Wa­ter wor­ries

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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