National water policy

Chaired by the Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and with Chief Ministers of four provinces in attendance, 37th meeting of the Council of Common Interest (CCI) approved the first ever water policy of the country. Apparently, the salient features of the policy are very impressive. It includes: water use and allocation on priority; integrated planning for development and use of water; environmental integrity of the Basin; impact of climate change; trans-border water sharing; irrigated and rain-fed agriculture; ground water resources; water rights and obligations; sustainable water infrastructure; quality management; awareness about the use of water resources; and conservation measures.

Credit must be given to sagacious leadership of the Prime Minister for evolving a consensus on national water policy and its unanimous approval by taking all stakeholders on board. It was very unfortunate that successive governments over the past five decades deliberately neglected the formulation of a comprehensive national water policy and water resources worth 21 billion dollars are thrown into the sea without its usage for irrigation and drinking purpose. The myopic vision and policy of appeasement of vested interest that opposed the construction of big dams brought the country to the brink of acute water crisis.

After the signing of Water Accord in 1991, it was believed that the ruling political leadership would make serious efforts for evolving a consensus on the construction of Kalabagh dam but they did not performed this vital national responsibility. It is very encouraging that Executive Committee of National Economic Council (ECNEC) has accorded approval for the construction of Diyamer Basha dam at cost of Rs. 474 billion. CDWP has also cleared the execution of Monda dam and, hopefully, it will get ECNEC approval. Likewise, Kurram Ttangi dam project will be cleared for subsequent approval whenever it is submitted to CDWP. But the construction of other big dams should not be taken as an alternative to Kalabagh dam. Diyamir Basha dam reservoir will increase the overall storage capacity from 30 days to 45 days and the construction of Kalabagh dam may increase it to 60 days.

A leading concern facing the future of agricultural production is the availability of water. It is expected that climate change will cause more extreme climate events including droughts and floods and shifts in plants growing zones. As populations grow, more efficient use of water in growing food will be of key importance. Today, some 2.8 billion people live in water scarce areas, but by 2030 it is expected that about half of world’s population will live in water stressed areas. The future scenario necessitates adoption of water conservation methods. There are 35 water conservation methods like Drip irrigation, Zai pits, subsurface irrigation system, small water storages, small dams and sand dams. In rain fed areas of Pakistan water from rains and flash floods can be stored for drinking and irrigation by constructing small storage dams. Forestation and reforestation in catchment areas reduce the damages of floods. It remains to be seen how the national water policy will be implemented in letter and spirit.