The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) has renewed its call on the federal government to declare water emergency and build storages to deal with looming water shortages. In view of the gravity of the situation, earlier this year in a letter to the Ministry of Water and Power, the Authority had suggested that for the next five years all Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) allocations should be spent only on enhancing water storage capacity.
The recommendation may have been rather drastic to be accepted, but the issue is too pressing to be left unaddressed till another time. According to a report in this paper, presently the government is focusing on expeditious construction of various projects at different stages of progress. A substantial amount of money has been diverted from the PSDP to Diamer-Bhasha Dam in Gilgit-Baltistan which, aside from generating 4,500 megawatt electricity, has a substantial storage capacity.
Meanwhile, Wapda has initiated a consultation process with relevant stakeholders in all the four provinces. That should help sort out real or perceived apprehensions regarding some controversial projects, such as the Kalabagh dam. Apparently, some of the objections voiced by the opponents of this mega dam are not supported by experts. For instance, aside from the fears in Sindh that the project will deprive farmers of their due share in irrigation water- something that can be sorted out by Irsa – those opposed to the dam say reduced water flows in the Indus downstream Kotri Barrage would cause sea intrusion, damaging the critically important flora and fauna the river sustains.
Interestingly, while making its case for water emergency IRSA, which is duly represented by all provinces, including Sindh, pointed out in its letter to the ministry that at present more than 30 MAF water goes to waste flowing into the sea, whereas not more than 8.6 MAF is needed to prevent sea intrusion. The ongoing consultation process should help settle this and other contentious issues.
There is a lot more that needs to be done on a sustained basis to ensure future water security for this waster stressed country. Our report also mentions that during last year’s floods along some 25 MAF of water ran into the sea. Harnessing this water by building flood dams and storages can turn a bane into a blessing.
It is good to note that a conservation policy is in the works, to be launched sometime next month after approval by the Council of Common Interests (CCI). Effective implementation will require instituting climate ministries both at the centre and in the provinces with adequate resources so they can undertake various conservation schemes in a sustained manner. Some of the obvious things to do are construction of dams wherever possible, and restoring the old rural tradition to store rain water in village ponds.
Public awareness campaigns are also necessary to popularise rain water harvesting, and to suggest other measures to prevent wastage in urban areas where the groundwater depletion is fast becoming a matter of concern. Tree plantation is another important subject that deserves special attention to counter some of the effects of climate change. Hopefully, the subject will remain front and centre in future development planning.