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Mistrust over dams must end, says Alvi

Updated October 20, 2018

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President Arif Alvi speaks at an event. — Photo/File
President Arif Alvi speaks at an event. — Photo/File

ISLAMABAD: President Arif Alvi on Friday highlighted the need for ending mistrust among the provinces to end resistance to the construction of major water reservoirs and suggested introduction of satellite telemetry system to measure and monitor amount of water released to the provinces.

“We need to build trust among the provinces,” said President Alvi while also calling for a careful study of the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 between India and Pakistan to safeguard the country’s water rights in a timely manner.

The president was speaking at a three-day international symposium on “Creating a water-secure Pakistan”, which was organised by the Supreme Court in conjunction with the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan at the Supreme Court building.

He said Pakistan’s water storage capacity was limited to only 30 days which was reducing further with time due to sedimentation. In case new water reservoirs were not built, the irrigation supply would drop substantially to the level that the country had in the 1960s when there were no reservoirs and the population was not as large, he added.

This would lead to serious water conflicts which could be addressed only by taking timely action and therefore there was a need for building large water reservoirs, Dr Alvi said.

About two million drought-hit and impoverished residents of Tharparkar and Cholistan amplified the human side of this problem, President Alvi said. Due to poor water management, thousands of children in the drought-hit areas lost their lives, he added. The situation in Tharparkar was an example of how bleak the things could become in other parts of the country if adequate water management measures were not immediately adopted, he said.

The president called for adopting world’s best water management practices including building of water reservoirs and dams, planning for water conservation, water audit techniques, water pricing, enhancing the irrigation efficiency and water productivity, water reuse and recycling methods, satellite telemetry system for equitable distribution, adoption of drip and sprinkler irrigation techniques.

According to him, another cause for concern is power generation that serves as a lifeline to the industrial sector. The gap between demand and supply of power was widening, he said, adding that energy shortfall was seriously hampering the industrial growth, causing drop in foreign reserves and GDP growth. He explained that the power sector was plagued with the issue of a circular debt. Reliance on thermal power generation rather than hydel means of power production was one reason for the current state of affairs, he argued.

According to the 2015 state of industry report of the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra), Pakistan has the potential of generating 40,000 megawatts of hydro power. Thus the need of the hour was to shift to efficient and cost-effective means of power generation, the president said.

Earlier, Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar in an open and frank manner conceded to what he called criminal negligence during the past 40 years that the aspect crucial to the nation’s survival was not attended to properly. Being an agrarian economy, the chief justice observed, water was highly important for Pakistan particularly when it relied upon the single source of the Indus River and its tributaries to cater to almost all of its water requirements.

However, the chief justice said, “We do not want our posterity to live a miserable life.” He added that the people were not going to die but live by building dams.

According to the World Resources Institute, Pakistan will rank 23rd out of the top 33 most water-stressed countries by 2040. The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources says Pakistan may run dry by 2025 if present conditions continue to prevail.

Pakistan had touched the ‘water stress line’ in 1990 and crossed the ‘water scarcity line’ in 2005, yet relatively little had been done to improve the situation, the chief justice said.

The compounding evidence of the urgency of the situation is the recent report of an inter-governmental panel on climate change, which has been hailed by the scientific community as the final call to action. If the global temperature by the year 2100 increases by merely two degrees Celsius, the country can face resource shortages, famines, droughts, natural disasters, extreme weather conditions, increased spread of diseases, damage to delicate ecosystems, and an increased rate of glacial melting.

Pakistan is particularly precariously placed in this context, with icy mountains to the north, deserts to the south west, floodplains in the north east and an expansive coastline to the south. There was increasing risk of flooding and droughts if the river system was not effectively managed, the chief justice said.

Therefore, Justice Nisar said, it was pertinent that Pakistan immediately begin to adopt measures to solve the problems that contributed to water scarcity. He said the right to water was part of the fundamental right to life and thus must be guaranteed to the citizens of Pakistan. “As the custodians of the constitution, the judiciary must ensure that such right is enforced, particularly considering the grim and precarious situation that Pakistan is in at the moment,” he observed.

Recognising the importance of water for the preservation of life, he said, the Supreme Court had recently passed a judgement that highlighted risks posed by water scarcity and its security. He explained that the SC also directed the executive to take all the necessary steps to commence the construction of Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams.

The chief justice also highlighted the need for comprehensive water policies to regulate extraction of groundwater. Due to unreliable canal supplies groundwater was relied upon for irrigation, he said, adding that this drained aquifers and caused an increase in cost of extraction, shortage, depletion of lake and stream water flow.

Earlier, Wapda chairman retired Lt Gen Muzzamil Hussain gave a briefing on Pakistan’s water conditions.

Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2018