NEWS & VIEWS
IT is universally acknowledged that water is life because it is essential to human existence, as the human body can last weeks without food, but only days without water. Indeed, water is food also, as it is indispensable to agriculture and is critical input into a country’s agriculture, especially when it is situated in an arid or semi-arid zone. Last but not the least; water is energy as well, as worldwide hydropower accounts for 17% of global electricity production. According to experts, agriculture will need to produce 60% more food globally, and 100% more in developing countries by 2050. Loss of storage capacity due to sedimentation in Tarbela and Mangla Dams is causing serious drop even for existing agricultural production. Energy shortfall has already blighted Pakistan, as industry in all the provinces has been adversely impacted. Secondly, the cost of electricity generated by IPPs using fossil-fuel is 4-time more than hydropower.
CJP Saqib Nisar and Prime Minister Imran Khan have given hope to the nation that Pakistanis are capable of constructing dams with their own resources and appealed to Pakistanis especially overseas Pakistanis to generously donate for construction of dam. On the other hand, pseudo-intellectuals and some politicians say that dams cannot be constructed with charity. They reckon that it will take one hundred years to be able to finance the project. On 4th July 2018, the then Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif and President Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif had said “water shortage was a big challenge and if PML-N came into power after general election 2018, they would construct Bhasha Dam and generate 4000 MW electricity from it within five years,” The question is why PML-N government did not allocate sufficient funds for its construction? Unfortunately, no serious effort was made to construct a large reservoir by any government.
Anyhow, the construction of Bhasha Dam along with other dams is vital not only for our survival but also for enhancing the agricultural output, and for increasing overall industrial productivity. In 2006, at the time of ground-breaking ceremony of Diamer-Bhasha dam, the cost was estimated at $6.5 billion, now it is around $14.6 billion. And with delay, the cost would increase further. Of course, successful completion of the Diamer-Bhasha dam would help develop agriculture and also generate inexpensive energy to enable Pakistani producers to compete in the world market. According to experts, 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. Why Pakistan does not benefit from such system?
In the past, there have been wars between the countries over religions, usurpation of territories and control of resources including oil, but in view of acute shortages of water in Africa, Middle East, Asia and elsewhere, the future wars could be fought over water. The Indus River Basin has been an area of conflict between India and Pakistan for about four decades. Spanning 1,800 miles, the river and its tributaries together make up one of the largest irrigation canals in the world. Dams and canals built in order to provide hydropower and irrigation have dried up stretches of the Indus River. The division of the river basin water has created friction among the countries of South Asia, and among their states and provinces. Accusations of overdrawing of share of water made by each province have resulted in the lack of water supplies to coastal regions of Pakistan.
There is dispute between India and Pakistan for constructing illegal dams by India on Pakistani rivers. India and Bangladesh have had also dispute over Ganges River water. For the last many years Sindh has been complaining for water shortage and accusing Punjab for using former’s share of water. Balochistan leadership had blamed Sindh for depriving Balochistan of its share of water. In Punjab, farmers have been protesting for the shortage of water for their crops. And in the past there were speeches in the assembly that Punjab would not give its share of water to Sindh. Pakistan is already facing threats to its internal and external security, and economic crisis. Ominous foreboding is that there could be another vortex of crisis vis-à-vis water conflicts between Pakistan’s provinces. India is keenly watching the situation whether the things are moving according to its planning of stoking tensions between provinces of Pakistan.
Pakistan is an agricultural country, and agriculture accounts for about one fourth of GDP. Over 50% labour force is related to agrarian profession; hence water is of paramount importance for Pakistan. The shortage of water means that our future generations may have to face hunger and starvation. Pakistan had suffered a loss exceeding five billion rupees in paddy crop production only in the wake of water shortage after India stopped Chenab water to fill its Baglihar dam in 2008. India is indeed violating Indus Water Treaty, and the objective seems to be drying up Pakistan. India’s think-tanks have been working on river diversion plans with a view to creating acute water shortage in Pakistan, which could lead to acute shortage of wheat and other crops and also inter-provincial conflicts over distribution of water. Instead of bickering and debating, the entire nation including ruling and opposition parties should unite to avert the catastrophe.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.