A blinding flash: Does the water shortage issue matter in upcoming polls?

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HAMID HUSSAIN
ISLAMABAD
‘Pani do, vote lo’ (get vote in return for water supply) is a message that can be seen painted on the walls of water-scarce Mansehra city for election candidates. This message simply reflects the critical importance of water as a need that connects all aspects of human life. Our well-being and economic development is simply linked to access to water.
The three major political parties, the PPP, PML-N and PTI all have presented their manifestos but a core issue is missing – access to clean drinking water.
All political parties have been campaigning with populist slogans like improving law and order, fighting terrorism, resolving education, heath, agriculture, socio-economic condition, energy issues and working for emancipation of women and minorities. However, none has given a clear roadmap for addressing the critical issue of clean drinking water and ensuring water availability for agricultural, industrial production and development of the country.
Water scarcity or in other words life scarcity in Pakistan is not a populist narrative that can get votes to a politician in the July 25 polls but it is the issue that poses a threat to the country bigger than Islamist terrorism.
It is the issue that needs to be at the top of the agenda of all political parties, otherwise it will impact everyone’s life in the next five or maximum 10 years as according to a recent report of the United Nations; the most immediate and serious issue for people of Pakistan is water shortage.
A UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) report says Pakistan is the first among the South Asian countries that is likely to dry up by 2025. It says Pakistan was once a water abundant country, but now it is experiencing water shortage. The per capita water availability in the country declined from 2,172 cubic metres per inhabitant, to 1,306 cubic metres per inhabitant between 1990 and 2015.
The water crisis did not take place overnight but it has been pushed to this stage by the sheer negligence of successive governments and the military leadership over decades.
Michael Kugelman, South Asian expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center recently during an interview said that Pakistan is fast approaching the scarcity threshold for water. The groundwater supplies – the last resort of water supply – are being rapidly depleted. Moreover, the authorities have given no indication that they plan to do anything about this grave issue, he said.
“Pakistan is on track to become the most water-stressed country in the region, and 23rd in the world, by the year 2040. No person in Pakistan, whether from the north with its more than 5,000 glaciers, or from the south with its ‘hyper deserts’, will be immune to this,” said a report by the World Resources Institute.
Elections are around the corner and this offers a historic opportunity to both the leadership of the three major political parties and voters to pledge to address the issue of water scarcity before it is too late. Response of the political party that will form government after the July 25 polls to the issue of water scarcity will have a great impact on Pakistan’s water profile and will decide the future of the country.

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