Despite facing an acute situation in the water sector, no government in Pakistan has been able to develop a national water policy with the consultation of all stakeholders. The draft National Water Policy was finally taken up by the Council of Common Interest for approval in 2017 but nothing came out of it. In this connection it may be mentioned here that the first draft was prepared in 2002-2005, and then another attempt was made in 2010. This took two years but could not be finalized due to the unresolved dispute over federal versus provincial domain debate. The latest attempt was made in 2015, which finally reach the Council of Common Interests. It is indeed regrettable that the country is suffering from severe water scarcity, but the government has not been able to formulate a sound national water policy. It is relevant to mention here that neighbouring countries - India, Bangladesh and Nepal - have had their water policies in place for decades.
Pakistan is fast becoming a water-scarce country with dearth of storages, while India plans to build more dams on rivers coming to Pakistan. So far no workable water management policy has been put in place and farmers are forced to consume groundwater with the help of tube wells to irrigate their crops, which inflates power consumption bills. Faced with increasing difficulties, the farmers staged a protest in Islamabad last week on the eve of the budget for 2017-18 to invite attention to their plight as the government seemed to have relegated the agriculture sector to the less priority zone. In the previous fiscal year, the agriculture sector did not grow, falling far short of the target, which had a negative impact on the overall national economic growth rate. In the current fiscal year, however, the agriculture sector grew 3.46% - its highest level in the past five years.
Experts have warned that Pakistan will face energy and food security challenges in future as the government is showing little interest in water supply projects, which are closely related with agriculture production that needs water as a major input. Pakistan has been facing flood devastation for many years, but calls for building more water reservoirs have fallen on deaf ears. At present, water storage capacity of the country is 14 million acre feet (MAF) whereas annual consumption stands at 117 MAF. Consumption of 1 MAF of water has a positive impact of $1 billion on the economy. Pakistan has been losing billions every year because of water wastage as reservoirs are short of the need.
Little is known about the details of the water policy which has now been drafted, but experts and industry insiders say that the water policy should have representations from all sectors and should have all the following aspects covered: objectives, plan of action, implementation methodologies and the time frame. The country needs to address water issues in irrigation as over 90 percent of the water consumption is in the agriculture sector.
Apart from reforming the water pricing for the commercial and the industrial sector, the scarce resource needs to be priced adequately for the domestic and household consumers as well. Infrastructure investment in water for conservation, recycling water treatment, waste management should also be the government's top priorities among other infrastructure projects. Finally, a lot can be also achieved with public awareness; awareness campaigns and behavioural sensitisation should represent a key area of the National Water Policy. The goal of the national water policy should be to bring water quality, equality and sustainability to the forefront of public attention.