Water forms the basis of human life. Its quality and availability determine human health, well-being, income generation, agriculture and food production. However, its management depends on a number of factors such as national and international governance systems and transboundary water management among countries. Globally, a number of countries depend on transboundary basins for freshwater resources, which makes competition over the dwindling water supply a potential reason for conflict among countries. In addition to that, climate change in conjunction with increasing demand due to population and economic growth along with poor governance between states, and inefficient agricultural practices have led to increased water scarcity.
In some river basins, the upper riparian countries have built dams without consultation with the lower riparian neighbors, the effects of which add up downstream. In the case of Pakistan – a primarily agricultural economy – India has and is in the process of building various storages on the Indus rivers that were allocated to Pakistan under the Indus Waters Treaty, which provides India strategic leverage as it can increase or decrease the river flow during times of conflict between the two neighbors, and manipulate the flow of water. In 2016, Indian Prime Minister had asserted that it would stop water flowing to Pakistan and divert it to Haryana, while addressing an election rally, “For 70 years, the water which belongs to India and the farmers of Haryana flowed to Pakistan. I will stop this water and bring it to your houses.” In a show of belligerency, he promised to choke Pakistan’s water supply when he said, “Blood and water can’t flow together.”
Pakistan is facing severe water shortage which is only going to exacerbate if timely measures are not taken to harness its storage capacity potential. The capacity to store water in the two major dams of Pakistan is 30 days, whereas India can store water for up to 190 days, which underscores the need for immediate and urgent steps in this direction. For an agrarian economy, it is easy to understand how water and the economy are intertwined and how it can affect our economy if its potential to increase water storage capacity is not harnessed, while we still have time to prevent irreversible damage.
As the inexorable effects of climate change, urbanization and population growth continue, many countries are expected to be faced with challenges that will threaten the countries’ economy, food security and resultantly, human health. In this connection, freshwater is a condition for life on our planet, a factor that enables or limits growth and development, and is a cause of welfare or misery, cooperation or conflict, however, sufficient water availability isn’t enough. The availability must be sustainable and it must endure through the socioeconomic, political and environmental challenges over time.
The journey is fraught with challenges and changing patterns, as our neighbor seems to have disturbed the delicate balance between cooperation and competition, an issue multiplied by the lack of balance between population growth and finite resources. In order to achieve water security, the vulnerable water systems must be protected; water-related hazards such as floods or droughts must be mitigated; water services and functions’ access must be safeguarded; governance must be enhanced through innovative approaches; and water resources shall be managed in an equitable, integrated and sustainable manner.
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