Water Security Management

Diminishing Waters in Pakistan

Immense demand, aggressive consumption, inefficient use, dramatic climate change and ever increasing polarization over strategic interests have brought the  globe to face a new paradigm of threat of water scarcity much greater than current terrorism unleashed by non-state actors duly backed by foreign sponsors.

It has been painfully obvious for some time that Pakistan faces looming existential threat due to ever-growing water needs and water scarcity has become Pakistan’s defining crisis. Besides host of geo-strategic challenges emerging from strategic competing interests in the region, the phrases like ‘water wars’ and ‘water riots’ are gaining currency. Pakistan faced three massive challenges being a lower riparian at the time of its independence. First, a political challenge of partition lines drawn which rendered its plains deprived of life giving waters of the eastern rivers. The second challenge was hydraulic – since Pakistan had to carry waters from the western rivers to the heartland of Punjab. Third was an economic challenge where in Pakistan faced a nightmare of high water table with salanity in aquifers.

Indian full spectrum ever growing threat and her belligerent posturing has also spread over water resource and is posing a great challenge to the regional peace. Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) is being exploited and violated by India both in fact and spirit adding to our water woes. On the other hand inter province and intra province discord over water are endemic, even presenting critical threats to the stability and growth. Despite the soaring demands of water, we continue to waste, mismanage and over-exploit our water resources hoping to postpone the day of reckoning. Harmful legacies have shaped the water crisis to national security threat because water has outstripped oil as scarcest vital resource and is closely tied to food and energy security besides having a phenomenal impact on climate change.

Water Profile

Globally there is sufficient water available; however, the situation is getting worse for South Asia facing water stress due to ever increasing population and poorly managed agricultural based economies. On average 35,409 MAF water per year is available globally of which 1,577 MAF is in South Asia and 145 MAF in Pakistan. However, while global per capita water availability is 6,064 m³, its only 1024 m³   in South Asia and 942 m³ in Pakistan. The reason for this lies in the geographical distribution pattern of water and its nearness to rainforests (Central African Republics, Malaysia etc.) on one hand and deserts (North African & Arabian Countries) on the other.

Pakistan is a blend of landscapes ranging from the coastal areas of the Arabian Sea in the South to the mountains of the Karakoram Range in the north,  varying from green plains to deserts, forests, hills and plateaus with snow and glaciers covered high peaks and small hills in Potohar area. Pakistan lies in a semi-arid zone where the Indus Basin is irrigated by the River Indus and its major tributaries flowing through steep mountains and confined channels emerge into the alluvial plains which stretch over a distance of some 1520 km to the tidal delta near the Arabian Sea. The Indus River System consists of: Western Rivers: Indus, Jhelum, Chenab and Kabul; and Eastern Rivers: Ravi, Sutlej and Beas.

Flows of Kabul River start to rise approximately a month earlier than the main stem of the Indus. Its flows are significant for fulfilling the canals for late Rabi and early Kharif irrigation requirements.

Pakistan mainly comprises three water basins, namely, Indus Basin, Kharan Basin and Makran Coastal Basin. The largest is the Indus Basin which contributes about 145 million acre feet annually. Indus Basin is fed by Indus, Shyok, Gilgit, Astore, Siran, Kabul, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi and Sutlej rivers. The total catchment area of Indus Basin is 516,600 km². Kharan Basin is fed by Pishin Lora, Baddo Rakhshan and Mashkhel rivers while the catchment area is 120,100 km². Makran Coastal Basin is fed by Malir, Hub, Porali, Kud, Hingol, Nai, Mashhai, Dash, Nihing and Kech rivers and the catchment area of Makran Coastal Basin is 122,400 km².

The catchment area of the Indus Basin contains some of the largest glaciers in the world, outside the Polar Regions. The glacial area of the Upper Indus catchment is about 2,250 km² and accounts for most of the river runoff in summer.

The Jhelum River rises in Kashmir at a much lower elevation than the sources of the Indus River. Its gradient is milder than the Indus River after entering Pakistani territory.

The Chenab River originates in the Himachal Pradesh in India, and flows through Jammu in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK), entering Pakistan upstream at Marala Headworks. The Jhelum and Chenab River catchments are mostly influenced by the monsoons. Flows in both rivers start rising much earlier than Indus. Since the Chenab River rises at relatively higher altitudes, snow melt accounts for a considerable proportion of its runoff. Through Indus Waters Treaty (1960) the eastern river flows of 23 MAF were allocated to India and Western river flows of 140 MAF to Pakistan.

The availability of water for Indus Basin is uncertain, which depends on seasonal variations.  In summer, flows are exceptionally high while in winter very low flows are experienced.  The dominant contribution of water is in the summer season due to overlapping of snow melt due to high temperatures and monsoon rains.  The summer flows contribute 80% of annual flows while in winter contribution is about 20%.  The snow melt and monsoon rains overlap in a period of about 100 days.  The situation of high flows in summer and almost no flows in winter warrants construction of dams/reservoirs, so that summer flows can be stored and be utilized in winter to fulfill crop water requirements of Kharif crops and avoid heavy flood damages in summer.

With 80% dependence on glacial melt, the Indus Basin experiences high degree of uncertainty in availability of water in a year. The minimum and maximum flow for any  year varies between 92 MAF to 180 MAF.  In summer, on overlapping of snow melt and monsoon rains, unprecedented flash floods have been experienced in recent past in years 2007, 2010 to 2014, which resulted into massive destruction of infrastructure, life and property due to non-availability of flood mitigating reservoirs across Swat and Indus.

The average escapage below Kotri are 28.56 MAF (1976-2018), while downstream Kotri established requirements are only 8.6 MAF. Considering the raising of Mangla Dam and future usage by India, there is 18 MAF water available for future development of reservoirs. The canal withdrawals of Indus Basin Irrigation System (IBIS) at the time of independence were around 60 MAF, it progressively increased to 106 MAF during the period of 1976-81 immediately following the commissioning of Tarbela Dam. Later on, due to non-addition of any major reservoir and sedimentation of existing ones, the canal withdrawals started diminishing. Canal withdrawals recovered a bit due to addition of additional storage developed due to Mangla Dam Raising Project.

Indus Waters Treaty (1960)

IWT in spirit is an outcome of Indian Hydro Aggression, embedded with the mindset of negating Pakistan’s existence. The water flows from the Indian nexus with forces of partition plan drawing lines with total disregard to hydrology. Independence was followed by drying up of entire Central and Southern plains of Punjab dependent on canals with headworks on other side of divide which were instantly shut down. Hence setting the stage for ever growing strategic hostilities between neighbors.

Notwithstanding the essence of all treaties being the outcome of negotiations and compromises made,  the IWT is centered around division of rivers and not the waters. Signed on September 19, 1960 on two principles of Equitable Share and No Appreciablr Harm, it not only denied all waters flowing in three eastern rivers but a meaningful division of three western rivers including Indus, Jhelum and Chenab under the garb of some easily misinterpreted slangs and semantics like ‘let flow’, and ‘their non-consumptive use’. Three eastern rivers of Ravi, Beas And Sutlej are perhaps the only rivers with no environmental flow leading to unbearable consequences both for aquatic and agricultural life in dependent areas.

India’s strategic design aiming at enhancing control over flows of western rivers is against IWT spirit. However, it accentuates Pakistan's vulnerability while strengthening India’s control over IOK. Under the effective frame of external maneuverer against Pakistan, India has completed over 48 projects on western rivers whereas 32 are ongoing and 120 are on the anvil. The sheer number and design manipulations including spillways designs, low level outlets result in fluctuations in rivers flows, drying up rivers during critical needs and even flooding of rivers higher than natural floods. India also leverages presence of large number of troops under the garb of these projects, essentially for their coercive arm against innocent Kashmiris

India blatantly violates the permissive 2.35 MAF for power at floods and has successfully delayed the arbitration and resolution mechanism under the World Bank umbrella exploiting the treaty with no mechanism for implementation of decision, if ever. The Treaty must go on but not at the cost of Pakistan’s Water Rights.

Core Impediments

a.  Transparency, Consensus and Trust

Sustainable development based on clearly defined strategic goals is always anchored around integration of all the elements of national power wherein all segments of society and the government have a synchronized set of steps to minimize delays and doubts. Inter and intra province consensus is vital for entire developmental phenomenon. It can be achieved through transparent policymaking, with all stakeholders on board followed by consensus and effective inclusion of technology for veracity of data and building of confidence. In the context of water inflows, storage, wastes and outflow data with network of stakeholders can be a harbinger for trust and confidence. This must be a start point of our national reconciliation and confidence.

The Indus River System Authority (1992)

The Water Accord necessitated the creation of an Indus River System Authority (IRSA) for its implementation. The Authority was established in December 1992. It consists of 5 members, one each to be nominated by each province and the federal government from amongst engineers in irrigation or related fields. The first Chairman was the member nominated by the Government of Balochistan, to be followed by the nominees of the Governments of Punjab and Sindh, and the federal government, and thereafter in the same order. The term of office of the Chairman is one year. The functions of the Authority are as follows:

• Lay down the basis for regulation and distribution of surface waters amongst the provinces according to the allocations and policies spelt out in the Water Accord.

•  Review and specify river and reservoir operation patterns, and periodically review the system of each operation.

•   Coordinate and regulate the activities of WAPDA in exchange of data between the provinces in connection with the gauging and recording of surface water flows;

•   Determine priorities with reference to sub-clause C of clause 14 of the Water Accord for river and reservoir operations for irrigation and hydropower requirements.

•  Compile and review canal withdrawal indents as received from the provinces on 5-daily or, as the case may be, on 10-daily basis and issue consolidated operational directives to WAPDA for making such releases from reservoirs as the Authority may consider appropriate or consistent with the Water Accord.

•   Settle any question that may arise between two or more provinces in respect of distribution of river and reservoir waters.

• Consider and make recommendations on the availability of water against the allocated shares of provinces within three months of receipt of fully substantiated water accounts for all new projects for the assistance of the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (ECNEC).

b.  Water Storage

In global perspective, it is seen that the percentage storage capacity developed against average annual flow of Colorado River is 497%, Nile River is 281%, Sutlej Bias River is 35%, with a world average of 40%. For the Indus River System it is a dismal 10%.

While the mountains and glaciers provide a good source of water and theoretically an abundant possibility to store it , the fact is that the storage locations are scarce and very difficult from engineering point of view. These mega structures, or a series of small to medium dams, all require a very huge expense which either has to come from the PSDP grants (which may reach upto 20% or more of the PSDP budget)  or raised  by the executing agency like WAPDA by borrowing from donor agencies.

The live storage capacity of existing reservoirs is fast depleting due to high sedimentation rates and stands at only 10% of annual average flows which is far below as compared to other countries of the world. Tarbela Dam has lost its capacity by 35% whereas Mangla Dam has lost 20%.

Carry Over Capacity (Days)

c.  Population and Management

Pakistan is witness to major demographic and economic changes and is going through transition of a phenomenal proportion. Population growth is high and fast – from 80 M in 1980 we are more than 208 M in 2017. And concurrently the population living in cities has doubled in two decades causing more stress on demand of water besides implications for other sectors. Massive urban population in mega cities exerts pressure on aquifer to meet the water needs. Today, Pakistan’s water management has become a multisectoral issue crossing demographic, agricultural, economic, municipality and environmental domains.

Pakistan has the world's fourth highest rate of water use and per capita availability has already gone below the critical line of 1000 m³ (in 2017).

The annual river flows at the rim stations is average 145 MAF. The present population of 208 million (2017) is estimated to rise by 50% to 310 million by 2050. This coupled with rightful usage by India and Afghanistan of 3.5 MAF; we will require additional 76 MAF water by 2050; only possible by managing supply and demand to meet this need.

d.  Conservation/Irrigation

Food demand will increase proportionate to the population; hence the water supply demand at farm gate is likely to increase by the same ratio in the status quo conditions of agricultural practices. Pakistan uses a centuries old flood irrigation system. Most of the canals built during the last century are unlined. There is a considerable loss of water due to seepage. About 40% of the water is lost during conveyance from the river diversion to the farm gate in the main canals, distributaries and the watercourses.

A farm water management programme was launched about two decades back. It has reduced losses in the water courses and the fields by lining of water courses and laser leveling of the fields. Furrows, Sprinklers and most of all modern drip irrigation can conserve upto 40% to 80% of the water being used for same or enhanced productivity. It however requires upfront investment, energy for pumping water and above all change of mindset of agriculturists. It also requires farmer education on sowing, watering and harvesting at right times as well as changing cropping patterns. The need for conserving water is apparent as in Punjab, 3 to 8 cusecs of water is used per 1000 acres and 4 to 20 cusecs in Sindh. Excessive watering in Sindh (Panchoi System) causes waterlogging and reduces the crop output. During year 2000 drought, the wheat crop output in Sindh was the maximum as the groundwater table had lowered below the root zone.

The situation is equally critical in  urban centres with water being misused with impunity in spite of shortages and in case of Karachi, having to transport water in bowsers. Major loss is  through leakages in piping and supply mechanisms, as well as storm water drainage and sewerage systems. This is causing polluted water in supply and polluted aquifer. The cheap cost of water both for agricultural use as well as municipal use has caused a casual and wasteful habit in water use.       

WAPDA prepared its Vision 2025 Programme in the year 2001. This programme envisaged implementation of about 72 projects during the year 2001 to 2025 in three phases. On its completion, the programme promised to provide additional 58 MAF storage of water and 40,000 MW of additional hydel power capacity. Most of the projects proposed for Phase-I & II have been largely implemented like Mangla Dam Raising Project, Mirani Dam, Sabak Zai Dam, Satpara and Gomal Zam Dam and four  canals in water sector. Jinnah HPP, 3 high head hydropower projects and recently Golen Gol HPP and Neelum Jhelum HEP have been completed in power sector under WAPDA Vision 2025 Programme.

How Other Distortions Affect the Water Economy – The Case of Sugarcane

The linkages between agricultural and industrial needs as well as water quality and supply can be seen in the case of  sugarcane. Starting with one sugar mill in 1947, Pakistan now has over 80. Sugar mills are often a reward for political services and support. A large number are owned by politically important elements and owe their existence to political gratification. The Pakistani consumer had to subsidize the processor, since international sugar prices traditionally remained below domestic prices. However, beyond a low percentage of total cropped area, sugarcane production is not ecologically suited to an arid region like the Indus Basin. Now, farmers need, or want, to grow enough sugarcane to feed 80 mills, creating excessive demand on both surface and tube well water. Areas with critically low groundwater levels have large standing crops of sugarcane (as well as rice, the other water intensive crop). Shortfalls in sugarcane supply would create a crisis in the sugar industry, which has the second highest capitalization in the Pakistani stock market, as well as politically eminent stakeholders. Additionally, effluents from sugar mills are a significant source of water pollution, which is affecting human and livestock health. Clearly, on specific issues there are complex options facing the administration, involving trade-offs between environmental, hydraulic, social, agronomic and industrial priorities.

e.  Climate Change

The anticipated global warming is likely to enhance glacial melt, which for Pakistan means an increased water flow which would go waste as we do not have adequate reservoirs and floods which will be uncontrollable. Further the depletion of glaciers and Himalayan ice cap will eventually decrease available annual water flow.

The fifth assessment report (2014) of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), (established under the auspices of the United Nations) contains several findings that concern Pakistan.

•  It is predicted that average temperature over Pakistan will increase 1.20 oC to 1.70 oC by 2025.

•   The disparity between wet and dry seasons will aggravate. Summers will be longer and winter periods will shrink.

•    The number, frequency and magnitude of floods and droughts will increase.

•     Sea level will rise and submerge low lying coastal areas.

Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) caused major floods on an average once in every four years with increasing frequency. It is reported in the Pakistan Journal of Meteorology that fourteen more GLOF events have occurred during 2001 to 2017 period. WAPDA installed snow and ice hydrological automatic weather stations in upper Indus Basin to estimate the snowfall in glaciers and project the water availability to store in reservoirs and fulfill the requirements of incoming cropping seasons. In 2015 WAPDA established Glaciers Monitoring Research Centre (GMRC) to conduct research work on glaciers to know their behavior under climate change scenario and global warming. GMRC is strengthening and extending their network of weather station in upper Indus Basin. GMRC needs continuous commitment and financial support to continue work in national interest.

f.  Floods/Droughts

During last 55 years, the country has faced 22 high to very high floods, and with global warming these events will increase in magnitude and frequency.

The 2010 flood had a return period of 1 in 100 years. A 200 year return flood could be around 1.5 million cusecs and none of the barrages on Indus River are designed to pass this flood which will bring devastation in its wake. WAPDA has installed flood telematic gauges all over Pakistan and data is continuously measured for flood forecasting and flood warnings.

The period 1998-2002 saw the worst drought (in 50 years) in Pakistan, adversely effecting quality and yield of crops. Balochistan had suffered most in the recent decades. With the commissioning of Kacchi Canal by WAPDA, Balochistan has now started getting canal water.

Construction of Garuk Dam in Kharan, Pelar Dam in Awaran, Hingol in Lasbela, Tank Zam Dam, Daraban Zam Dam, Chodwam Zam Dam and Sheikh Haider Dam in DI Khan will provide socioeconomic uplift and relief in drought periods. WAPDA plans to construct Thar Canal to feed Thar area which would help to provide socioeconomic uplift in the areas as well as relief in drought periods.

g.  Depletion of Underground Water

Canal water supplies are now inadequate for the agricultural demands. This is because of poor maintenance and lack of further development of the hydraulic infrastructure. Approximately 50% of canal water released from Indus does not make it to farmers.

The shortfall is being met by groundwater using tube wells. The number of private tube wells has increased 11 times in the last 50 years. Wherever water abstraction was more than recharge, the water table has depleted rapidly and in some districts it has gone down to alarmingly low levels especially in southern Punjab and upper Sindh.

Almost all mega cities of Pakistan depend on groundwater for municipal needs, except Karachi which gets its surface supplies from Keenjhar Lake and Hub Dam Reservoir and Islamabad which gets supplies from Khanpur Dam and Simly Dam. The overextraction of water coupled with inadequate disposal of wastewater has resulted in polluted groundwater.Rapid urbanization and high growth rate of population are putting tremendous pressure on water supply management as may be seen in the following table:        

Tube wells in Quetta have reached the deepest water tables and now mining fossil water. In Lahore, the WASA tube wells are installed at 400 to 600 ft depth.

The water availability per capita shows an alarming drop down to 1/6th of what it was in 1951 and is going to be 1/9th by 2050 as shown:

WAPDA carried out substantial underground surveys and hydrogeological investigations all over Pakistan and prepared an atlas demarcating zones with quality and quantity of groundwater along with their classifications and depth of water table. Groundwater monitoring is continuously required to know the quantitative and qualitative changes occurring with time so that necessary measures could be taken up to protect it timely.

h.  Inadequate Technologies

Adoption of modern technologies promises cost effective solutions for preserving water. Scientific solutions are available for monitoring of irrigation channels. Water recycling and use of sea water is a field which is yet to kick-start. Water scarce semi-arid countries have developed technological solutions for storing water as well as cleaning sea water which include digging very deep wells to recharge the aquifer in rainy days and floods, drip irrigation and reverse osmosis as well as the creation of natural lakes in low lying areas in the plains and deserts using technology, to capture rain and flood water. Countries like Israel and Australia have achieved much success in it.

For Pakistan’s large agriculture sector, crippled by lack of education, a national water plan catering to water storage facilities, flood irrigation and futuristic needs is as essential as education in this field. After the 18th Amendment, this needs to be orchestrated with shared understanding of the provincial education authorities.       

Way Forward

a.  Political Consensus and Governance

The role of federal government needs to be redefined for overall water resource management and politically the 18th Amendment to the Constitution needs to be reviewed regarding roles of the federal and provincial water agencies. The issue of water scarcity has assumed alarming proportions and has to be addressed with complete consensus across the political divide. Instead of mere political point scoring, a consensus needs to be evolved as any further complacency would eventually eat into the vitals of the country.

Good governance is an essential aspect of effective water resource management. It includes the range of political, social, economic and administrative systems that are in place to develop and manage water resources, and the delivery of water services at different levels of society. Governance rests on two core values: inclusiveness and accountability. For effective water resource management, governance processes determine decision-making about water storage, types of water use, regulation of extraction from aquifers, regulation of discharges, and allocation between competing uses, including allocations to maintain basic environmental services. Water resource management faces specific challenges in water-scarce areas, where there is intense competition among users and among different types of use. This results in over extraction of aquifers and overuse of surface waters. Good water governance depends on a number of factors including strong policy, legal, and regulatory frameworks; more effective implementing organizations; a civic determination to improve water governance; and appropriate investments. Clearly water governance is influenced by the overall governance circumstances of a particular country, however, there is a need to address often-overlooked difficult issues of institutional objectives, incentives and motivation, corruption and political interference, and financial autonomy to address the issue in all its dimensions.

The fair and equal water pricing is important to sustain and extend the water and sanitation system.

b.  Strategic Reorientation (Renewable)

There is a growing need to achieve consensus on comprehensive National Water Policy incorporating an Integrated Water Resource Management instead of sectoral approach and strengthening of institutional and management capacity at all levels. This means a Comprehensive Regulatory Framework with the federal government facilitating the efficient and sustainable utilization of groundwater, industrial uses, and wastewater management as well as food security, water security and energy security, being inextricably linked. One of the most important aspects of the strategy should be to prioritize building of reservoirs with 20% of annual PSDP budget earmarked for it along with constitutional safeguards to the continuity and funding for the water sector projects. This should include development of hydraulic infrastructure and water allocations to supply water for large urban centres to reduce load on underground water. Measures need to be taken to protect the quality of water including refurbishment of the existing hydraulic infrastructure with emphasis on lining of canals and water courses particularly in saline groundwater zones.

c.  Water Storage            

Given the growing population and depleting reservoirs, there is a growing need to develop additional demand of 70 MAF comprising the following avenues:

a)  25 MAF through storages at DBD, KBD, Mohmand, Kurram Tangi, Shyok and Skardu.

b)  15 MAF through lining of channels, 50% of water courses and distributaries.

c) 15 MAF through land leveling, furrows, high efficiency irrigation system and crop zoning on 50% of irrigated areas.

d)   9 MAF through utilization of Hill Torrent flows.

e)   6 MAF through demand side management.

d.  Policy, Entrepreneur, Technology Interface

Policy initiatives using cutting edge technological interventions is the need of the hour to address this issue. We need to use technology and research to indigenize solutions at farm level by introducing precise Land Levelling, Furrow Plantation and Drip Irrigation as well as rainwater harvesting, construction of small storage dams, artificial lakes and village ponds to meet local water needs. In addition, there is a need to create an enabling environment for active stakeholder’s consultation and participation at all levels and in all aspects of the water resources including irrigation, drainage, domestic water supply, flood protection, drought mitigation, wastewater treatment and pollution control. As a relevant initiative, we should educate and incentivize the population on need for birth control to reduce the extremely high population growth. It is only through such a multi-pronged strategy that we can address this important issue in its entirety. 

e.  Conservation (Agriculture and Irrigation)

Water conservation measures have been shown to provide many benefits for water suppliers, water users, and their communities. The major benefits include lower water delivery costs, lower water supply treatment costs, stretching wastewater treatment capacity, and delaying expense of new water supplies. Water conservation, both urban and agricultural, can also be a tool to help meet watershed or river basin goals that are agreed to by all major parties in a watershed. These agreed-upon goals can include balancing water supply for all uses, better flood control, instream flows for environmental benefit, or water quality improvement. A watershed based approach is becoming more popular in settling disputes about water use and water quality in river basins, particularly in the west. The watershed approach involves sitting down all interested parties, agreeing on goals, and developing strategies together to meet them.

f.  Water Management

Water management is important since it helps determine future irrigation expectations. Water management is the management of water resources under existing policies and regulations. Water, once an abundant natural resource, is becoming a more scarce commodity due to droughts and overuse. This also includes supply and demand side management which requires a nationwide campaign to conserve water in all its forms. Some of the steps which are essential include: a) consensus building on Kalabagh Dam which is essential to stave off water stress by adding 6.10 MAF storage, providing flood mitigation and water for drought conditions; b) development of an integrated approach for effective flood control including mitigation of damages through infrastructure development and capacity building of institutions; and, c) development of a National Climate Change Strategy with emphasis on water security for the people.

India’s strategic design aiming at enhancing control over flows of western rivers is against IWT spirit.  However, it accentuates Pakistan's vulnerability while strengthening India’s control over IOK. Under the effective frame of external maneuverer against Pakistan, India has completed over 48 projects on western rivers whereas 32 are ongoing and 120 are on the anvil. The sheer number and design manipulations including spillways designs, low level outlets result in fluctuations in rivers flows, drying up rivers during critical needs and even flooding of rivers higher than natural floods. India also leverages presence of large number of troops under the garb of these projects, essentially for their coercive arm against innocent Kashmiris.

g.  Regulatory Framework

Price of water is proven world over to be the most effective incentive and tool for water conservation and its scientific use, requiring change in cropping patterns and use of drought resistant crops, adjusting time for sowing crops as well as inducing water reuse and recycling schemes. The governments need to charge water usage and reimburse water utilities for development and maintenance of the infrastructure. Groundwater management is to be prioritized by provincial governments. Excessive water mining in fresh groundwater areas should be penalized through legislations to control level of sub-soil water and aquifer pollution.

h.  Aggressive Policy on IWT

Pakistan is an agricultural country and water is the source of its very survival. The Indus Waters Treaty was meant for resolving Indo-Pakistan water issues bilaterally, but now water dispute is intensely politicized in India with demands for abrogating the treaty without realizing the negative impacts or rationality of the demand. Pakistan has to adopt an aggressive policy through a multi-pronged strategy. The sad fact is that Pakistan failed to raise its voice at international forums to stop the Indian government from building water reservoirs on rivers running towards Pakistan. And when it did, it was too late. It is an emergency situation. Islamabad needs to devote all its energies to reach an equitable formula of water distribution with India. If not treated at priority, Pakistan will face immense problems in different areas of its economy. The energy, agriculture, fishing industries are just a few of the many sectors that will bear the brunt of India’s water aggression.

i.  Financial Sustainability for Water Resources

Achievement of funding requirements for the water resources development and management is extremely important because operation and maintenance of water resources infrastructure can’t be implemented if financial sustainability is missing. It would result in decreasing performance of infrastructure and increase the rehabilitation cost. It is critical that the government should devise a mechanism to ensure financial sustainability of water resources because it is a diminishing resource.

The situation is equally critical in  urban centres with water being misused with impunity in spite of shortages and in case of Karachi, having to transport water in bowsers. Major loss is  through leakages in piping and supply mechanisms, as well as storm water drainage and sewerage systems. This is causing polluted water in supply and polluted aquifer. The cheap cost of water both for agricultural use as well as municipal use has caused a casual and wasteful habit in water use.

j.  Modernizing Infrastructure

Despite the economic importance of water and calls for increased infrastructure investment, both the federal and provincial governments have remained reluctant to shoulder this cost and have generally remained unable to target resources more efficiently and equitably. Millions of households, businesses, and industries depend on water systems every day and therefore, investing in water infrastructure ensures that these industries stay afloat. Water infrastructure, of course, is not simply limited to drinking water and wastewater facilities, but also includes an extensive number of other assets like dams.

k.  Awareness

Sustainable water management is one of the global grand challenges of our time. Tackling this challenge through corrective actions would require the participation of the general public – public with sound awareness of the challenge and commitment. This is because unless the public is geared to realize this challenge no efforts will bear fruit. Water has different symbolism and levels of importance to people, depending on their personal characteristics and socio-demographic factors (e.g., gender, age, occupation and residence). Similarly, water awareness can demonstrate attitudes towards water among communities, ethnic groups and whole nations.

Policy initiatives using cutting edge technological interventions is the need of the hour to address this issue. We need to use technology and research to indigenize solutions at farm level by introducing precise Land Levelling, Furrow Plantation and Drip Irrigation as well as rainwater harvesting, construction of small storage dams, artificial lakes and village ponds to meet local water needs.

Conclusion        

The water issues of Pakistan have mushroomed and the limited resources and increasing demand for water, energy and food necessitates the need for sustainable use and management of basic resources more than ever before. There is no panacea or quick fix, and long term solutions need to be implemented at technological, social and political levels. 

This entails building dams at a fast pace, more aggressive water infrastructure maintenance regimes, more water-conserving technologies and methods, and raising public awareness through effective advocacy and most of all putting a rational price on agricultural and municipal usage.

It is an emergency situation. Islamabad needs to devote all its energies to reach an equitable formula of water distribution with India. If not treated at priority, Pakistan will face immense problems in different areas of its economy. The energy, agriculture, fishing industries are just a few of the many sectors that will bear the brunt of India’s water aggression.

Pakistan needs a sound organization which delineates the framework for balanced socio-economic development, management, and conservation of the country’s water resources in an environment challenged by climate change.

In order to achieve this objective, the federal government has to steer this humongous task through an entity which has the requisite mandate and institutional capacity. In Pakistan, WAPDA stands out as an organization which represents the best option for sustainable development of water infrastructure and to ensure that the process of development continues unabated. WAPDA’s experience in implementing multipurpose mega hydel projects gives it a clear advantage as the only formidable entity which can steer Pakistan out of impending water threat keeping in mind the rich experience, professionalism, and institutional mechanism. WAPDA’s huge unencumbered assets can be leveraged to overcome the biggest impediment of raising requisite financing.

WAPDA has the ability to handle the technological and implementation needs of any magnitude and can steer Pakistan out of forthcoming water crises due to its demonstrated institutional capacity. 


The writer is presently Chairman WAPDA.  A former Lieutenant General in Pakistan Army who held prestigious command and staff appointments during his military career. He commanded a Corps and also remained as Inspector-General  Training and Evaluation (IGT&E) at GHQ.

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