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Water woes: challenges and way forward


Bilal Ghani |

The alarm bell is sounding and water bomb is ticking, but I think it has done a little impact on the ears of our drowsy ruling elites. According to one survey Pakistan has only water storage capacity only for thirty days as compared to international standard given of 120 days. Another alarming report states that India is continuously stealing our liquid gold with each passing day as it has started more than twenty small and large-scale water projects on the rivers of Pakistan.

Water reservoirs are the major source of hydropower production, Pakistan has hydropower generation capacity of more than 50000 MW and Pakistan is using only its 13% which is the very menial figure as compared to other neighboring countries like India, China, and Turkey. There is a dire need to wake up from slumber and take immediate preventive actions to tackle this problem.

According to IRSA figures, Pakistan has been discharging 30 MAF annually into the ocean whereas the requisite flow under Kotri barrage is 8 MAF.

Pakistan has crossed both water stressed and water scarce boundaries. The availability of per capita water in Pakistan is reducing drastically. If we look at history, per capita available water in 1951 was 5260 m3, in 2007 it was 1200 m3, in 2009 it was 1100 m3, in 2010 it was 1000 m3, in 2017 it was908 m3 and projected to touch down 800 m3 in 2025.

The graph is exponentially going downward and water available for Rabi and Kharif seasons is reducing with every passing year. According to Pakistan council of research for water resources, if no more water reservoirs will be built, Pakistan will be drought affected country in 2025.

Pakistan is facing water problems at two levels, domestic and regional. At domestic level there are further two types of problem, one is royalty issue and other is non-implementation of water appointment accord 1991. For royalty, provinces have the dispute over the distribution of profits associated with water reservoirs. Terbela dam is located in KP and Mangla dam is located in Punjab and both provinces demanded more share in profit.

Read more: Grand Vision for Pakistan’s Water Future

Water appointment accord came in to effect on March 21, 1991, according to clause 2 of document Punjab will get 55.94 MAF (million acre-feet), Sindh will get 48.76 MAF, KP 5.78 MAF and Baluchistan will get 3.87 MAF of water. The provinces at the tail end often blamed other provinces of using their share water. Sindh blamed Punjab and Baluchistan accuses Sindh of not giving their due share.

The major reasons of the water fiasco are, bourgeoning population, over-exploitation of underground water, increase in industrial activity, climate change, failure to augmentation of water resources, old and outdated irrigation system, poor water monitoring and management system. Heavy sedimentation in existing water reservoirs has reduced 27% of our water storage capacity. Out of 145 MAF, Pakistan is storing only 14 MAF. According to IRSA figures, Pakistan has been discharging 30 MAF annually into the ocean whereas the requisite flow under Kotri barrage is 8 MAF.

Pakistan has two rival countries in this regard, one in India and second in Afghanistan. The water-related issues with both adversaries are historic and chronicle in nature.

In order to solve these domestic problems and simmering tensions between provinces, a strong centralized policy is required to satisfy the provinces. Many clauses of water appointment accord are ambiguous which need the immediate review. The water issues should be regularly discussed in the council of common interest meetings and the proper solution including revised water sharing formula should come into the surface to solve the distribution and storage related problems.

More than 25 years have been passed after water appointment accord but still, no amendment is made in spite of many changes in weather conditions, precipitation pattern, and storage capacity of dams. Constitution amendment should be made to ensure the free and fair distribution of water among provinces.

The concept of water trading should be implemented among the provinces because Baluchistan and KP cannot extract and utilize their maximum share due to their land topography. Punjab and Sindh can use this water and payment can be made against this as a return according to a pre-agreed formula.

Read more: Can India and Pakistan cooperate on water?

At the domestic level, one important thing is the water management system. Modern, digital water monitoring system should be installed on canals and rivers with a centralized control room to monitor water theft and wastage.  We have to change our agriculture methods so that water can be used efficiently. We have to shift our crop trends from more water-intensive crops towards least water-intensive crops.

Effective water pricing system should be adopted and in this regards, we can follow the Israel model. Israel is 60% desert and have only one freshwater lake yet it is water superpower. They not only produce fruits and vegetables but also export their produce of worth of millions of dollars. They have adopted a pay-as-you-use model and with this model, people have realized the true importance of water wasting and utilization.

Adding more to it, there should be a complete ban on groundwater exploitation, In Punjab only there are 1.2 million tube wells, which are the biggest source of water theft. Every person who wants to extract groundwater must take NOC from government and then proceed it further with effective utilization.

On the other hand, India has started many controversial projects including Baglihar dam (450 MW), rattle dam (850 MW), Pakal Dul Dam (1000 MW), lower Kalnai dam (48 MW) on different rivers of Pakistan.

Furthermore, a mass awareness campaign should be launched at the earliest to educate the people about water scarcity and tell them how we can save the water by using greywater system in households and drip irrigation system in fields.

Last but not least, National water policy has been formally approved and it should not collect dust in baskets and strong action committees should be made under the supervision of prime minister to implement its points in letter and spirit so that we can save this wastage of liquid gold.

The second dimension of water woes is the regional issue. It is clearly written on the wall that future wars will be fought on this liquid gold. Pakistan has two rival countries in this regard, one in India and second in Afghanistan. The water-related issues with both adversaries are historic and chronicle in nature.

Read more: Water Talks: Second round begins between India & Pakistan

India is trying its best to snub Pakistan on this front and making larger dams on the share of Pakistan ignoring all international commitments. Pakistan and India were tied into the historic water-related knot in 1961 with arbitration of World Bank and the outcome was Indus Water Treaty. India is continuously depriving us of our water rights despite mass climate and geopolitical changings.

Indus water treaty is not a sacrosanct document which cannot be reviewed. After passing more than 50 years, with a lot of geographical, environmental and climate change it has become necessary for both countries to sit on a table and review this historic agreement and make it viable for our next generations.

The biggest problem for Pakistan in this agreement is that the rivers allocated to Pakistan are coming from Indian occupied territories and they are making reservoirs on our waters violating the spirit of the treaty. In recent developments, Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Kishan Ganga (330 MW) dam built on Jehlum river. On the other hand, India has started many controversial projects including Baglihar dam (450 MW), rattle dam (850 MW), Pakal Dul Dam (1000 MW), lower Kalnai dam (48 MW) on different rivers of Pakistan.

Time has come when we have to revisit our decisions and identify them where we have done mistakes in the past along with their correction for better and prosperous future of our generations to come.

After treaty we have three options, one is to sit together (mutual dialogues), the second is the neutral expert and third is an appointment of the court of arbitration. The most viable option is mutual dialogues which can pave the way of progress and prosperity for the whole region.

On the western side, Pakistan has Hydel issues with Afghanistan. There are two rivers flowing in opposite directions one is river Kabul flowing from Afghanistan to Pakistan and second is Swat River flowing from Pakistan to Afghanistan. During Hamid Karzai government, India asked Afghanistan to construct the dam on river Kabul to restrict the waters of Pakistan. These developments could create problems for Pakistan. There should be a comprehensive agreement between both countries for the permanent solution of the problem.

The way forward to resolve these long-lasting issues is mutual dialogues with both countries that should be immediately started. Modern water monitoring and management system should be installed on the rivers in order to monitor the status of water reservoirs across the borders.

Read more: Water scarcity making country a wasteland

Old agreements and treaties should be presented on the table with the win-win approach because no country wants its loss in case of water because it has become aortic for all stakeholders. Both countries should relax visa conditions for frequent visits to the water department related people. Frequent site visits will also help to alleviate the tensions between both countries.

Judiciary has taken one step forwards and expedited the construction of Diamer Bhasha Dam (4500 MW) and Mohmand Dam with the capacity of 800 MW by taking suo moto action under the article 184(3) of a constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Along these projects, there is a dire need to start other proposed hydropower projects which will not only generate electricity but will also store water along with agriculture developments.

During Hamid Karzai government, India asked Afghanistan to construct the dam on river Kabul to restrict the waters of Pakistan.

Recently Supreme Court has arranged the symposium with the title “creating water secure Pakistan”. In ceremony addressing to the audience, president of Pakistan Dr. Arif Alvi said that “mistrust over dams must end and we need to build trust among the provinces” chief justice said that “work on dams should not be seen as intrusion”. At the end of three days international symposium, a 20 point declaration was adopted known as “Islamabad Declaration” which called for setting up a task force on water woes.

At the end, this is our country and we have to do something for its survival and progress. We will grow if this country will grow and we will remain in darkness if the country does not move with the pace of developed countries. The country’s development is highly linked with hydropower growth so this sector needs maximum attention.

Read more: Water Scarcity: Pakistan’s dire condition

Time has come when we have to revisit our decisions and identify them where we have done mistakes in the past along with their correction for better and prosperous future of our generations to come. This is equally true as a common saying “God helps those who help themselves”.

Bilal Ghani is a graduate from the University of Engineering and Technology Lahore and a freelance writer. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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