A new World Economic Forum (WEF) report posits that water crises are among the most significant risk factors in doing business in South Asia. Water, according to the report based on a survey of over 12,000 business leaders from around the world, presents the greatest challenge to business in India and is the second-biggest risk in Pakistan. Incidentally, the only greater risk for Pakistan, according to the report, is “energy price shock”, a reference to the rising demand for energy as populations and economies grow. Pakistan is heavily dependent on imports to meet demand, and because the sector is highly subsidised, governments bear most of the repercussions of market fluctuations.
As for water, the report quotes a description of the issue as “a problem of scarcity amid abundance”, explaining that despite the presence of major rivers, many citizens must queue for limited supplies of drinking water. It notes that South Asia is home to around a quarter of the global population but has less than 5% of the world’s renewable water resources. Low per-capita water availability and relatively high levels of water use are also troubling, with Pakistan having the fourth-highest rate of water usage in the world, despite being on the brink of officially being tagged as “water-scarce”.
The lack of proper infrastructure to deliver clean drinking water is highlighted as a significant problem, while dependence on a single source – the Indus system – makes the country more at risk of disruptions from extreme weather events, which will only increase and grow harsher due to climate change. The report also brings up the geopolitical challenges presented by water scarcity. “Water is a potential weapon in cross-border disputes, as countries have at times threatened cutting off flows because of outbreaks of violence in disputed territories.”
Many have gone hoarse exhorting the government to address water waste, but amid an ever-evolving list of challenges, this one keeps getting pushed down on the agenda. It is easy to cast blame on India. It is much harder to convince the agricultural elite to reduce water waste and work to improve supply efficiency. But, to quote Hillel, if not now, when?
Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2019.