Anew national water policy is on the anvil. It is a matter of concern that the water sector continues to be neglected by the authorities concerned. This is proved by the fact that although water supply and storage seem to be among top priorities of the government, the utilisation of funds for water projects has gone down. This is so in the face of the fact that the country is facing an acute shortage of water. Figures show that during the current fiscal year, the government has allocated Rs31.72 billion for development schemes in the water sector, but only around Rs24 billion, or 76% of the total, would be utilised by the end of June. The government has not only delayed the release of funds for water projects designed to enhance the country's storage capacity, but it has also cut fund allocation substantially since coming to power about four years ago. Instead, its focus has been on building the road infrastructure and metro bus projects.
A detailed analysis of the situation shows that after coming to power in mid-2013, the government earmarked Rs59 billion for fiscal year 2013-14 to be disbursed among different projects aimed at conserving and enhancing the country's water resources. However, out of the total, only Rs35 billion could be spent as the government slowed down the release of funds. In 2015-16, the allocation for water projects was slashed by around 50% to Rs30.12 billion. However, only Rs23 billion was disbursed for injection into the schemes. In the next fiscal year, almost a similar amount, Rs31.06 billion, was set aside for water schemes, but only Rs24 billion would be released by the end of the year. For the upcoming fiscal year 2017-18, a slightly higher amount estimated at Rs36.7 billion has been earmarked for water projects.
It is common knowledge that Pakistan is fast becoming a waterscarce 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. 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 the past seven 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 full 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. Experts are also of the view that the policy should look beyond Indus Water Treaty as it does not talk about the impact of climate change on water availability and the groundwater usage.