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ISLAMABAD: A former Senate chairman on Thursday accused the government of tampering with the country’s fragile water resources by initiating projects “for political point scoring” and not following through.

The remarks came when an official from the Ministry of Water Resources told the Senate Forum for Policy Research (SFPR) that 81 water-related projects – worth Rs36 billion – were included in the current Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP).

“A number of projects are being undertaken merely for political point-scoring, and have not been completed,” Nayyer Hussain Bokhari said after the ministry official conceded that all funds earmarked for these projects had not been released.

“Only those projects that can be completed should be included in the PSDP, and funding for both short-term and long-term projects should be released in advance,” he said.

Country lost $38bn due to flooding, ministry official tells Senate panel; PM’s special assistant wants Planning Commission to be ‘independent’

Mr Bokhari said that he would ask Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani to hold a debate on the water issue, adding that the British example should be considered for legislation in Pakistan, referring to laws that mandate the conservation of water from streams and rivers.

In its briefing, the Ministry of Water Resources informed the parliamentary panel that a thousand cubic metres of water per year was currently available to every Pakistani, but this was expected fall to 863 cubic metres in the coming years.

It also revealed that Pakistan had lost $38 billion to flooding because the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) did not have a modern telemetry system.

The ministry official said that water scarcity was on the rise, warning that the situation would get worse, since the country had no water policy to stop the precious resource from being wasted.

Mr Bokhari, who headed the SFPR panel in the absence of Chairman Rabbani, also directed the Planning Division to share implementable plans so that the forum could play a role in addressing water-related issues.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Haroon Akhtar suggested that the Planning Division be made independent, while former senator Afrasiab Khattak recommended the construction of small dams across the country.

Senator Mohsin Leghari said the problem was only affecting agriculture at the moment, but with groundwater levels falling continuously, steps needed to be taken to address the issue.

“Currently, 22 million acre feet of water is wasted in Pakistan. Every February, the water drops to the dead level in all the dams. Moreover, 86pc of the country’s water is not potable.

“On the other hand, the country does not have the funds to build big dams. Whenever the proposal for a dam is floated, not only does criticism start, but demands for another dam come, due to which funds are wasted,” he said.

The per capital annual water available was approximately 5,200 cubic metres per person 70 years ago, and has fallen to 1,000 cubic metres now that the population of Pakistan is five times as large.

Pakistan spends 93pc of its water on agriculture, of which almost 40pc could be conserved with modern agriculture methods.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2018