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Climate Change Experts Urge Pakistan to Come Up with Water Management Policy

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan needs to formulate and implement a management policy for its water resources, which would soon be surpassing value of petroleum, says Prof Patrick Shea, former director of the US Bureau of Land Management.

In his lecture on “Relevance of Environmental Laws to Coping Climate Change” at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) on Tuesday, Shea said that establishing an institutional framework to handle the challenge had become all the more important, as Pakistan was turning from a water surplus to a water scarce country.

Prof Shea said the point was this: “How we can together sensitise our fellow beings to value of water.” Developing his lecture, he discussed three crucial issues related to the sustained use of water, as a right. He said that access to sweet water, clean water and predictable availability of water were three basic challenges. He said that accessibility, quality and predictability were three dimensions of the water problem. He said that association of water to climate change made its availability unpredictable.

Giving example of five blind men defining an elephant each according to his own understanding, he described the Himalayan Range as the elephant and the governments and policymakers in South and South East Asia as blind men describing their part of the elephant.

“There is need for an integrated approach to move forward. Chinese, Vietnamese, Burmese, Pakistani and Indian policymakers are not sharing information, so there is little integration of information. There is need for bringing educated people of the region together, as 95% of the water has its regional sharing. Pakistan needs to categorise water resources on their availability. At the moment, there is no estimate available for the availability of groundwater and extent of invasion of seawater to the coastal aquifers. In Pakistan and India, melting of glaciers is an important phenomenon. According to an estimate, glaciers will melt by 2020.There is need for scientific monitoring of the melting glaciers,” he said. There is need to overcome institutional fragmentation and promote coherence, he added.

Shafqat Kakakhel, former ambassador and chair of the Board of Governors at the SDPI, said, “We started as a water affluent country with 5,500 cubic metres water per person per annum. Today, per capita availability has receded to 1,000 cubic metres that according to the UN is a condition of stress. It has various reasons attached to it like population explosion, unregulated urbanisation, decaying infrastructure and poor water management.

“There was protection on drawing of water until 1960s even until 1970s. Under the Indus Water Treaty 3,000 tube-wells were installed in Pakistan to compensate the loss of water coming from the eastern rivers. Today, it has reached more than one million. This has grown into exponential use of tube-wells in Pakistan; indigenous manufacturers are producing tube-wells in large number. There is no regulatory mechanism. Landlords believe that groundwater belongs to them and they have all rights to mine it,” he said.

Tariq Banuri, professor of economics at the Utah University, Salt Lake City, said that Pakistan needed to protect its available surface water, protect and preserve groundwater and develop institutions for building policy and regulatory frameworks. “Melting of glacier is becoming unpredictable due to climate change. We need to find ways of slowing it down or reversing it.”

Syed Abu Ahmad Akif, secretary of the Ministry of Climate Change, appreciated the work done by the SDPI. He said that Pakistan was among the seven most vulnerable countries due to climate change, though it was among the countries making lowest contribution to the Green House Gasses. It stands at 135th position in terms of contribution. Pakistan is falling short on its water needs and “we don’t have resources to convert seawater into drinking water. In last four to five years Pakistan has seen droughts and floods. No wonder the government has dedicated a ministry to handle this issue.”