It is good to know that the Punjab government is, at long last, paying serious attention to the vagaries of climate change. Although, as per usual, absolute and utter idiocy appears to be the rule of the day. Proudly boasting with the ludicrous fanfare it so revels in, that it is initiating flood protection measures which ‘will last 100 years’. The provincial government and its consultants, the latter in the form of the Asian Development Bank — which should know better — intends kicking this off with the $900 million upgradation of the Sulemanki and Trimmu barrages. Both of these were constructed in 1927 and are in dire need of maintenance and desilting. The idea behind this is would be to help manage the flood waters that pass through them in future years, so that the devastation downstream, especially in Sindh, could be minimised. Of course, it should be remembered that this year’s flood in Sindh was caused mainly by record high rain in that province.
These barrages, along with all other outdated barrages north and south of Sulemanki and Trimmu, have been in need of serious attention for a number of decades, as have the majority of canals, bunds, embankments and spurs along the way. To single out the two aforementioned barrages without simultaneously upgrading all other related components is asking for major trouble, as is the rapid disposal of potentially astronomical amounts of valuable water which is so badly needed for human consumption, agricultural use and for increasing indigenous energy production instead of, in the case of the latter, resorting to costly imports on a long term basis. An increased incidence of extreme climate events as are now globally occurring, does not only mean the likelihood of heavy precipitation during unpredictable monsoons but also an expansion in periods of extreme drought. This, according to experts, could well transform Pakistan from an agricultural to an almost desert nation over the next ‘100 years’.
It would thus, even to the most incompetent of bodies, make more sense to figure out every possible way to capture and then store any ‘excess’ drop of water rather than too guarantee its swift dispersal downstream, where its speeded up flow could damage, if not totally wreck, water systems to the south, submerging already battered villages and farmlands in the process; to say nothing of the people and livestock that live there.
It has long been forecast that the next world war will be ignited by a paucity of water. Ever-reducing river flows from India, combined with shrinking glaciers in our north and clearly evident extended periods of annual drought in agricultural regions, highlight a dire need to conserve and, wherever possible, add to our currently inadequate water stocks. In that context, it was time (in fact the time has long gone but something has to be done) for all provincial governments as well as the federal government itself, to take seriously cognisable steps towards ensuring some workable form of water management and conservation. This is the only way that we will be able to cope with what may come in the future. On the surface, at least, the Punjab government is set on proving its track record of making dangerous mistakes.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2011.