Thursday, July 04, 2013
From Print Edition
Matters requiring urgent attention keep our media and policymakers busy at the expense of important issues. One such sector is water management, neglecting which can enormously impact agricultural output and the livelihoods associated with it. A recent ADB report states, “Pakistan is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, not far from being classified as ‘water scarce,’ with less than 1,000 cubic meters per person per year.”
For a long time now, reports have indicated a strain on the Indus basin river system, which caters to 63 percent of Pakistan’s water needs. Three quarters of this water goes to the canal system that supports irrigated agriculture, employing 40 percent population and accounting for 22 percent of the GDP. Continuing population growth is expected to significantly reduce per capita water availability, with environmental changes putting a further strain on future water supply. Human factors contribute to deteriorating water quality downstream, which reduces its availability for certain uses.
For the past several years, inequitable water distribution has been a source of tension among the provinces with lower riparian provinces blaming the upper riparian Punjab for consuming more than its fair share. Pakistan has also accused India of stealing water upstream – reducing water flows by building dams on rivers originating in the territory under its control. Other very important factors are snowmelt and changing precipitation patterns. Over the years reduced water flows have wreaked environmental havoc in the Indus Delta, where sea incursion has destroyed large parts of mangrove forests and rendered arable lands unsuitable for agriculture. Despite signs of severe water stress in certain areas, especially in Sindh and Balochistan, successive governments have done little to improve the management of existing water resources. Several studies have recommended building new water reservoirs, reducing seepage, and improving efficiency of water use to benefit the maximum number of people. Equally important is revisiting the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan, which does not have provisions to address variations in water flows due to climate change or water quality deterioration.