Water scarcity coming threat to PakistanBy Shaukat Masood Zafar • Apr 26th, 2012 • Category: Lead Story, Politics, Worth A Second Look • 24 Comments
Water as the saying goes, is life and he who gives water, gives life. Clean water is therefore the link to health, economic and agricultural prosperity. With a rising population, increasing water use per capita and depleting reserves of groundwater, is an increasingly precious resource.
Pakistan is an agricultural country thus agriculture gains are of much importance than any other sector. Importance of this sector is manifold as it feeds people, provides raw material for industry and is a base for foreign trade. Pakistan has the unfortunate characteristic of being prone to prolonged and severe droughts at any time. A combination of natural and human factors is responsible for water scarcity. They include lack of rainfall, population growth and inadequate infrastructures, but also the trend towards urbanization and inefficient governance. The mountain glaciers which feed the rivers which are the lifeline of both Pakistan and India are also melting very rapidly due to climate change.
Today the most influential issue that Pakistan faces is water scarcity. It affects all who inhabit the country. The lack of water limits farmers’ ability to produce enough food to eat or earn a living. With population increase and economic growth, water demands for cities and for the industry are growing much faster than those of agriculture. Millions of Pakistanis suffer from water shortages throughout the year because of water scarcity. Pakistan is chronically water-stressed. Although growth has slowed, an expanding economy, a growing population, and increased evaporation caused by climate change are conspiring to put additional pressures on water resources. In fact it is a bigger issue than we imagine it to be.
Pakistan, whose agriculture-dominated economy is heavily reliant on the Indus and its tributaries, fears upstream dams allow India to manipulate the flows of water as it sees fit. In the Indus Water Treaty, control over the three “eastern” rivers — the Bias, Ravi and Sutlej — was given to India and the three “western” rivers — the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum — to Pakistan. While Pakistan miserably failed to build water reservoirs and protect its water rights on three rivers, India is continuously constructing water reservoirs on our water rights clearly violating the Indus Water Treaty, exacerbating Pakistan’s dire water shortages, choking its agricultural production and ruining livelihoods. It is not the Pakistan alone against which the Indian government was hatching water conspiracies but it was playing the same game with China, Bangladesh and Nepal also. Our leaders on the other hand have politicized the Kalabagh Dam, downstream Tarbela, and criminally neglected building other major reservoirs like Diamer-Bhasha etc.
At the current rate of dam siltation, water is going to start running out in January, hastening a decline in crop yield. In fact Kalabagh dam has the capacity to produce cheaper electricity and improve our overall power mix, which could work to the advantage both of the domestic consumer and industry in addition to providing sufficient water for irrigation. The political leadership is manipulating the issue for their advantage and is playing with future generations of this country. Our leaders have, however, no vision to realize the horrible scenario when there will be no water for crops and maybe for drinking purposes as well throughout the country. It is unfortunate that our decision markers are not the victims of wrong decisions, as it only adversely affect the common man. Civil society would have to play a crucial role in creating a larger consensus, as new large water reservoirs would benefit every Pakistani.
Pakistan suffers from chronically overburdened water systems under increasing stress from fast-growing urban areas. Weak governments, corruption, mismanagement of resources, poor long-term investment, and a lack of environmental research and urban infrastructure only exacerbate the problem. Apart from this India has started four other mega projects on the Chenab and Jhelum Rivers that can result in major shortage of water in Pakistan in coming days. India has also planned three dams on River Indus which will have devastating impact on Pakistan’s already scarce water resources. According to India its dams are run-of-the-river aimed at generating hydroelectricity, or in the case of the Tulbul navigation project on the Jhelum, meeting other development needs like facilitating year-round trade. Unfortunately, by providing such like space to India by not setting up our own reservoirs we are going towards conflict and not conflict resolution. The main conflicts in India and Pakistan during the coming years could be over that most precious of commodities - water, as countries fight for access to scarce resources. People have historically fought wars to access water. Competition for water in the next decade will fuel instability in parts of Asia. Potential ‘water wars’ are likely in areas where rivers and lakes are shared by more than one country, according to a UN Development Program (UNDP) report. However before confronting India we must put our house in order. If we couldn’t defend and prudently utilize our own resources we would not be able to fight for the similar resources being usurped by others.
The worsening problem of water scarcity may contribute to political instability. The clock is ticking for Pakistan’s stretched water supply, and in next decade demand will have caught up with supply. Water is the most important issue for us. The quality and quantity of the water supply should be better managed, and called for more investment in infrastructure. We have only five to seven years to construct replacement reservoirs and expand storage capacity through new dams, like the ready-to-go Kalabagh, before Pakistan starts seeing unbearable wheat shortages. Since water projects have a long gestation period, urgent decisions are required to be made for building dams. There are many other possible solutions in order to prevent water scarcity in the country. One of the solutions is the creation of a rainwater catchment system that is based on collection of rainwater and gravity flow pressure principles. Small water reserviors can be built on run of the rivers. This system is relatively inexpensive, flexible and is easy to reconfigure and expand. No Kalabagh dam sloganeering is what India is fervently praying for. With a little investment in promoting opposition propaganda against Kalabagh dam, India has planted the seeds of our economic collapse, and disunity and distrust among our provinces.
All those who are opposing the Kalabagh Dam are doing disfavor to the whole nation. The current scenario demands Pakistan’s first priority should be to build Kalabagh dam following Diamer-Bhasha and other major reservoirs in addition to constructing small reservoirs for short term needs.