Kabul river
Kabul river

WHILE Pakistan has been planning for long to initiate a development project on the Kabul river, India is helping Afghanistan prepare the feasibility studies of 12 hydro-electric power projects with a capacity of 1,177MW.

Since there is no formal agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan on sharing of waters of the river, the two countries currently share water of nine rivers with annual flows of about 18.3 million acres feet (MAF) of which the river Kabul accounts for 16.5MAF.

It is unfortunate that Pakistan has failed to develop water uses of the river Kabul. However, a senior official of the ministry of water and power says the water uses of river Kabul are 100pc committed in Pakistan. Under the international convention and as a lower riparian country, it has the right to utilise 17MAF water from river Kabul.


Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, which has no funds at present to ensure sustainable research, wants the creation of an endowment fund within PCRWR to avoid its dependence on the annual Public Sector Development Programme


So far, Pakistan has been accusing India of ‘illegal’construction of numerous hydro-power projects on western rivers in the occupied Kashmir. Now Afghanistan may also face similar accusations if its projects are poised to reduce the flow in the river reaching Pakistan.

While the country’s bureaucracy and political elite is plagued with inefficiency in addition to internal squabbles among provinces, the water crisis continues unabated with no action being taken to mitigate misery of the under-privileged population. Pakistan is among the leading five countries that face extremely high water stress and low access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

A new report of the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) says that the country will approach absolute water scarcity by 2025. At present it is a water-stressed country. Pakistan, it warns, touched the ‘water stress line’ in 1990 and crossed the ‘water scarcity line’ in 2005.

If this situation continues, then chances are high the country will face acute water shortage or drought-like situation in the near future. To deal with the developing situation, there is a need to carry out research at various levels to find out the best possible solutions. Unfortunately, the officials say, the PCRWR has no funds at present to ensure sustainable research.

The council is an apex body of the science and technology ministry responsible for carrying out research in water resources. Now it wants creation on an endowment fund within PCRWR to avoid its dependence on the annual Public Sector Development Programme. The council has no funds a to ensure sustainable research and has sought Rs50m from the government. The fund also aims to focus on water scarcity for agriculture.

It is interesting to note that the ministers responsible for action have often preferred to issue doomsday warnings if no action was taken. In fact, it is they who should be taking action in minimising people’s deprivations.

The federal minister for water and power Khawaja Asif said in August last year that Pakistan was currently water stressed and it is feared that in 10-15 years it will become a water-starved country, if it fails to develop water reservoirs on time. Then, in another statement, he said the government is in the process of framing the first-ever water management policy and at present the parliament is holding discussions on various aspects. There has been no follow-up of the policy.

In September 2015, federal minister for planning, development and reform Ahsan Iqbal advised the ministry of water and power to finalise the National Water Policy in three months to save the country from water crisis. He often alarms the people by saying that if no appropriate action was taken now, the country will land itself in Thar-like situation.

The national water policy draft prepared by Wapda advocates an ‘integrated water resources management regime’ for full exploitation of the country’s water resources. One of several initiatives of the water policy that may be unwelcome to certain sections includes introduction of a mechanism for charging all types of water use to ensure, through an act of parliament, recovery of the cost of repair and maintenance of water infrastructure.

However, the drinking water sector will be protected as a fundamental right of citizens. For the purpose a National Drinking Water Policy was approved on September 28, 2009 by the federal cabinet. The policy was formulated by the ministry of environment in collaboration with UNICEF. The draft does not explain how ordinary folk will be able to obtain safe water on a regular basis, nor much has been heard of its follow-up and implementation.

Although, it is claimed that the draft water policy is a national one and that it has consent of all the provinces, some experts feel that the federal government may be overreaching its mandate. Abid Qayyum Suleri, executive director of the Sustainable Development and Policy Institute (SDPI), argues that since water is a provincial subject, the centre cannot formulate a national water policy on its own. He suggested that the centre should invite all the federating units to the Council of Common Interest to create consensus on a broad-based water policy.

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, June 13th, 2016

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