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Water: Fuel for life & economy

Reema Shaukat
ACCORDING to a last year report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan ranks third in the world among countries facing acute water shortage. Reports by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) also warn the authorities that the South Asian country will reach absolute water scarcity by 2025. The world which marks 22 March every year as International Water Day, tries to overcome the water challenges erupting with the passage of time. Apart from being one of the significant elements for existence of life on earth, water is vital for economic development and human resource. Unfortunately, with every passing second, this component is wasted and the water politics is emerging as a root cause of conflict among nations. While the globalization is making world rapidly linked, more serious issues and challenges are coming up to tackle energy depletion, water scarcity, human resource management and other menaces.
In case of Pakistan, we see that this God-gifted country is blessed with minerals and other resources particularly water is in abundance. But because of inefficacy in managing water resources, it is emerging as a real threat in times to come. Climate change is also one of leading factors which is affecting water resources. Though in the winters of this year, Pakistan received maximum snowfall and unusual rainfall, yet with the approaching hot summers which according to some reports the year 2019 is going to be the worst hottest year than 2015, lack of water is definitely going to muddle the situation for normal livelihood of Pakistanis. Water scarcity, shortage of electric supply and later monsoon rain and its after effects are always troublesome for common man. Historically, Pakistan was at the suffering end after partition and dispute between both India and Pakistan over water is never considered seriously. Pakistan initially faced a lot of problems particularly in agriculture because of stoppage of water by India. As the major rivers flowing towards Pakistan originate from India, dispute and sharing over water always came up issue for Pakistan because of Indian stubbornness. To overcome problems an Indus Water Treaty was signed between India and Pakistan with the help of World Bank in 1960. Apparently it seemed that this agreement will put an end to water issue between the two neighbours but with passage of time it is observed that this treaty is often violated by India and it causes serious water shortage for Pakistan.
Apart from water issues with India, Pakistan also needs to review its policy about water at national level. Unfortunately, water issue was never considered important by any of regime in history. Though it was always put on agenda for consideration but there was no particular policy on water management and crises. Nevertheless the drafts on National Water Policy were prepared in the past, but it was never measured as a serious issue to be placed on table by all stakeholders. According to one of the reports of year 2018 “with increasing population, Pakistan is fast heading towards a situation of serious water shortage, putting the per-capita water availability at 940 cubic metres per year in 2015 — down from 5,260 cubic metres in 1951 — despite the addition of two major reservoirs, i.e. Tarbela and Mangla. It will drop to 860 cubic meters by 2025 thus creating acute water shortage where people fight for every drop of water”. Though National Water Policy was suggested last year and has been drafted for the purpose of putting in place a policy framework for ensuring effective management and conservation of existing water resources, improving availability, reliability and quality of fresh water to meet critical municipal, agricultural, energy and food security needs besides addressing the environmental concerns.The draft policy addresses critical issues of reduction in wastage of water, enhancement of water storage capacity from 14 MAF to at least 28 MAF through a network of small, medium and large-sized storage reservoirs, increasing efficiency of water use by producing more crop per drop, gradual replacement and refurbishing of irrigation infrastructure and setting up of realistic and achievable targets in consultation with the provinces.
Nonetheless the comprehensive water policy covers all the aspects including droughts, floods, climate change, energy sector requirements, conditions and need for more reservoirs, industries and waste water management but the modus operandi is the effective execution of chalked out policies at every level. Not to forget that Goal#6 of Sustainable Development Goals by UN also calls for ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, water use efficiency and integrated water resources management. But effective contribution must come up by all stakeholders if Pakistan is aiming to be one of the largest economies in years to come, CPEC holding its grounds efficiently, industrial and energy sector looking forward for future prospects. We need effective and thorough implementation of water policy, regulate and protect ground water, reform transboundary water institutions, address interprovincial trust gap, enhance agricultural capability and must control wastage of water at any level. Apart from water terrorism by India, there is a dire need that Pakistan should take stand on its water resources as soon as possible. Pakistan must also work on a steady basis to construct more dams to overcome problems related to water scarcity and power generation. Water is not only the apparatus of any country’s economy but the existence of life too, therefore, Pakistan must consume all resources for this source.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.