Water scarcity- soluble or insoluble?

Samra Saeed

Thomas Fuller said, ‘we never know the worth of water till the well is dry.’ The aphorism depicts the prevailing water crisis in Pakistan. As per United Nations report, “Pakistan is ranked at 7th position in the list of countries that are facing water crisis.” The authorities remain reluctantly casual about the water scarcity that’s posing a severe threat to the country’s stability and security.

The situation worsened when Indian Prime Minister Narinder Modi inaugurated these hydroelectric projects; 330-MW Kishanganga hydel station in Bandipore and laying of the foundation of the 1,000-MW Pakul Dul project in Kishtwar in Jammu & Kashmir. Times of India reported that these projects indicate his government’s political will to respond to Pakistan’s use of terrorism against India with every option at its command, including utilizing India’s full share of water from western tributaries of the Indus, as possible leverage points. Before, evaluating Indian aggressive water policy or mismanagement water issues in Pakistan, it is important to understand what water resources are available for Pakistan.

Abundant Resources of Water: Pakistan has been blessed with abundant natural water resources. It possess one of the largest irrigation network in the world which is capable of irrigating over 16 million hectors of land out of 34 million hectors of cultivable land available. Other sources of water available in Pakistan are rainfall, surface water available in rivers and underground water. Total of 240.22 maf of water is available from eastern / western rivers and rainfall.

The Tarbela and Mangla Dams, the country’s two biggest reservoirs with live storage capacity from 7.2 maf (million acre feet) to 4.67 maf, respectively. On Tarbela dam, 4 extensive projects have been carried out and its production capability increased to 1,410 MW to national grid (2018). The T-5 extension plan on this reservoir has been planned out which should reach completion by 2022.

Water Scarcity: According to the media reports, ‘the countries two biggest reservoirs reached their “dead level” last week’. The news triggered debate on social media over authorities’ hesitant behavior on this crisis. The debate on constructing the controversial Kala Bagh Dam has been sparked out once again on social as well as electronic media. The dam’s consultancy was stopped since 1986 due to anti dam propaganda.  “We have only two big reservoirs and we can save water only for 30 days. India can store water for 190 days whereas the US can do it for 900 days,” Muhammad Khalid Rana, a spokesman for the Indus River System Authority (IRSA), told DW.

Indian Water Terrorism: Pakistan and India are signatories of Indus Water Treaty (IWT) – 1960, according to this treaty, water of western rivers Jhelum and Chenab would be available for Pakistan flowing from Jammu & Kashmir whereas eastern rivers Satluj, Bias, Ravi would be in India’s control. IRSA spokesman shares that “Pakistan receives around 145 million acre feet of water every year but can only save 13.7 million acre feet. Pakistan needs 40 million acre feet of water but 29 million acre feet of our floodwater is wasted because we have few dams. New Delhi raised this issue with international bodies, arguing that it should be allowed to use the western rivers because Pakistan can’t use them properly,”

India is not allowed to build storage dams, however, can make run of the river projects, as per IWT. It has planned to construct 155 hydel projects, according to Permanent Indus Commission (PIWC). PIWC provides platform for two signatories to solve, share and inspection mechanism. Moreover, 41 hydro projects and 21 hydro plants were under construction in addition to 155. The Krishanganga hydro plant was also part of these projects.

India has adopted an offensive policy to pressurize and damage Pakistan for supporting freedom struggle in Indian occupied Kashmir. PM Modi said, ‘blood and water cannot flow together’. It has made it clear to Pakistan that any form of support to the Indian occupied Kashmir will be considered an act of terrorism and India will respond with all available means. This, of course, is India’s way of justifying their open and clear violation of water treaties.

Does India really need additional dams?

India proclaims itself as world’s largest democracy, with population of 1.354 billion (2018). The second most populated country of the world. More than 1.1 billion people are living under water scarce conditions. According to Ministry of Water Resources of India, 1 out of 4 deaths are due to scarcity of water and deaths due to water related diseases lies between 34-67%. The ambitious planners in New Delhi are certain. The plan is to build 155 dams, both big and small; have been announced in the northeast the mountainous state of Aranchal Pardesh. The critics say that it not only ignores geological and ecological factors- it also fails to take into account the impact of climate change in the region.

It’s planned that more than 60,000 MW electricity will be produced from the planned projects. The officials have denied the allegations, saying power generation will shift from coal to hydel which is cheaper yet least polluting.

There are the accusations that the massive building projects are money making exercises for the wealthy; apparently most of the power produced will be exported to other parts of India and not utilized to build local industries.

Evidently, the building superfluous number of dams on controversial water is merely threatening tactic to Pakistan; stop its support for Kashmiris or face the grim crisis. The potential water projects in the country are neither benefitting the common people nor regulate energy crisis but satisfying only establishment of New Delhi.

Wastage of Water: Beside water storage issues and Indian dams’ controversy, the wastage of water is also big reason of this shortage. The mismanagement of water takes place on various levels, from many decades.

No national policy for justified water distribution

Insufficient water storage reservoirs

Wastage of water; approximately Rs. 25 billion water everyday

Politicization of water related issues

India’s construction of dams

Low price of water consumption

Lack of awareness on efficient usage of water among masses

Climate Change- decline in rain fall

Pakistan has world’s fourth- highest rate of water use. Pakistan’s per capita annual water availability is 1,017 cubic meters — perilously close to the scarcity threshold of 1,000 cubic meters, IMF statistics.

Social Media Awareness: As water crisis worsens in the country, foreign diplomats and officials urge the common people on social media to save water. “Using a bucket to save water while washing my car! #Pakistan ranks third amongst countries facing water shortage. One major reason is excessive use. 100 liters wasted washing a car with running tap water. Many ways to #SaveWater in our daily life! #SaveWaterforPak,” Martin Kobler, German ambassador to Pakistan, wrote on Twitter.

Water and National Security: In Indo-Pakistan scenario, if current situation of water scarcity persists, particularly, if India continues its violation of water treaties; it would become another core of factor of tension between two countries besides the Kashmir issue.  The abovementioned information related to Indian non-stop violation of IWT may become continuous reason for future skirmishes across the border. Both nuclear states must ensure that such conflicts do not escalate but are also timely resolved in order to avoid a bigger catastrophe.

Pakistan’s weak foreign policies and deteriorating global influence is one of the reasons why India managed to construct disputed and controversial hydel projects. Pakistan’s appeals to concerned international bodies for the resolution of such violations by India are being ignored or facing intentional delays. The role of international community has always been unfavorable for resolving such matters. Lately, the bilateral talks between Pakistan and Indian delegations reached no settlement because of India’s stubborn attitude. The meeting was held to address the concerns of Pakistan on the controversial construction of Krishanganga project on Neelum river. The World Bank which acted as an arbitrator for both the countries for IWT added that the treaty only gives ‘limited and procedural role’ and bank can only supervise the negotiations.

Damaging effects of water scarcity on the economic growth of Pakistan would be inevitable. Agriculture which is the back bone of the country is already facing severe problems due to water shortages. Banana, mango, wheat, cotton and rice production has already dropped dramatically. Many exporters have been forced to cancel their export contracts as they are unable to meet the demand and quality requirements.

Remedies: Pragmatic, simple but comprehensive measures are needed to tackle down the prevailing crisis A national water policy has been issued; yet, implementation is required to ensure water management needs.

Measured usage of water consumption for domestic, agricultural and industrial users

Launch awareness campaigns urban as well as in rural areas, especially in schools

Encourage the tree plantation in the country to control the climate change

Political consensus on building more water reservoirs in the country

Develop and execute simple but comprehensive foreign policy specifically addressing national and global water crisis issues

Invest in innovative technologies for water recycling and power generation.

Conclusion: Pakistan is a country rich in natural resources. However, the management of natural resources is required, wisely. In April, former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi announced Pakistan’s first National Water Policy, promising consolidated efforts to tackle the water crisis, Dawn reports. Moreover, a long term vision based on current and projected population growth and resource requirements are needed. Nevertheless, the water policy should be implemented before the well gets dry.



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