).
It is pertinent to recall that a similar situation existed in stock exchanges in Pakistan. However with introduction in the 90s, one of the most comprehensive and successful Central Depository System (CDC) developed in Pakistan by private sector; which today is handling millions of transactions in Pakistan Stock Exchanges and considered reason for growth of stock market over the years. Once we have water accounting and auditing system in place, we can even introduce Water Exchanges like in Australia for trading the allocated water of users for efficient use of invaluable water resource.  In the last several years, we have witnessed the axe of accountability falling on politicians, bureaucracy and business persons; but we have not heard of any significant accountability of water mismanagement or misappropriation. Does this mean that the water sector is free from irregularities? If it was, water demand and supply would have been met and scarcity not a challenge. The WA&A is just one way to account for our approximate 144 million acre feet (MAF) of surface water annually available to Pakistan on an average by nature. If accounted and audited well, the required environment flows to sea will help marine life and combat the climate change effects of the sea eroding the agriculture fertile lands along the 1100 km coast with 350 km in Sindh and 750 km in Balochistan.  Can we do it? Yes, we can with decision makers genuinely realizing the importance of water and all stakeholders bringing the necessary pressure on the decision makers they have sent to assemblies and government. The government need to take initiative in bringing all stakeholders on one platform and put an end to the age-old contest and acrimony amongst the provinces to bring amicable solution with win-win for all.
— The writer is Former Federal Minister & Senator, Chairman: Water Environment Forum, Pakistan.