ISLAMABAD: The government is seeking a joint mechanism with India and Afghanistan for joint watershed management and trans-boundary aquifer sharing to minimise the negative impact of development projects of neighbours.
Watershed management relates to the land and water management practices that can help protect and improve the water quality, while aquifer refers to the underground layer of rock or minerals that holds water.
This is part of the National Water Policy, which also seeks to ensure 100pc metering of urban water uses, including drinking and sanitation. The policy finalised by the Centre and the provinces was on the agenda of the Council of Common Interests on Tuesday, but could not be taken up due to the prime minister’s political engagements.
A copy of the policy, seen by Dawn, concedes that the Indus Waters Treaty provided a mechanism for water-sharing with India, but its provisions on hydropower development across the line of control had the potential of threatening Pakistan’s water availability during low-flow periods.
The treaty also does not provide for minimum environmental flows downstream of the international boundary for the Eastern Rivers — whose waters lie with India — exposing the population living downstream to serious hazards.
It said that regional mechanisms involving more than two neighbours shall be explored for a viable solution to Pakistan’s growing vulnerability to hydro-meteorological disasters, owing to trans-border winter releases and stoppages at critical times of monsoon and during rabi and kharif planting seasons.
A mechanism shall also be worked out for sharing of trans-boundary aquifers and joint watershed management, including sharing of real-time water flow information.
A study would also be conducted to analyse the impact of challenges arising out of developments on the western rivers and examine measures to minimise the impact within the framework of the Indus Waters Treaty and international water laws.
The new policy acknowledged that water was a ‘highly under-priced commodity’ and its prevailing cost recovery through cess (known as ‘abiana’) was hardly able to meet a fraction of the operating and maintenance cost of the irrigation infrastructure.
The policy said that full financial sustainability shall be ensured to provide progressively safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. “This shall be facilitated by effective reduction in wastage, theft and reduction of non-revenue water and 100pc metering” while providing safety nets for impoverished communities.
A mechanism would be put in place by all the federal and provincial governments to charge all types of water use in order to ensure the recovery of the cost of repair and maintenance of water infrastructure.
For the first time, policy-makers seem to have recognised that freshwater is a finite resource, which cannot meet the unlimited demand of numerous users and that increasing population is a key factor for the increase in water demand.
The concept of “More Crop Per Drop” will be pursued to ensure food security through a national plan to improve irrigation methods and practices and introduce new varieties of crops of high yields and lower water consumption, resistant to heat stress, drought tolerant, and less prone to insects and pests.
Ground water tables will be managed to ensure that crop growth is not impeded and prevent land salinity or underground saltwater intrusion. It has been feared that continuous ground water extraction through tubewells could soon lead to the extraction of saltwater.
Rural water supply and sanitation services will be charged at affordable rates and it will be mandatory for the relevant agencies to keep the quality of drinking water, urban or rural, above specified standards.
A plan for flood zoning will be implemented to prevent losses to people living along river banks. For this, respective governments to restrict or prohibit permanent settlements in high and medium flood risk areas on the basis of zoning and mapping of the River Indus and its tributaries — Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej, Kabul and Swat.
The sources of surface and underground water will be diligently protected from contamination and maintained in a healthy state. Development of hydroelectric power will also be treated as a high priority objective.
Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2017