Wa­ter emer­gency

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

The grow­ing wa­ter short­age poses a great threat to the econ­omy and fu­ture of the coun­try. Dur­ing a meet­ing of the Se­nate Spe­cial Com­mit­tee on Wa­ter Scarcity, Fed­eral Flood Com­mis­sioner stated that to­tal wa­ter re­lease to the prov­inces is 121,500 cusecs with a short­age of 35 per­cent with Pun­jab cur­rently get­ting 67,500 cusecs (fac­ing 37 per­cent short­age), Sindh 45,000 cusecs (37 per­cent short­age), while Balochis­tan is get­ting 5,900 cusecs and Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa 3,100 cusecs. As per Irsa, this de­cline in wa­ter avail­abil­ity will neg­a­tively im­pact not only on kharif but also rabi crops. This mas­sive de­cline in wa­ter avail­abil­ity in just one year should be a mat­ter of se­ri­ous con­cern for the govern­ment.

Se­vere wa­ter short­age has fu­elled con­sid­er­able bick­er­ing be­tween the prov­inces. Sindh main­tains it is fac­ing drought con­di­tions which re­cently led to the pas­sage of a res­o­lu­tion in the Sindh assem­bly ac­cus­ing Irsa and Pun­jab of il­le­gally open­ing the Chashma-Jhelum Link Canal and Taunsa-Pan­j­nad Canal, thereby vi­o­lat­ing the in­ter-provin­cial agree­ment and de­priv­ing Sindh of its right­ful wa­ter share as per law.. Pun­jab in turn main­tained dur­ing the Se­nate Com­mit­tee meet­ing that it gave up its share of wa­ter to Sindh twice. How­ever, at present its own re­quire­ments are high and it can no longer do so. Balochis­tan is ac­cus­ing Sindh of pass­ing on a wa­ter short­age of be­tween 75 to 80 per­cent to Balochis­tan.

The rea­sons cited for the wa­ter short­age are ex­ter­nal as well as in­ter­nal. Ex­ter­nal fac­tors in­clude (In­dia's dam build­ing in vi­o­la­tion of the World Bank-bro­kered In­dus Wa­ter Treaty of 1962 though suc­ces­sive Pak­istani ad­min­is­tra­tions must be held ac­count­able for fail­ing to take the mat­ter up for ar­bi­tra­tion in a timely man­ner. Then there is the fac­tor of cli­mate change, and here too Pak­istani gov­ern­ments must be held ac­count­able for con­tribut­ing to cli­mate change by fail­ing to im­ple­ment en­vi­ron­ment pro­tec­tion laws, in­clud­ing un­der­tak­ing en­vi­ron­ment im­pact as­sess­ments for ma­jor projects. The Fed­eral and provin­cial gov­ern­ments have done lit­tle to take ap­pro­pri­ate mea­sures which re­quired pri­or­i­tiz­ing in­vest­ment in this sec­tor to mit­i­gate some of the fac­tors over which they had lit­tle con­trol.

Re­cently, Chair­man Irsa in­formed the Se­nate com­mit­tee that Pak­istan dumps 22 bil­lion dol­lars worth of wa­ter into the sea each year due to lack of stor­age ca­pac­ity and pointed out that if dams are not con­structed on a war foot­ing, in the near fu­ture Pak­istan will not be able to pro­duce ma­jor crops like wheat, rice, sug­ar­cane, cot­ton and maize due to the acute wa­ter short­age. In­vest­ment to de­silt ex­ist­ing stor­age ca­pac­ity is also not forth­com­ing. Re­port­edly, 500,000 tonnes of silt de­posits in the Tar­bela and Mangla dam ev­ery day. Be­cause of this, the two ma­jor wa­ter reser­voirs have al­ready lost 12 per­cent of their stor­age ca­pac­ity.

Agri­cul­ture, be­sides pro­vid­ing food for the pop­u­la­tion, con­trib­utes 24 per­cent to Pak­istan's Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct (GDP) and pro­vides em­ploy­ment to at least half of the coun­try's labour force. Ad­di­tion­ally, it also pro­vides raw ma­te­rial for man­u­fac­tur­ing value-added prod­ucts like tex­tiles which ac­count for a ma­jor por­tion of the coun­try's ex­ports. In these cir­cum­stances, to ig­nore the agri­cul­ture sec­tor in gen­eral and its ba­sic in­put, wa­ter, in par­tic­u­lar is a se­ri­ous blun­der on the part of eco­nomic plan­ners. Some time back a wa­ter pol­icy was for­mu­lated but it was not ap­proved by the Coun­cil of Com­mon In­ter­est and its rec­om­men­da­tion to al­lo­cate 10 per­cent of the fed­eral Pub­lic Sec­tor De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme to the wa­ter sec­tor were ig­nored. We are fac­ing a wa­ter emer­gency which calls for prompt ac­tion by the govern­ment.

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