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LAHORE: Pakistan has moved in the most distress category of water scarce countries in the world where per capita availability of water has gone less than 1,000 cubic feet not only because of lack of water availability but the failure of water management and conservation.

This was stated by International Water Institute’s water expert Dr Muhammad Shafiq while speaking at a seminar on water and agriculture issues in Pakistan organised by Punjab agriculture wing of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf at a local hotel on Wednesday.

Dr Shafiq, who is looking after water issues in Sudan, Egypt and Pakistan, said wrong agricultural crop planning, lack of subsidy to small farmers and lack of institutional reforms in the water sector had led to water becoming the biggest source of conflict and power in rural areas.

He said the monopoly of the sugar mill owners, who were growing sugar at a cost of huge water losses, could be replaced by a higher yield of crops as in the case of more developed countries.

Speaking on the occasion, former Rawalpindi Wasa managing director Dr Islamul Haq said water as a drinking resource in Pakistan was of worse quality and added that even in the biggest city Rawalpindi 96 per cent of the water was contaminated.

He said the water crisis was the crises of governance and added that water management institutions and government had completely failed to protect water from contamination as the sewerage pipes and water pipes in most cities and rural areas had intermingled. For this reason, he said, most children in rural areas were suffering from skin diseases and almost 300,000 children were expiring due to water-borne diseases.

Rural Business Development Centre, Islamabad, managing director Dr Shahid Zia called for introducing policy reforms in the water and agriculture sectors and added that small-scale farmers needed subsidy and protection from the land mafia.

He criticised the Punjab government for being busy in building garment cities on agriculture land and spoiling the fertile land and its productivity.

PTI Punjab president Ejaz Chaudhry said that 95 per cent growers were small farmers and were being exploited. He said the PTI was demanding that there should be a separate ministry for the small-scale farmers and their needs. Among small-scale farmers, he said, 70 per cent were women.

Mr Chaudhry said the PTI would publish a full report on bringing institutional reforms in the water sector.

The PTI Punjab president said the Kalabagh Dam would be a good addition for solving water issues but it should only be developed after assuring consent of all the four provinces. He said PTI was the only party which was capable of getting a consensus and uniting the country on such issues.

PTI Punjab general secretary Dr Yasmin Rashid said water was the lifeline of any country and the disputes going on with India on water required that the government should contest the matter seriously.

PTI Punjab information secretary Andleeb Abbas also spoke on the occasion.