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Creating a Water-secure Pakistan

Water-secure Pakistan

Conserve water for sustainable future

In October, the Supreme Court of Pakistan organized a two-day international symposium on ‘Creating a Water Secure Pakistan’ in Islamabad. Themes pertaining to legal aspects of Indus Basin, construction and financing of dams and reservoirs and management of water resources were discussed in the moot. It is important to note here that the symposium was organized at a time when Pakistan is increasingly facing a daunting challenge of water scarcity. According to one survey, Pakistan has water-storage capacity only for thirty day as compared to international standard of 120 days.

The verses in the box have been excerpted from a remarkably great piece of poetry titled “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by noted English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In this long poem, Coleridge tells the story of accursed seamen who have been jinxed due to an egregious sin of slaying an albatross – With my cross-bow, I shot the albatross – that had led the mariner and his fellow sailors, who approved of his crime – ‘Twas right, said they, such birds to slay – out of an icy sea grave. The allegorical reference to the slain bird whose favour was returned by an arrow by the selfish seamen is eerily closer to Pakistan’s reality. We, as a nation, have seen our population grow exponentially, yet no effort has been made to conserve or develop that non-fungible currency of life called water. Like the accursed seamen in Coleridge’s poem, we also have tempted fates through the egregious sin of spurning sound advice, by well-meaning water experts, who have been crying hoarse. They have pointed towards our rapidly depleting groundwater aquifers and shortage of water for agriculture as well as domestic consumption.

The World Resources Institute maintained that Pakistan is at number 23 out of the top 33 countries which will get water-stressed by 2040 while the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources has warned that Pakistan may run dry by 2025 if the present conditions continue. Holding of this symposium by the honourable Supreme Court is a humble first step towards creating awareness among the people that the biggest challenge that needs a “whole of the nation” approach is water scarcity.

Water is mother nature’s most precious gift to humans and it is vital to life on planet Earth. Of all the available water on the planet, 97 percent exists in the form of oceans — which cover almost 71 percent of the geographical area of the earth — while only the remaining three percent is available in the form of freshwater. The fact that freshwater is available only in small quantity is reason enough for the dire need for its conservation.

Pakistan is a developing country and it gets its water supply through underground water reserves, Himalayan glaciers and via monsoon rainfall. However, due to lack of water-storage capability and unsustainable groundwater utilisation at the user end, we are running out of our available water reserves. The per person water availability in Pakistan was 5,100 cubic metres in 1951 which has dropped down to 1,100 cubic metres at present and is further expected to decrease to 700 cubic metres by the year 2025, a state which is referred to as ‘physical water scarcity’. It is of utmost importance and for our mutual benefit that steps to conserve water be taken on immediate basis.

Read More: The Aggravating Water Crisis

The most effective counter strategy against the decreasing water table will be to establish a network of small hydro-dams all over Pakistan, specifically in Sindh. According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) statistics, during 2011, Pakistan received 72 percent more monsoon rainfall than average, while in Sindh the monsoon rainfall reached a record high of 247 percent above normal monsoon pouring. This strategy will not only enable Pakistan to meet the future water scarcity challenge but will also enhance the hydroelectricity generation capacity of the country.

According to a research article ‘Hydropower Use in Pakistan: Past, Present and Future’ published in Science Direct, the country is capable of producing approximately 41,722 megawatts (MW) of electricity through hydro means, whereas it is only producing 6,599 MW at present. This means that there is still around 35,123 MW of hydro potential that can be utilised to meet our growing electricity requirement and to reduce our dependence on oil for electricity generation.

Similarly, it is in the best interest of Pakistan to start the construction of Kalabagh dam on immediate basis as it is vital for us. Not to mention the fact that its feasibility report has been prepared and much of the preliminary work had been carried out long before. All political parties, either in government or in opposition, need to play their required role for the collective benefit of Pakistan and its people. These projects will create thousands of jobs in the construction sector and will, thus, provide a boom for our deteriorating economy. That it will save billions of dollars invested in the re-establishment of infrastructural loss caused by floods will be the hidden benefits of these projects.

It will not be out of place to mention here that the 2010 floods caused almost $9.7 billion worth loss to Pakistan, and UN General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon, declared it as the worst disaster the United Nations has ever addressed in its 65-year history. Just imagine if we had dams and reservoirs installed before the floods, the intensity of 2010 and 2011 floods could have been reduced. Also, the loss of billions of dollars could have been saved and utilised for the benefit of the country.

We need to understand the urgency of the situation as time is running out and a lot needs to be done in this regard. An equal responsibility lies on all of us at individual level to conserve as much water as we can. For example, while brushing our teeth we generally leave our taps on releasing three gallons of water per minute. So brushing twice a day for three minutes each will result in 18 gallons of water wastage per person per day that means 6,570 gallons of water wastage per person per year. Similarly, we can keep our taps turned off during dish washing intervals, car washing and laundry. Also, we can minimise water wastage by reducing the time for shower each day. Most importantly, every household should keep an eye for any leakage in water pipes and fix them immediately. As per the Karachi Water & Sewage Board website, the city loses 35 percent of its total water supply due to leakages in pipes. These steps do not look so significant on paper but in the long run, they can, and will, make a real difference.

All in all, water conservation is our moral and ethical responsibility as when we waste water, we deprive others of their right to use that water for fulfilling their basic necessities. So, the next time think before wasting water.

ISLAMABAD DECLARATION

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored,” said Aldous Huxley. That seemed to be the motivation of the two-day symposium on water organized by the honourabe Supreme Court of Pakistan. At the symposium, besides many experts from Pakistan, a number of international water experts from the United States, Australia and South Africa presented their research papers in the five thematic sessions. At the conclusion of the moot, a 20-point declaration was issued to address Pakistan’s looming water crisis. The Declaration has recommended urgent, long-term measures to overcome a looming water crisis of which Pakistanis are already feeling the burden. Following are the recommendations made in the Declaration:

1. The potential of Pakistan’s part of the Indus Basin has to be realized through priority actions that need to be taken on an immediate basis. Maintaining the integrity of the Indus Basin is a serious and important responsibility of the Federation as well as the Provinces, including all other administrative units and, above all, the people of Pakistan.

2. It is imperative for Pakistan to invest in supply augmentation (dams and reservoirs) and ensure better utilization of its groundwater, adopting appropriate water technologies (water recycling, desalinization and water harvesting), and manage consumption and use of water (controlling water demand and pricing) and do all of this under the principles of mutual trust and benefit sharing.

3. International Water Law should be taken advantage of by consistently putting forward Pakistan’s perspective before various international forums and Pakistan’s strategy regarding implementation of the Indus Waters Treaty should be reconsidered and revisited to bolster its case.

4. The government must introduce water accounting based on modernized water data collection methods to assess, amongst other things, the water availability per capita, in order to build trust amongst the Provinces regarding water apportionment, particularly considering the requirements of the Indus Delta and lower riparian areas in Pakistan.

5. Effective salinity and sedimentation management techniques must be adopted to protect Pakistan’s agricultural land and the storage capacity of dams and reservoirs respectively.

6. Numerous small and large dams and reservoirs must be constructed on a priority basis. Fast-track feasibilities and action is required on the part of the Executive.

7. Innovative solutions regarding storage facilities for low gradient plains (flat areas, coastal areas, hard rock, barani areas and desert areas) must be adopted.

8. The Indus Basin irrigation network has to be extended which would bring several million acres of land under irrigation, and design water allocation right down to the district level.

9. Various traditional and non-traditional financing methods including, inter alia, direct investment, corporate finance, portfolio investment, bonds, upfront tariff, crowdfunding and public private partnership arrangements, must be employed to meet the huge financial requirements for construction of water storage facilities.

10. Various measures for conservation of water need to be taken which include saving and better management of storage of groundwater to prevent its unrestricted extraction,

11. Measures need to be introduced for flood risk reduction through flood plains and hill-torrent management, groundwater recharge, wetlands restoration and community based natural resource management. Other measures to control wastage, encourage productivity and ensure sustainability of scarce resources need to be considered. An appropriate legal framework should be available to strengthen institutional arrangements for proper environmental hazard tackling.

12. It is no longer feasible to allow unfettered access to the valuable resource of water with no incentives to check usage and, therefore, it is essential that a fair water pricing model is formulated and implemented by the competent regulatory institution(s).

13. The Indus Basin, one of the largest contiguous irrigation systems in the world, is at risk of reduced flows, climate change, population explosion, outdated agricultural practices, financial crunch and other challenges, which need to be addressed immediately. Pakistan’s rain-fed areas, deserts, mountain catchments, and coastlines also face challenges relating to water availability and water uses. The recently articulated national water policy is a step towards remedying these issues which should be implemented by the Executive.

14. Steps be taken to set up and establish an appropriate Indus Basin Authority through a legal instrument with the mandate to ensure the integrity of the Basin and all related activities with all requisite powers, financial resources and enforcement mechanisms.

15. Sound systems of governance and management are the need of the hour to effectuate the intent of the water policy and the benefits to be gained from infrastructure development, including dams and reservoirs.

16. Water-related subjects have been diffused between various institutions which make reaching solutions difficult. Institutions need to be empowered with the required mandate and resources, and responsibilities need to be allocated in order to effect change.

17. The institutional capacity of WAPDA being the main water stakeholder should be strengthened for the urgent development of dams and reservoirs on the model of the Indus Basin Replacement Works.

18. Person power of the future must be prepared through our educational systems to address the emerging water challenges of the 21st century.

19. Pakistan should immediately set up a powerful Task Force on Water.

20. Agricultural income tax be levied and recovered across the board, throughout Pakistan through appropriate authorities set up; through an effective legal framework.

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