Islamabad   -   Speakers at a national dialogue held here on climate and water challenges stressed the need for Pakistan to be prepared to tackle India’s attempts of using water as a coercive strategic tool and recommended that Kabul River should become a river of friendship between the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The national dialogue, titled “Managing Hyphenated Climate and Water Challenge: A Case Study of Pakistan,” was organised by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute on Wednesday. 

In his keynote address, former WAPDA chairman Engineer Shams-ul-Mulk, who was the chief guest on the occasion, said that water security was a growing challenge for Pakistan. “It influences diverse aspects of economic and social development, as well as national and regional security,” he added.

He warned that Pakistan would not grow economically if dams were not built. Mulk was of the view that those who opposed the construction of large dams were not aware of the looming water crisis in the country and didn’t want Pakistan to progress. 

“Enemies of Pakistan have dented our efforts so much that we have not been able to build any new dams,” he said, and recommended that Kabul River should become a “river of friendship” between the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Discussing Pakistan’s water relations with India and Afghanistan, Dr Pervaiz Amir, a regional expert at the Stockholm-based Global Water Partnership, pointed out India’s use of water as a coercive tool to increase Pakistan’s water woes. He warned that unlike the recent showdown between the two countries, India’s nefarious strategy under Modi’s administration would be to target Pakistan’s water resources. He opined that threats from the Indian leadership should not be taken lightly.

“Pakistan needs to sort out its internal strife and inter-provincial conflicts over water and ensure internal dispute resolution first before going to the international community to rally support for its historical rights over water flows,” he added.

Mr Lixin Gu, Sustainable Development Programme Leader from the World Bank Pakistan, pointed out that water was crucial for Pakistan’s agricultural growth. He informed that the sector consumed around 95 percent of the country’s water resources.

“At the same time, per capita availability of usable water is decreasing, primarily because of population growth, pollution and inefficient use of water resources,” Gu said, and added that “Pakistan is well endowed with water - only 16 countries have more water - but since Pakistan is the world’s sixth most populous country, water availability per person is comparatively low.”

He informed the gathering that water was used excessively in agriculture, which made up around one-fifth of the national GDP, but less than half of this was from irrigated cropping.

“Irrigation contributes around $22 billion to annual GDP. Crops like wheat, rice, sugarcane and cotton that represent nearly 80 percent of all water use generate less than 5 percent of the GDP - around $14 billion per year,” Gu said, and stressed that addressing climate change risks called for a more resilient agriculture sector.

In his welcome address, President of IPRI Vice Admiral (r) Khan Hasham said that climate change and water security were contemporary challenges.

Elaborating further, he said Pakistan was blessed with adequate surface water. “However, population growth, urbanization, and poor water management have caused water scarcity with only 1100 cubic meters per person water available in Pakistan. Urgent steps are needed to conserve, build new storages, recycle and adapt to new realities,” Hasham underscored.

He equated Pakistan’s water disputes with ticking time bombs which needed to be resolved diplomatically.

Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CEO Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Pakistan, said that by 2030 Pakistan was expected to lose wheat yields by 20 percent - a staggering amount for a country whose backbone is formed by wheat.

“Researchers, policy makers and all relevant stakeholders need to be cognizant of the impact of climate change,” he maintained.

In his presentation on “Water Scarce to Water Secure Pakistan: Recommendations for Action,” Syed Abu Ahmad Akif, Member Prime Minister’s Inspection Commission, and former cabinet secretary, said that in Pakistan, policies and recommendations abound but what mattered was identifying implementable improvements to deal with water and climate change-related issues.

He called for stronger regulations in the water sector; ending sugar subsidy; and creating a Water Commodities Market in line with international best practices.