ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar on Thursday took suo motu notice of a report by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) regarding acute water scarcity in Pakistan.

The report says that Pakistan had become water stressed in 1990 and crossed the water scarcity mark in 2005. It warns that the country may suffer absolute scarcity of water by 2025.

Of the 142 million acres feet (MAF) of water available in the country, only 42MAF was used, while the rest went to waste, the report says.

According to experts, the scale of the impact of water scarcity may not gaugeable, but the situated calls for a water emergency in the country, and multifarious measures under a national water management policy.

A report by Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources warns that the country could suffer acute water scarcity by 2025

On Wednesday, Wapda Chairman Lt Gen Muzammil Hussain told a Senate body that the country could conserve 12MAF water through efficient use, and provinces could save another 11MAF of water by managing the demand for it. A further 12MAF could be saved by lining canals and another 35MAF of water could be conserved by constructing dams in the country, he added.

Mr Hussain told the senators that Pakistan had 155 dams, while India had 5,102 dams. Pakistan had water reserves to last 30 days, while India could save water for 170 days.

Taking notice of the PCRWR’s report, the chief justice clubbed the case with another petition requesting a referendum for the construction of Kalabagh Dam. The court will take up the matter in Karachi on Saturday.

Barrister Zafarullah Khan of the Watan Party had filed a petition in the Supreme Court requesting orders to the caretaker government to hold a referendum for the construction of Kalabagh Dam, along with managing the general elections.

The petition had requested directions to the government to take steps to develop additional water reservoirs, like the Kalabagh Dam, in light of the waters accord of 1991 and its follow up in 1998 by the Council of Common Interest (CCI).

The petitioner regretted that 35.5MAF of water drained to the sea each year instead of being stored in water reservoirs. If the Kalabagh Dam had been built, it could have saved 6.5MAF water annually during rainy season. He added that building the dam could help control floods and save water for use in Rabi crops during winter when there is acute shortage of water. Pakistan only stores 10 per cent of the annual flows of its rivers, even though the world average for storing water is 40pc.

The petition added that water disputes between provinces could be solved that way because everyone in the country needed water. It also highlighted that because of water scarcity, people may be forced to consume contaminated water, which could lead to a disease epidemic. It said that most people did not consume bottled water, and it was not an option that could save a majority of the people from dehydration.

In a separate case, the chief justice took notice of terminally ill prisoners confined in the country’s jails. He took the notice in the backdrop of an earlier visit to the Karachi Central Prison on May 12, where he visited several patients with various terminal illnesses.

A few of them were released on the spot, and the jail superintendent was told to request early release for such prisoners in accordance with prison rules. Some of the prisoners were advised to seek remedy from the courts where their cases were pending.

The chief justice asked for reports on 91 terminally ill prisoners in various prisons, and issued notices to Advocate General Ashtar Ausaf, chief secretaries of the four provinces, respective home secretaries, health secretaries and inspectors general (Prisons) for hearing on June 12 in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2018