Tuesday, July 30, 2013 From Print Edition
Recent reports in the media have sought to highlight the dangers South Asia faces if its countries fail to share hydrological data with one another – despite the sensitivity attached to such information. The monsoon season has begun in parts of Pakistan and as yet there are no reports of serious floods – but that can, as was seen in the recent past, change dramatically and catastrophically.
Rainfall patterns in the region are becoming erratic and as was seen in northwest India and Nepal recently the results are disastrous. Despite changes in the weather and other issues such as Himalayan glacier melt, countries in the region are doing little – or in some cases nothing – to help each other. Lives and property are being lost on a massive scale and vast sums have to be spent by poor countries on relief efforts and post-floods rebuilding and resettlement work.
For Pakistan a key concern is data relating to the flow of the Kabul River, which was a significant factor in the floods of 2010. Today there is still no mechanism by which Pakistan and Afghanistan can exchange information about rainfall and hydrological conditions, despite there being a clear and urgent need for such. Bangladesh has a centuries-old flood problem, but it gets little data from upstream Nepal that might help predict and mitigate the effects of severe flooding. Pakistan does receive limited data from India, but it is not sufficient and narrows the window by which planning and, if necessary, evacuation may be carried out. The Water Problem is not going to go away; in fact, it will only get worse for every country in the South Asian region – no exceptions. There are concerns in Pakistan that repairs after the last serious flooding have still not been completed; and there are still significant numbers of people in Sindh that are displaced by the floods of 2010-11. There are other concerns that the building of new dams by India is to the detriment of the flow of water to Pakistan. These are not small matters, but present an existential threat to large segments of the population living on the Indus flood plain. Perhaps Pakistan could take a regional lead and seek to broker cooperation, because like it or not the nations of South Asia are all in this together.