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Pakistan turning into a water-scarce country, say experts

Updated February 06, 2017

ISLAMABAD: Leading experts on water resources are of the view that there is not sufficient awareness among the policy-makers of the impending water crisis in Pakistan, which is posing a threat to the country’s security, stability and environmental sustainability.

Former chairman of the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) Shamsul Mulk highlighted water security issues discussed in a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, ‘Development Advocate Pakistan’.

Pakistan’s water policy does not exist and key policy-makers act like ‘absentee landlords’ of water in Pakistan, he said. “Because of this absentee landlordism, water has become the property of the landlords and the poor are deprived of their share’’.

A draft report on water resources was framed at the expressed request of the ministry of water and power. Mr Mulk said it was unfortunate that the federal cabinet never allocated the time for its review and approval.

“The worst example of landlordism is in Sindh. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Pushtoon society is a lot more egalitarian. In general, landlords don’t want the poor to become economically self-sufficient to remain in power. So, this water issue is very political in nature,” he said.

Mr Mulk pointed out the extreme variability of river flows season-wise— 84 per cent of flows in summer and only 16pc in winter—as a major problem.

According to the report, with a Kharif to Rabi ratio of two to one, the seasonal needs were about 66pc in summer and 34pc in winter, showing surpluses of 18pc in summer and shortages of 18pc in winter.

The surpluses of summer create floods, inflicting major damages to the infrastructure in the Indus plains and shortages in water disable Rabi crops from its optional yields. Owing to the lack of a strong government, this disability continues to hurt Pakistan and its economy, said Mr Mulk.

According to Director General of Federal Water Management Cell of the ministry of national food security and research, Muhammad Tahir Anwar, 18 million acre feet (MAF) of rainwater or hill torrent potential have not been realised in the overall policy framework.

It is imperative that a comprehensive policy framework inclusive of river basin, groundwater and rainwater and hill torrents be developed and adopted to ensure sustainable use of scarce water resources, he said.

According to all indicators, Pakistan was rapidly becoming a water-scarce country, said Chairman of Pakistan Council of Research in water resources, Dr Mohammad Ashraf. However, there is little awareness of this looming disaster amongst stakeholders, particularly policy-makers and they cannot foresee the real picture of its repercussions on social and economic fronts, he added.

He said that the draft ‘National Water Policy’ should be approved which provides policy guidelines for sustainable management of water resources, adding that provinces should develop their own strategies within the framework of the national water policy.

Published in Dawn February 6th, 2017