WEB DESK: The federal government has started a much-needed consultative process to finalise its policy on the water security issue, putting Wapda in the lead role to hold discussions with all the stakeholders: provincial governments’ officials, experts and civil society representatives.
Speaking at the first session in Quetta, Wapda Chairman Zafar Mehmood expressed the hope that recommendations emerging out of such consultations would help develop an inter-provincial understanding for devising a national policy on water security. Considering the trust deficit among provinces that may be easier said than done.
Yet there is no time to be lost due to one reason or another for it is common knowledge that Pakistan is one of the world’s most water-stressed countries. With the passage of time, the problem is going to get more and more acute unless a well thought-out, coherent plan is put in place to deal with the impending threat.
While consumption by a rapidly growing population and increased agricultural and industrial activity has kept rising, over the years successive governments did little to build reservoirs and dams to prevent water wastage. The usual failure to respond to approaching challenges in a timely fashion has been one part of the problem, and the other is a single-minded focus, to the exclusion of all else, on the construction of the controversial Kalabagh Dam project.
Attempts to create a consensus among stakeholders on this mega dam thus far drew stiff resistance from KPK and Sindh. It could not, should not, have been constructed without their consent, but other possibilities to build a number of smaller dams too remained ignored. Progress has also been painfully slow on some medium-level dams already in the pipeline. This is hardly the way a water- stressed country should have been acting to protect its water resources.
To make a bad situation worse, climate change is threatening to damage and disrupt this agrarian economy. Environmental science has been warning of alternating cycles of floods and drought ultimately leading to severe water shortages. The signs are already evident in recurring floods during the recent years. It is about time the government adopts better management and conservation practices.
The key focus of the consultation process seems to be creating consensus on building the Kalabagh Dam. What may have come as an encouragement is the KPK government’s changed stance. Addressing a news conference last month, Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said that although he had serious reservations about the project, his government would have no objection to its construction provided the other provinces agreed to it. Sindh, of course, remains firmly opposed to it mainly because of lack of trust in the largest province, Punjab, vis-à-vis irrigation water-sharing issues.
Others in the province have concerns about reduced Indus water flows down Kotri which could result in sea water intrusion in the river, adversely impacting the region’s ecological balance. Hopefully, the consultation process will help assuage all such concerns. A related issue of no less importance is the Pak-India face-off on the Siachen Glacier which feeds the two countries’ river system.
Their militaries’ periodic exchange of ordnance and other activities threaten to set off – if that is not already happening – melting of this Himalayan glacier. It is imperative therefore that Pakistan raise the issue at the upcoming climate change conference in Paris. The international community needs to be urged to see the damage the confrontation is causing global climate and persuade India to demilitarise the glacier.