The food-water-energy nexus – Pakistan walking a tightrope

Published: March 19, 2012
Food production requires water and energy, the extraction of water requires energy, and energy production requires water. Food prices are highly sensitive to energy costs – which indirectly affect the GDP of a country. DESIGN: JAMAL KHURSHID

Food production requires water and energy, the extraction of water requires energy, and energy production requires water. Food prices are highly sensitive to energy costs – which indirectly affect the GDP of a country. DESIGN: JAMAL KHURSHID

KARACHI: Globalisation has reshaped the world today, making it more interconnected and interdependent. Unfortunately, its benefits have not been equally distributed across countries. Business is surrounded by issues of disparity and equity, both at national and international levels. Politically, there are resurgent signs of social fragmentation, populism and nationalism. The rise of a new world order is imminent and economics is changing.

The lack of sound local and global governance poses a larger risk than we may anticipate today. Country risk at the individual level varies due to conflict of interests, differing norms and values, scarcity of resources and war. World bodies like the UN and G20 have yet to endorse a decision to combat global risk effectively. We are surrounded by demographic challenges, and there is huge fiscal pressure on advanced economies, leading to a higher risk of social stability within emerging economies. There is a prevalent risk of war and the possibility of renewed nuclear proliferation between states.

Food production requires water and energy, the extraction of water requires energy, and energy production requires water. Food prices are highly sensitive to energy costs – which indirectly affect the GDP of a country as high costs of processing, irrigation, fertiliser and transportation affect production and lead to lower exports.

This nexus poses a challenge to governments and population. The lack of energy security, lower agriculture yields and higher cost of relief goods is leading us towards unrest and uncertainty. This threatens our masses, our government and our business as 70 % of our country’s production is dependent on our agricultural sector.

Hunger and poverty are on the rise while we remain clueless about the future. Our reservoirs need to be secure and more dams need to be constructed faster, as draught and famine are fast turning into a possibility.

Agriculture, in Pakistan or elsewhere, consumes more than 70% of global water demand. For example, countries that produce meat require up to 20,000 litres of water for every kilogramme of meat produced, compared to at least 1,200 litres to produce a kilogram of grain. We do not realise the need for secure water resources due to illiteracy and lack of community awareness.

Climate change, in the shape of torrential rains, has also affected our country; we are one of the few countries facing a chronic food emergency today.

Economists forecast that global demand for energy will increase by 40% by 2030, and that this energy will draw heavily on freshwater resources. Over 75% of global demand for energy from 2012-2030, will be dependant on fossil fuels – predominantly coal. The Thar coal reserves need to be developed rapidly, as this is the only way to ensure job security, resource mobilisation, income and prosperity for the population. It makes good business sense for leaders to work on this. Furthermore, we have to ensure fast-tracked building of dams between now and 2015, a failure to do so may lead us to bankruptcy, as people will lose faith in the nation’s ability to sustain itself and business will suffer colossal damages.

We need good business and we need to understand the difference between dependency on others and self reliance. Bad governance is a major issue in Pakistan, eating up business and politics and leading us to ruins. Pakistan faces risks ahead as its next big war will not be over power or money – it will be over food, water or energy. All are vital as we struggle to survive. For Pakistan, failure is not an option.

The writer works in the media and writes on international relations.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Sajida
    Mar 19, 2012 - 6:51AM

    Indeed. Pakistan uses water wastefully. This is suicidal. So what if other countries do it? If others want to be suicidal, are you stupid enough to want to be in the same club?
    Time to use drip agriculture and recycle water!


  • Mar 19, 2012 - 7:01AM

    The Taliban who get all the coverage do not pose an existential threat to Pakistan. Looming water problems do.

    Generations of military families have periodically fought FATA insurgencies. For example, Shuja Nawaz, the author of Crossed Swords says that his grandfather, his uncle and his cousin have all been deployed in Waziristan by the British and later Pakistani governments in the last century and a half. American withdrawal from the region will eventually calm the situation in Waziristan, and the rest of the country.

    Climate change and the growing water scarcity are the main long-term existential threats to Pakistan and the region. Water per capita is already down below 1000 cubic meters and declining. What Pakistan needs are major 1960s style investments for a second Green Revolution to avoid the specter of mass starvation and political upheaval it will bring.


  • gp65
    Mar 19, 2012 - 8:38PM

    @Riaz Haq: “The Taliban who get all the coverage do not pose an existential threat to Pakistan. Looming water problems do.”

    I do not think it is Either /OR. IT is Both/And. IF teh Taliban are not under control, the investments will not come in and even existing projects will be destroyed – just as they are destroying schools and blowing up Sui gas line al the time.


  • Mehnaz
    Mar 20, 2012 - 12:40AM

    Immediate focus is required on the development and conservation of energy, agriculture and infrastructure. A two pronged approach is required. Think tanks should be created to propose on a micro level small practical solutions implementable house to house, village to village and city to city. On a macro level large scale long term projects should be initiated and budgeted involving creation of dams, alternate sources of energy and research to produce more viable seeds and crops. Furthermore task forces should be created to implement these projects. Independent bodies created to manage and audit them.

    The article serves as a stern warning which if not heeded will result first in complete break down of an already deteriorating basic humanity, civics, law and order and secondly also antagonize our country’s relationships within the region.

    The writer has done a good job highlighting a crisis in the making, now we need urgent solutions and their implementation.


  • Yawar Ali Kazmi
    Mar 21, 2012 - 11:27PM

    Well spot-lighted! – the floods however are less the outcome of the torrential rain than the bureaucratic venality. The expectation of foreign & national aid and actually devouring of the funds have been key-motivating factor for the local government bodies. Belonging to Hyderabad, I personally saw the attempts by a group of the local government who envied the other villages & towns of the country that were flood-struck. They made attempts to damage the river Indus bank but were halted by their rivals, in Hyderabad.
    The NGOs, if not all but most, recently,are another black hole in the system unfortunately. They too await natural disasters, one of the directors of an NGO commented he was “desperately waiting for disasters & floods” .
    The remote locations where the oil fields have been found through out Pakistan, are not being watched let alone account for. No real figures are being reported.Mega deposits of coal, copper,gold, and oil have been explored through out the country and yet we walk the tight rope, the credit goes to us all for we are dis-united, stuck in the cubicles of differences – while our national assets are being stolen by no foreign element but our own regimes one after the other. It is time we woke up.


  • Florence
    Mar 24, 2012 - 12:26PM

    Zeeshan writes about the benefits of Globalization as well as its flaws due to unequal distribution among the countries of the world.
    Bad global governance has increased risks largely. Countries hence face risks such as disintegrating meager resources and nuclear war. U.N and G20 are still to make a favorable decision to fight such a global risk.
    Demographic challenges, fiscal pressure on advanced economies poses a greater danger on the stability on such economies. Also the risk of war and nuclear proliferation between countries looms behind this scenario.
    Zeeshan mentions food production crisis as another issue due to the water and energy crisis. Rising food prices thus indirectly affects the GDP that leads to lower exports. He points out the challenges which government and population will have to face which lead to ambiguity and turmoil. Ultimately Pakistan will also be affected as 3/4 of the country’s produce depends on the agricultural sector.
    Zeeshan suggests of securing our water resources and building more dams are a sensible way to handle such issues of poverty and famine.
    Due to our illiteracy and lack of community sense we are unable to understand the need to stop wastage of water urgently.
    As the drastically rising demand comes from fresh water resources and fossil fuel like coal, Zeeshan highlights the need to efficiently develop our Thar Coal Reserve. This will facilitate in creating jobs, mobilization of resources and income and prosperity of our nation.
    Lastly he points out that if we do not take adequate measures quickly we will suffer badly and have adverse effects on our GDP.


  • zeeshan shah
    Mar 25, 2012 - 6:46AM

    Thank you for your views .Recommend

  • Madiha
    Mar 26, 2012 - 4:48AM

    In short we know flooding is there since years, govt needs to find ways to reserve the “flood water”. Our country’s youth does have the brains,” which does not mean that others don’t”, we can ask the universities to come up with new, creative cost effective ideas and as well the engineering universities to present their projects!.Secondly foreign investment can be attracted. Question is who will be interested in a country which is politically weak and where the market is volatile?


  • Tasnim Siddiky
    Apr 7, 2012 - 4:50AM

    We all must understand the interconnection between energy, food and water. Majority of Pakistan’s economy being dependent on agriculture, it is vital that as a nation it must utilize energy and water in the most productive and cost-effective manner to get the best results possible.The article emphasizes exactly that. It is true that this is the time to realize and act upon the existing problems of energy and water independently instead of relying on other nations to do it. Self dependency is the way to go. The article suggests practical solutions to the realistic problems!


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