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Delayed water policy

September 20, 2017

THE fact that the country is awaiting the approval of the water policy a decade and a half since it was first drafted speaks volumes for our lack of priorities. From its inception, Pakistan’s water resources in the form of the Indus river system were identified as the country’s biggest natural endowment upon which the first generation of the power infrastructure was to be built and the agrarian economy nourished. The building of the two large dams, as well as their attendant canal management infrastructure and associated power houses, gave the economy the great leap it needed to kick-start industrialisation and attain food security. But then, we saw wastage through poor farm water management, failure to build further storages and unregulated extraction of groundwater.

At the root of all this wastage is the absence of a pricing regime for water. Around the world, authorities have learned that the best way to signal the preciousness of water to its consumers, as well as manage its allocation among different categories of consumers, is through pricing. At the moment, water is perceived as a free resource by most agrarian communities, except for those who have to run tube wells to extract it. Even the latter realise only the cost of running the tube well, which itself benefits from a subsidy on power, and not that of the water itself. The country badly needs a water policy, and given the rapid approach of the consequences of climate change, this requirement is becoming more and more urgent. Yet, for several years, successive governments have been deliberating over a draft water policy, without any result. Then when matters were finally moving and a national water policy had finally been agreed upon by the four provinces and the federal government, the new prime minister decided to send it back to his newly formed Ministry of Water Resources for further input. It is true that important policies should receive wide input before being finalised, but given that we have been deliberating this matter for over a decade, and the provincial and federal governments had reached an agreement, one is left puzzled as to what the new ministry with old faces is going to add to it. The process of its passage should not be delayed any further.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2017