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Why water is an issue of national security for Pakistan

Pakistan is facing serious problems of water scarcity and the heavy reliance on the country’s agrarian economy is further creating obstacles that exacerbate the security situation of Pakistan.

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The changing nature of threats to mankind has continually evolved the concept of security. In modern times the security of individuals takes precedence over the traditional concept of state security. One of the most worrisome threat mankind is facing in the 21st century is global climate change. Due to its geographical location, Pakistan is among the worst affectees. For the last 20 years, Pakistan has consistently ranked among the top 10 most vulnerable countries on the climate Risk Index.

Pakistan is currently facing the swear threat of water scarcity. It is predicted that country might run out of water in the next 5-10 years. Despite such drastic conditions, water security is not a key priority of policymakers and civil institutions. According to a recent survey and report conducted by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), the country might face a severe shortage of water and run dry in the next five years.

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Understanding the matter better

If this situation remained persistent then, unfortunately, Pakistan could be the one most likely to confront an extensive shortage of water or drought-based conditions which shortly will not only affect the socio-economic sector but can jeopardize the whole security structure of the country. Moreover, the survey indicates that Pakistan’s water usage ratio with respect to water available is one of the highest in the world, that’s the critical reason that Pakistan is more sensitive in terms of water availability and scarcity.

International Monetary Fund also revealed their report regarding water shortage and found that Pakistan is the third most water-stressed country. Water availability in terms of per capita is almost 1,017 cubic meters which are precarious and close to a minimum threshold of one thousand 1,000 cubic meters. As Pakistan is a semi-arid country with a substantial agricultural economy, having severe water shortage, increasing water pollution, and decreasing availability can be fatal to its food security. 21% of GDP, 45 percent of employment, and 60 percent of exports with respect to total GDP are directly or indirectly dependent on the Indus basin.

Major exporting crops are water intensive which means scarcity will directly affect the export sector. The geographic location of Pakistan places the country in the heat surplus zone on Earth, putting it high on the vulnerability scale of climate change with a considerable increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and erratic monsoon rains. Water scarcity is also one of the most troublesome issues in metropolitan cities like Karachi. This situation is coupled with several interlinked factors like institutional, operational, and governance failures which are not only causing deadlock within policymaking, and policy formulation, but also fostering domestic discord in the society which is something more than intimidating.

In addition to this, looking from a comprehensive security paradigm, water security in Pakistan is directly or indirectly linked with food security, economic, political, military, and social sector.“Water scarcity, floods, droughts, and domestic mismanagement can embitter inter-ethnic relations and prompt political tension, which can, in turn, lead to violence and political chaos.”As Pakistan already had several disputes with India and being a low riparian country, the water resource has enough potential to initiate an international conflict.

Current situation of water availability: a key factor to consider water shortage as a threat to Pakistan.

Pakistan, being a single-basin country, heavily relies on the Indus basin water originating from the Himalayan range to meet its domestic, agricultural, and industrial needs.” The fast melting of Glaciers, decreasing annual precipitation, and other changing climatic patterns are affecting the very security of humans affiliated with the Indus Basin. Specifically, the growing population of a country and climate issues along with the rising temperature is adding pressure on the growing water demands. The country’s water resources consist mainly of rainfall, rivers, glaciers, and groundwater.

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The population and economy are heavily dependent on an annual influx into the Indus River system (including the Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej rivers) of about 180 billion cubic meters of water flowing mainly through India and heavily depends on glacier melt in the western Himalayas.”

According to the recent report of Pakistan Strategic Country Environmental Assessment Report, 2006, says water availability per person has drastically fallen from about 5,000 cubic meters in 1947 to 1,100 cubic meters. It projects that water availability will hit below 700 cm per capita by 2025. The gap between water supply and demand is widening. In 2004, Pakistan’s water shortfall was 11 MAF which is expected to go up to 31 MAF by 2025. This clearly shows that Pakistan has become a water-scarce country.

Unfortunately, the timely building of water reservoirs and long-term policy making was missing in the consciousness of previous governments. At the current ratio, it is expected that Pakistan’s population count will reach the figure of 300 million by the next 30 years. The agrarian economy also needs more water to be utilized to generate more food and feed more population. In addition to this, polluted and contaminated water is another alarming and critical reason causing deaths, especially among children.

Pakistan is facing serious problems of water scarcity and the heavy reliance on the country’s agrarian economy is further creating obstacles that exacerbate the security situation of Pakistan. The worsening water countries need to be addressed through comprehensive dialogues and cooperation by adopting an extensive approach to look at this critical issue. Although, grievances over water availability exist domestically but can be resolved through coordination.

In the current regional outlook, both Pakistan and India must initiate dialogues to resolve water disputes and only a long-term security strategy can help them to maintain peace in the region. Specifically, in a country like Pakistan which is already battling terrorism, extremism, and insurgency, water scarcity can further deteriorate the security situation of the country. As the World Bank stated that “if the wars of the 20th century were fought over oil, the wars of the 21st century will be fought over water.”

 

The writer is a Mphil scholar hailing from National Defence University, currently working as a researcher at the Centre for International Strategic Studies AJK. The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy.