Unavailability of integrated water resource data multiplies governance challenges, says Shibli Faraz

Himalayan glaciers in the north are the largest frozen water reserves outside the polar region

ISLAMABAD   -  Federal Minister for Science and Technology Syed Shibli Faraz Thursday said that the pressing water resource challenge was unavailability of an integrated water resources data. 

This limitation has multiplied water resources management and governance challenges, he said while speaking at the “Pakistan Water Conference on Emerging Water Challenges” arranged by Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR). The minister stated that despite the numerous organizations were working in various areas of water resources management including national and international research institutes, federal and provincial government organizations, international development partners, NGOs and academia, the policies procedures and practices in water management sector are uninformed by contemporary knowledge. 

Consequently, the old water resources challenges remain and new water resources issues emerge, he said. To address these complex issues, the federal minister termed it crucial that the development investments and policies need to be informed by research. Since assuming charge as Minister of Science and Technology, the minister said, he has taken up one-point agenda for water resources, “translate research into public benefit” with the help of scientific data and smart technologies.

PCRWR has been tasked to bring their research into action in Islamabad as a pilot. Within a period of 10 days, PCRWR and Capital Development Authority (CDA) have signed a Programme of Cooperation for artificial groundwater recharge and development of an evidence-based groundwater regulatory framework for Islamabad. Shibli Faraz said Pakistan was blessed with diverse landscape and seasons. The Himalayan glaciers in the north are the largest frozen water reserves outside the polar region whereas, fertile alluvial plains of Punjab and Sindh provinces are irrigated by one of the largest contiguous irrigation systems of the world. 

This system has contributed into the developing 4th largest groundwater aquifer in the world after China, India and USA. Despite these natural resources, Pakistan is facing serious water issues and governance challenges, he said. He pointed out that the climate change phenomenon has put Pakistan amongst the most vulnerable countries in the world and as a nation, “we are heading towards water scarcity”. 

He said around 27,000 children dying annually due to water borne diseases, which is an alarming sign. The minister said that importance of water towards social and economic development was well established and access to sufficient freshwater was the base of socioeconomic development of a country. The importance of water further signifies for the countries having agriculture-based economies, like Pakistan. The minister lauded the efforts of IWMI-Pakistan office for piloting smart telemetry systems for canals, jointly with PCRWR as a result of which 10 canals of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been instrumented. 

He appreciated IWMI-Pakistan and UNESCO Country Office to join hands with PCRWR in organizing this conference and assured his full support and cooperation to all the national and national organizations in solving water related issues.

This conference will prove as instrumental to set a direction in; water resources management, governance and information management paving way for gifting our next generations a “Water Secure Pakistan”, he said.

Speaking on the occasion, Director, UNESCO Islamabad office, Ms Patricia McPhilip said that around 27 million people in Pakistan lack access to clean water. 

She pointed out that the groundwater depletion has become a serious problem and there were concerns about pumping out groundwater instead of filtering and reusing it.

The government will have to improve its management system to address the issue of water in the SDGs and there was need for investment and research in the water sector.

Ms Patricia said that UNESCO was working on various projects in Pakistan under Water Security Challenges.

UNESCO is working with the government on an Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP) and also assisting Pakistani students in research on water.

She said UNESCO was preparing water information guidelines and working on a water project in Balochistan in collaboration with PCRWR.

She emphasized that research in the water sector needs to be promoted and we must all work together on water action.

Country Director, International Water Management Institute (IWMI) Pakistan Office, Dr Mohsin Hafeez, said that IWMI was working with IRSA and PCRWR on water related projects.

He said IWMI was also working on the Lahore Groundwater Management Project.

He said that Islamabad was facing many problems including shortage of groundwater. Talks are underway with the government of Pakistan on solar irrigation project.

Mohsin Hafeez emphasized that there should be a policy at the national level in terms of groundwater.

Chairman PCRWR, Dr Muhammad Ashraf said the federal minister soon after assuming charge directed the PCRWR to conduct research on water issues and arrange a national and international conference in this regards.

He said a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between PCRWR and CDA under which both the organizations would work to restore surface and ground water. Groundwater regulatory framework was being developed in collaboration with CDA.

Dr Ashraf said that utilizing waste water was also a part of the plan while data on water was also being prepared.

He said that I-10 sector of Islamabad would be made a model sector for water.

He said that PCRWR would launch Water Week in Pakistan to highlight the importance of water.

Chairman, Federal Flood Commission, Ahmad Kamal, water experts and a number of officials attended the conference.

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