Pakistan, a ‘water-stressed’ country

Published: January 19, 2011
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A Pakistani today has access to a fifth of the water he had in 1947

A Pakistani today has access to a fifth of the water he had in 1947

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s water per capita has fallen by a whopping 78.4 per cent since 1947, mainly due to increased population. In other words, a Pakistani today has access to a fifth of the water he had in 1947. Currently 1,080 cubic metres of water is available to a single person in the country, compared to about 5,000 cubic metres in 1947, according to Dr Shahid Ahmad, an environmental expert who spoke at a two-day consultative workshop.

“This makes Pakistan a water stressed country, without alternatives to draw on if Indus supplies fall short,” Dr Ahmad said. He said the rise in urban population raised even more danger of water scarcity as the demand for non-agricultural use of water grows.

“It is estimated that Quetta will run out of potable water within the next 15 years and water conflicts will increase,” he added.

He said the current water storage capacity is too limited, at a mere 137 cubic metres of storage capacity per person.

Other environmental experts at the workshop expressed grave concerns over the lack of water security in the country, which according to them is badly affecting its people and economy. They urged the need for increased investment in the water sector.

The inaugural session of the workshop, titled “Upper Lower Riparian Issues and Options” and organised by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), was held on Tuesday at a local hotel.

The experts included member of Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC), Dr Shahid Ahmad, coordinator of IUCN Asia’s Regional Water and Wetlands Programme, Ganesh Pangare, country representative IUCN, Shah Murad, deputy head of Embassy of Netherland’s Development Section, Willem Cools, and various other representatives of national and international organisations working on water issues.

The consensus at the workshop was that water issues need to be addressed on a priority basis as they play an important role in the development of a country and the life of its citizens. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, this neglected sector is treated as a “step-child”.

The participants urged the need for a greater trust and science-based dialogues between multiple stakeholders in order to understand and resolve upper/lower riparian issues as well as explore viable solutions.

They were of the view that initiating a dialogue on trans-boundary water issues would require research for the identification of critical areas.

According to the participants, the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) was responsible for gathering data on water issues but it had been unable to do so because of the lack of human resources and equipment.

Pakistan should first resolve the existing water issues within its own boundaries before considering its issues with neighbouring countries. The inter-provincial disputes over water distribution and the scandals involving construction of dams were cited as prime examples of the issues that first needed to be resolved.

Nevertheless, the experts emphasised the need for a water treaty between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as water developments in the latter state could have severe repercussions for Pakistan’s historic rights over water from Kabul River.

While presenting draft policy briefs, Dr Ahmad said, “The mindset to assist the neighbour in building infrastructure must be fostered in Pakistan.” Calling the water treaty an “existential issue”, he urged “open-minded” Pakistanis and Afghans to work on it, advising that the discussion should be “totally delinked” from historical grievances such as the Durand Line.

He said that the restructuring and strengthening of Pakistan’s chapter of Indus Water Commission and the establishment of a tripartite water forum could be a feasible option.

“There is a need to resolve the pending issues of mistrust by using the principles of International Water Laws for a win-win situation,” Dr Ahmad stressed.

He added that the inter-provincial water conflicts could be resolved through measure such as developing a reliable system of water measurement, building consensus for construction of carryover dams, allocating more resources for water infrastructure, and strengthening water management for optimal water use.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th,  2011.

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