ISLAMABAD: The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says that Pakistan’s negligence in conducting a sound analysis of trans-boundary water issues and delays in presenting the cases of dispute with India to the Indus Water Commission or the World Bank on the issues related to the Indus Waters Treaty have caused the issues to linger on and remain unaddressed.

Focusing on water security situation in Pakistan which is the most critical development challenge for the country, a UNDP report points out that awareness about trans-boundary water issues is a recent phenomenon and systematic studies are needed in this regard.

The report titled “Develop­ment Advocate Pakistan” was released by the UN global development network on Wednesday.

According to it, an increase in water stress in the basin states since the early 90s has brought the treaty under strain. In fact, its survival appears weak, although there is no exit clause. The treaty fails to address two issues: the division of shortages in dry years between India and Pakistan, when flows are almost half as compared to wet years, and the cumulative impact of storages on the flows of the River Chenab into Pakistan.

The Wular Barrage and Kishenganga project on the Jhelum and Neelum rivers present a similar problem whereby water storage during the Rabi season is critical as flows are almost one-fifth of the Kharif season.

The report says that Pakistan has gone as far as calling the treaty an inefficient forum for resolving water issues, elevating the water issue to a “core issue” and including it in the composite dialogue. But India has refused to include the issue in the composite dialogue because it is not ready to discard the treaty.

The treaty permits India to create storages on the western rivers of 1.25, 1.60 and 0.75 million acre feet (MAF) for general, power and flood storages, respectively, amounting to a total permissible storage of 3.6 MAF.

The report says: “A clear ambiguity in the treaty occurs in its permission to be interpreted differently, thereby creating conflicts between Pakistan and India. The treaty also fails to clearly address India’s share of shortages in relation to storage dams on the western rivers, an issue of major concern.”

As a consequence of climate change, shrinking glaciers and changing precipitation patterns render the need to address issues of water scarcity and resources, it says. During floods, for example, majority of the water runs into the rivers of Indus-Pakistan which leaves the province of Sindh flooded. Such negative setbacks on the economy will eventually have dire consequences if not addressed, the report warns.

It says that with control of the River Chenab through the Salal dam, India has several plans under way for development of hydropower with enhanced water storage on the western river. Pakistan continues to face reduced flows from the Chenab owing to the recent storage of water in the Baglihar dam.

According to the report, annual flows in the Chenab during wet years have continued to decline since 1958-59 with an increase in droughts since 1937-38. Same is the case with the River Jhelum being controlled by India. Since the river is a major source of irrigation and hydropower for Pakistan, it will pose dire impacts for the country if India chooses to close the gates of the barrage.

Although the treaty does not allow Pakistan to prohibit construction of hydropower dams by India, it grants it right to voice issues regarding Indian developing strategy on water storage during dry periods.

Although Pakistan benefits from international legal frameworks for water resources management, it is largely dependent upon the treaty for resolving trans-boundary water conflicts with India, it points out.

Trust deficit among provinces

In its conclusion, the report says that water has been a highly politicised issue in Pakistan and there is an extreme deficit of trust among the provinces. The trust deficit is largely due to a lack of access to data and information. It suggests that popular papers should be prepared along with posters and stickers for creating mass awareness. Without awareness, water cannot be made a ‘business for everyone’.

It says that past efforts to create a single central data repository have been unsuccessful owing to data collection being conducted by a mix of several agencies in the federation and provinces. The solution lies in developing a decentralised database by different agencies, followed by centralising the database by feeding the data into one single central data repository. The federal statistics division will be the pertinent authority to take charge of coordination and networking in this regard.

With an increase in the demand and variety of water uses, its quality is now a growing concern, the report says. Therefore, standards for water quality need to be developed for all subsectors of water use. There is a need to develop an inventory of water quality for surface and groundwater to represent all the major ecosystems and environments, ranging from wet mountains to the Indus basin, barani lands, deserts and the coast.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2017

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