Can we avoid an impending catastrophe?

According to the report released by the IMF and UNDP, Pakistan ranks 3rd in the world amongst the countries facing acute water shortage. As a result, the country will reach absolute water scarcity till 2025. Now this is an alarming situation. The problem however is, that Pakistan has been steadily going towards this severe water crisis since a long time now. It did not happen overnight. Major institutions like the UNDP have been warning Pakistan of an impending water crisis time and again, so why didn’t the previous governments take any notice of the matter? Indus Water Treaty was signed in 1960. As a result, Pakistan built 2 major dams during the 1960s and 70s. These dams were funded by the both the World Bank and Government of Pakistan. Many other small hydroelectric plants and dams were also constructed during this time. UNDP informed Pakistan that it had touched the “water stress line” in 1990 but the political leaders of the country were busy playing musical chairs and paid no attention to the matter. The 2 main dams and other small hydroelectric plants constructed during 1960s (Mangla) and 70s (Tarbela) were enough to meet the population need till 2000.

In 1979 the government received a grant of 25 million $ from the UNDP for the construction of Kala Bagh Dam (KBD). The issue began to be politicized after the execution of PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The political leaders of Sindh and KPK began to oppose this dam mainly because they opposed the government of General Zia ul Haq. Different reasons were sighted like the fact that Sindh might not get enough water for its agriculture and areas like Nowshehra in KPK will be flooded, Swabi and Mardan will be water logged. Nevertheless, the WB kept on working on the dam project till 1986, when the project was finally put on hold; because of increasing political resistance. The grant of 25 million dollars was lost somewhere in the paperwork. It was never utilized for the dam, nor was it used for any other project. When the UNDP claimed that Pakistan had crossed the “water scarcity line” in 2005, President Musharraf began stressing on the construction of KBD. But then again, the political leadership did not look at the national interest and opposed this project heavily. As a result, the Federal Minister of WAPDA – Raja Pervaiz Ashraf – stated in 2008 that KBD could not be constructed and the project would be cancelled because of increasing opposition from KPK, Sindh and other stake holders.

After that the governments of PPP and PML-N also addressed water and electricity problems in their speeches and manifestos but never did anything significant to resolve this issue. India has now constructed over 4500 large, medium and small dams, China has over 85000 and Pakistan has only around 153 small and medium dams (including only 2 large dams). We keep on blaming India that he is building dams on our waters and this is the reason Pakistan is running dry, the fact of the matter is that we are wasting 35 MAF of water; around 40% of the water we receive from the rivers and it is going straight in the Arabian Sea so India has all the right to conserve this water for himself as we are not using it anyway.

Imran Khan and his party came into power after the July 25th elections this year. Imran Khan also addressed the water crisis in his 1st address to the nation and has stood his ground firmly to solve this problem. He addressed the Pakistanis on the 7th of September again addressing the crucial water adversity. He explained the deteriorating water conditions and stressed the urgency of the matter. At the time of Independence, the per capita ration of water was more than 5000 cubic metres, it has now been reduced to 1000 cubic metres only. Pakistan has the water storage capacity for 30 days only,

India has the water storage capacity of 190 days and Egypt has around 1000 days water capacity. The safe water storage capacity level is 120 days. This shows that Pakistan is not only way below many countries, it is critically below the safe level as well. Solution has always been the same; it was just never adopted. Building dams is not a choice now, it’s an urgency. Bhasha and Mohmand Dams should be constructed to conserve water and provide electricity. IK has asked every Pakistani, including the overseas Pakistanis to donate generously to the Dam Fund (1000$) and has assured the masses to trust him with their money as this matter has to be resolved collectively and urgently.

This is not the first time the government has asked the people to contribute to the economy. The question is that is it possible to crowd source a major dam in the country? How feasible this scheme may be? Once in 2005 President Musharraf had created a “President Relief Fund” after the earthquake. People began to contribute and many companies contributed as well until interest in the matter began to fade out. After that no one knows what happened with the money. Did it actually reach the needy or did it stay in the hands of our leaders? There is no accountability for that. Another time Nawaz Sharif government initiated a “qarz utaro, mulk sunwaro” scheme late in the 1990s.

People contributed again but no one knows where the money went. It was never spent on its actual purpose. What is different this time then; people may ask?

•             Well for one Imran Khan has himself vowed to take care of this money and personally make sure that the money reaches its desired destination. He has given his personal examples of Namal University and Shukat Khanam where the people did not only contribute; they could also see the results of their contributions.

•             The previous governments had a long history of corruption and mismanagement. Imran Khan has vowed that his government will prove itself to be otherwise. He has no history of corruption and has always claimed that he will always be available for accountability. This is something that no leader has done before. None of our previous political leaders had presented themselves for accountability and Imran Khan has been proven by the Supreme Court of Pakistan that there are no corruption charges against him.

•             Another noteworthy point is that the Chief Justice of Pakistan has taken the matter in his own hands as well. He will oversee the project himself and will personally make sure that the funds are allocated properly. This is an additional check which will make sure that the funds are managed properly and honestly.

Now, apart from contributing generously to the dam fund as Imran Khan has proposed, we should also analyse our actions at the grass root level. The masses need to be educated about water conservation.

There is no water management policy and no proper arrangement of water storage in the country. An average Pakistani wastes about 40 gallons of water when washing a single car and a gallon of water every time he brushes his teeth. The general public needs to be aware of the consequences of wasting water. Pakistan is an agricultural country and has the 4th highest rate of water use in the world. We are a water intensive country where a huge chunk of our water is used in irrigation. But because there is no water saving mechanisms in the country, 60% of this water is wasted before it actually reaches the fields. We can apply many measures in our daily lives to save water. Many of them are quite basic, but like tiny droplets make an ocean, every little step that we take towards water conservation counts.

•             We need to turn off the faucet when brushing our teeth. This seems like a trivial task but by doing this we can save up to 6 litres of water every time.

•             We need to diversify our water resources. And one way we can do that is by installing rain barrels in our homes to collect rain water. This water can easily be used to water plants and even cleaning our outdoors. Many countries like Australia have fixed rain barrels in their homes and it is highly recommended to water plants with that water.

•             We can also cut water use by 33% if water plants manually instead of using automatic sprinklers.

•             We need to stop wasting our food. Apart from the fact that we need to realize that more than half of our country cannot afford a basic meal, a lot of water is used in the irrigation. Wasting less food can be able to preserve water in the long run.

•             Water Recycling Plants need to be constructed so that they can conserve and use recycled water in irrigation.

•             One reason there is a lot of water wastage in the country is because the water price is not fixed. Everywhere in the world, water is being sold on water meter readings. Price should also be charged as per the metre readings in our country as it will make people realize the value of water.

Some of these steps may seem trivial and some may seem controversial, but the fact of the matter is that we need to solve our water problem immediately. We are already 20 years late in resolving this issue. Hence, we need to get past the blame game and move forward otherwise Pakistan will have no water in just 7 years.


The writer is a graduate of Lahore University of Management Sciences and

is currently living in Sydney, Australia.

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