Pakistan is among the countries in the world that is suffering from acute water shortage, as ground-water resources along with per capita consumption of water are depleting fast.
In an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune, US State Department’s Special Coordinator for Water Resources, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Dr Aaron Salzberg said that there were genuine fears that unless a national water policy was jointly formulated in consultation with all the provinces, the country will face economic and social consequences. Salzberg is holding talks with the federal and provincial governments, along with other stakeholders, stressing the need to manage water resources.
“I have been told that there are places in the country where the water table has depleted by as much as 800 feet and lands are barren due to water-logging and salinity. The situation in Pakistan clearly calls for management of available water resources and crafting a strategy that could ensure water conservation and availability for both upstream and downstream states,” he said.
“If you get heavy rains at glaciers that speed up the process of the ice melting and do not have reservoirs to hold the water, it causes flooding. If you do not have rains you suffer from drought, so it is basically prioritising the water resources,” Salzberg added. The official said that the water dispute between Punjab and Sindh was basically a trust deficit issue which could be resolved through dialogue. He said that such disputes between the upstream and downstream states were not uncommon.
Regarding the water dispute between India and Pakistan, the diplomat stated that the Indus River Water Treaty was the right way to solve the problem. “Whenever there are political, economic and security issues between nations, water invariably arises as an issue. If there is trust and cooperation between them, then this precious resource cannot trigger conflict.” He cited an example between neighbours Canada and America to highlight how countries can work together to address their water issues. “There is a dam in Canada that was built by US and is being managed by US because it was America’s need and not Canada’s,” Salzberg added.
“In today’s world, safe drinking water, sanitation and food security are challenges. The problem is we do not understand the importance of water unless we do not have it,” Salzberg said.
“There is an urgent need for Pakistan to formulate a comprehensive national policy on water. Farmers and agriculturists should understand the need to pay for the water they use. Pumping water relentlessly from underground is not a solution, especially if there is no balance between water that is replenished by natural means and it being extracted,” reiterated the water expert.