Pakistan is inherently a water-dependent country. The country’s water and climate policy nexus is mired in deep, endemic and systemic challenges, most notably poor governance.

In practice, Pakistan has historically relied upon structural, infrastructural and engineering solutions. However, Pakistan’s climate change and water security challenges have a much larger domain than merely technical or infrastructure issues.

Water governance involves a set of political, administrative and institutional policies, processes, and practices that enable decision making and their implementation after extensive consideration of stakeholders’ concerns and holding the decision-makers accountable for water management.

Governance holds the key to addressing most of the climate-water issues though Pakistan has ignored the role of good governance in addressing most of its natural resource problems.

The Indus River Basin System receives more than 70pc of its water from the melting of glaciers located in the Hindukush-Karakoram-Himalaya

The major governance challenges are political disinterest in issues like climate change and water management, absence of robust policies, lack of effective institutional frameworks, ineffective engagement of stakeholders, lack of data and poor service delivery.

One of the major pathways to addressing the water and climate policy nexus is by addressing the usage of freshwater for agriculture in Pakistan. This issue must be seen from the lens of economic water security.

Agricultural water governance can significantly help in the sustainable use of economically scarce water resources to contribute to food and water security. This is easier said than done as agriculture uses around 88–92 per cent of the available water resources.

It contributes 19.5pc to the national GDP, employs over 42pc of the labour force, provides the raw material for about 30pc of its industry and is the largest source of foreign exchange earnings in Pakistan.

However, at the cost of providing fresh water to agriculture, Pakistan’s rising urbanisation population faces acute issues of meeting their water demands, hygiene services, domestic water supply and sanitation facilities.

To address this trade-off, Pakistan must leverage non-tradition water management and governance pathways that involve active engagement of stakeholders through participatory development, including public and private institutions for disaster management and mitigation of extreme weather losses.

The government of Pakistan has expressed its strong commitment to adopting the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a national agenda, both at the federal as well as provincial levels. Within this framework, the achievement of food security is emphasised as a top priority for Pakistan, with the commitment to pursue the goal of “ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture” (SDG 2) and the related targets.

Despite a strong agricultural base, the country fares poorly concerning indicators of food security. Despite net food surpluses, Pakistan has been facing a paradox of widespread food insecurity and malnutrition.

Globally, Pakistan ranks among the top 15 extreme water-stressed countries in the world. Climate change has exposed the geographic, economic, social, and environmental vulnerabilities of the water sector in Pakistan.

The Indus River Basin System (IRBS) — a complex hydrologic system — receives more than 70pc of its water from the melting of glaciers located in the Hindu Kush Karakoram Himalaya (HKKH).

Given the significant vulnerability of the Indus Basin to climate change, integrated river basin management by ensuring climate resilience is the most significant governance area for sustainable management of the IRBS in Pakistan.

Another key pathway is to understand that water and climate do not respect administrative or national boundaries. Therefore, Pakistan and regional countries and particularly India due to Indus Basin Treaty, have to develop transboundary water management and this is one of the most challenging water governance areas.

Given the integrative and multifaceted nature of climate-water issues, the role of leadership has become ever imperative globally to address the climate policy and water governance problems.

Political leadership is pivotal to address multiple governance problems confronting integration, regulation, coordination, trust-building, transboundary collaboration and stakeholder engagement for tackling water-climate issues.

Primarily, the lack of high-level political commitment and visionary leadership has remained one of the significant reasons for the poor performance of the climate and water sectors in Pakistan.

Here is a silver lining of working with the political leadership through evidence-based advocacy and active engagement with all stakeholders. With the new government in place, this should be a priority area to be worked upon.

The writer is an economist and development practitioner based in Islamabad.
arehmancheema@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, May 30th, 2022

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