Looming water crisis

Pakistan would be in a state of absolute water scarcity by 2025; and the most water-stressed country in the region by 2040.


By: Asmat Ullah Gondal
Adhocism, by and large, has been a sheet anchor of policy makers in Pakistan in all affairs of the state. The gravity of any situation has never been realised until it arrests the whole nation and hits the worst. In 1980s hue and cry about future energy shortage has not been taken serious until its devastating blow on the country today. Following this precedence, recent noise and fury over incipient crisis of water scarcity only holds the attention of media not the policy makers.
Water scarcity would be the most pressing challenge for Pakistan in the years to come. According to the reports of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), Pakistan would be in a state of absolute water scarcity by 2025; and the most water-stressed country in the region by 2040. This is a clarion call to forge a political consensus to address the burgeoning water crisis.
Pakistan’s water crisis has exacerbated inadvertently owing to confluence of myriad factors. Primarily, upstream water supply to Indus water system has decreased as India, being upper riparian, has built numerous dams. Moreover, water scarcity would increase due to climate change and significant increase in demand owing to urbanisation, population growth, industrial growth, and irrigation requirement caused by global warming.
Water crisis is unlike energy crisis. Although energy needs can be catered through multiple sources of generation— hydropower, nuclear, and the most instant, thermal power— yet, there is no substitute for water. It is the basic need of human body and its acute shortage can spark ominous and unimagined social and economic chaos. For instance, Pakistan is an agrarian economy and its agriculture sector offers 42% of total employment, according to World Bank. In an economy, largely based on agriculture, severe water shortage for crops will decrease agriculture yield significantly. Water crisis will engender food crisis as well as inflation caused by high food prices. Besides this worsening condition, it will also have pernicious social ramifications. Availability of clean drinking water to a large segment of population, especially urban, is already absent. If this deplorable condition is not ameliorated, it will have devastating outcomes in the face of diseases caused by unclean drinking water. Therefore, as Pakistan has already shouldered many burdens over the years and has been bleeding from thousand cuts, one more laceration in the face of water crisis would add insult to its injury.
Amid this murky picture, the question arises, what we have done and are willing to do for combating this looming crisis. Have we learnt any lesson from the history or we are inching toward repeating it, time will unfold this mystery. But, apparently, as of yet, it seems that we have not learnt anything from the past practices of ad-hockery because, so far, there has not been any viable strategy on paper and action on ground to address the augmenting water issue.
There are disagreements, divisions, and distrust among politicians to forge consensus to harness the water resources of Pakistan. The glaring example is Kalabagh dam. This dam has been the bone of contention among provinces in charting out country’s water strategy. Pakistan is rich in water resources, if the latter dam is not the one to be agreed upon, many other feasible sights can be considered for building water dams and reservoirs. Politicians should abandon the interminable state of denial and voice their opinion for alternative options instead of doing politics over the controversies.
It is also pertinent to note that water issue is not a top agenda of political campaign of upcoming elections. Basic needs of the people—health and education— have not been at the top of political manifestos. These campaigns have been centered upon mere labelling allegations and heightening propaganda against the opponents. Genuine public issues have never been the imperative part of political manifestos; instead such issues remained at the bottom of hierarchy of preferences. On the other hand, painfully, issues which should have been at the bottom remained at the top: transportation—metros and roads etc. Are we going to feed roads, buses and tales of political campaigns to our progeny as Queen Marie Antoinette, during French Revolution, when told about the starving condition of peasants —that there is no bread— said”, “let them eat cake”.
In this light, water crisis, being the most threatening issue, needs to be contemplated.
Politicians should forge consensus on building new dams and water reservoirs to save future generations from the adversity. Dams and reservoirs are our necessity not a choice to address water crisis. Moreover, in the hierarchy of national preferences basic needs of the populace should be the top priority. Although, recently Council of Common Interests (CCI) has approved Pakistan’s first ever water policy, yet, it should be implemented with letter and spirit; and ensuing criticism directed to this policy should be addressed with wit and sagacity. In addition, apart from the government, civil society should also play its due role by conserving water and its optimum use. Last but not the least, the culture of shifting burden over the shoulders of predecessors in the time of national crisis needs to be forsaken and pitfalls of ignoble history of adhocism must end by now. There is no time like the present as an American philosopher, Tom Paine, said,” if there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace”.
Asmat Ullah Gondal holds M.Sc degree in Pakistan Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.

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