The fuel of eco­nomic growth

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Ali Tauqeer Sheikh

WA­TER has be­come Pak­istan's num­ber one de­vel­op­ment and gov­er­nance is­sue. While wa­ter avail­abil­ity in our river sys­tems has re­mained fairly sta­ble, per capita wa­ter avail­abil­ity has di­min­ished from about 1,500 to nearly 1,000 cu­bic me­tres, ow­ing to a fast-grow­ing pop­u­la­tion.

On World Wa­ter Day, Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif has an op­por­tu­nity to set the di­rec­tion for Pak­istan's wa­ter econ­omy. We will need to lay foun­da­tions for the blue econ­omy. We will need wa­ter to fuel our econ­omy, cre­ate wa­ter jobs, in­vest in wa­ter ef­fi­cient tech­nolo­gies, cre­ate wa­ter mar­kets for wa­ter sav­ings and sys­tems. It is crit­i­cal for Pak­istan to make wa­ter the cen­tral plank of our de­vel­op­ment agenda, if we are to meet our SDGs tar­gets. Ac­tion on five is­sues to set the di­rec­tion is needed.

Wa­ter pol­icy: Pak­istan has no wa­ter pol­icy. The min­istries of plan­ning & re­forms and wa­ter & power cir­cu­lated two dif­fer­ent drafts. Both have been with­drawn qui­etly. The Coun­cil of Com­mon In­ter­ests is per­ceived as a spoiler and not an en­abler. Hence there is vis­i­bly weak re­solve to con­vene the CCI meet­ing and present the draft pol­icy for ap­proval. Mean­while, some provinces have started work­ing on their own pro­vin­cial poli­cies. The best of pro­vin­cial poli­cies can­not be a sub­sti­tute for a com­pre­hen­sive na­tional wa­ter pol­icy.

Ground­wa­ter: The coun­try's ground­wa­ter re­serves are not reg­u­lated. Pak­istan's agri­cul­ture meets about 40pc of its wa­ter needs by ex­tract­ing ground- wa­ter. But the wa­ter ta­ble is fast de­plet­ing and get­ting con­tam­i­nated both in agri­cul­tural and ur­ban ar­eas. Our cities will not be hab­it­able, nor will our agri­cul­ture be ten­able if the present rate of ground­wa­ter de­ple­tion and con­tam­i­na­tion con­tin­ues. It is a poorly gov­erned area that has seen no mean­ing­ful leg­is­la­tion in decades. In fact, the sub­sidy for so­lar en­ergy-run tube wells will ac­cel­er­ate de­ple­tion un­less clubbed with drip ir­ri­ga­tion. Ground­wa­ter re­serves should be seen as strate­gic as­sets. Sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment must be made in map­ping, recharg­ing, pric­ing and reg­u­lat­ing in­di­vid­ual and com­mer­cial use. It has se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for our ecosys­tems, crop­ping pat­terns, terms of trade, and tran­sboundary aquafers.

Tran­sboundary wa­ter in­sti­tu­tions: Wa­ter re­sources are shared with three of our four neigh­bours in very sig­nif­i­cant ways. Any up­stream de­vel­op­ments can have ad­verse im­pli­ca­tions for us. Our neigh­bours have elab­o­rate plans for in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment. While it is some­times sug­gested we seek their con­cur­rence on our plans, we do not en­gage with them about theirs. We have failed to en­gage proac­tively or to ex­plore ben­e­fit­shar­ing on shared basins. Afghanistan and China still of­fer op­por­tu­ni­ties for col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proaches.

Fo­cus on In­dia or the In­dus Wa­ters Treaty is im­por­tant, but should not be at the cost of other neigh­bours. In fact, the IWT has pro­vi­sions for col­lab­o­ra­tion but a zero-sum ap­proach, pur­sued both by In­dia and Pak­istan, spoils the at­mos­phere for ad­di­tional in­stru­ments of col­lab­o­ra­tion. As the lower ri­par­ian we can­not af­ford this and must gen­er­ate ad­di­tional pol­icy op­tions for bet­ter col­lab­o­ra­tion.

The Pak­istan Com­mis­sion for In­dus Wa­ters (PCIW) has failed us more than once in ne­go­ti­a­tions and court cases; we must re­con­sti­tute it by con­vert­ing it into an in­de­pen­dent con­sti­tu­tional au­thor­ity, with a strong ca­pac­ity for tech­ni­cal and le­gal stud­ies and with part­ner­ships with univer­si­ties and think tanks in such ar­eas as hy­drol­ogy, me­te­o­rol­ogy, cli­ma­tol­ogy, early warn­ing, etc. The Com­mis­sion's man­date needs to be ex­panded to cover all tran­sboundary wa­ter is­sues with all neigh­bours.

In­ter­provin­cial trust: All provinces are en­tan­gled in sub­tle wa­ter wars. KP as­pires to con­struct more dams than it will need. Pun­jab feels it is sur­ren­der­ing its due share to the lower-ri­par­ian, smaller provinces that led by Sindh ac­cuse Pun­jab of non-trans­par­ent trans­ac­tion. The seeds of mis­trust are also sown by early va­ri­eties of wa­ter-in­ten­sive crops in the pre-mon­soon months when canals run empty and dams are at low lev­els.

Even a ra­tio­nal con­ver­sa­tion on con­struct­ing un­con­tested reser­voirs has be­come hostage to political bick­er­ing. The in­sti­tu­tions have failed to gen­er­ate trust. Teleme­try or other in­stru­ments at lo­ca­tions where wa­ter share­hold­ers change hands have re­mained an elu­sive dream de­spite avail­abil­ity of tech­nolo­gies and funds. Irsa has shrunk to a small club of well-re­garded but re­tired of­fi­cials who, among other things, lack the sense of ur­gency to trans­late Irsa's man­date into ac­tion to man­age wa­ter as a shared na­tional re­source. As part of the Min­istry of Wa­ter & Power, it has failed to get the same at­ten­tion that en­ergy is­sues get. Wa­ter de­serves a sep­a­rate min­istry, or at least an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion with con­sti­tu­tional sta­tus. Cli­mate change: Cli­mate change poses a more se­ri­ous threat to Pak­istan's wa­ter sup­ply than In­dia's.

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