WEB DESK: Last week my friend Zafar Mahmood suddenly resigned on “personal grounds” as Chairman of Wapda.
Over the last few months, he was on a one-man crusade to inform the people of Pakistan about the vast treasure buried in their soil, toil, flora and fauna of Pakistan and how this treasure could be exploited for the benefit of the poverty-stricken people of Pakistan.
He had written a few dozen articles on the Indus River Basin and the development of Pakistan’s water economy comprising the wonderful interaction of land, water and the people of Pakistan. But this noble effort was not acceptable to the leadership of Pakistan.
First my friend Khursheed Ahmad Shah, leader of the opposition in National Assembly, blasted him for his ‘blasphemous’ utterances and then Mian Raza Rabbani the illustrious chairman of the Senate castigated him for endangering the integration of federation. It seems the government was also not amused by his insanity and the only honourable thing left for him was to resign.
He has plausibly argued that nature has gifted Pakistan one of the world’s largest River basin systems comprising the Indus and its tributaries. Every year, in a perpetual cycle of highs and lows, this system provides around 150 million acre feet (maf) of water that hurtles down a gradient of 25,000 feet from the mountain peaks down to the plains packing more power than the Greek gods.
Eighty percent of these flows materialise in three summer months when glacier melt and monsoons combine in a ferocious display of might. During the high cycle years, it unleashes a path of watery death and destruction primarily hitting the poor and their children in their mud huts.
During the lows it spreads death and destruction through famine and droughts again disproportionately hitting the poor and the destitute. Bringing the river under control can convert this cycle of death and destruction into a virtuous cycle of development and prosperity for the poor.
In any arid region of the world similar in nature to Pakistan, like California or the agricultural heartland of Australia, the 150maf of water would translate into an agricultural output of around $300 billion. If the multiplier effect on rest of the economy is taken into account the value-added would cross the one trillion dollar mark. In contrast, however, Pakistan ekes out a paltry agriculture GDP of $50 billion in a total economy of $275 billion.
The basic requirement for a high performing super system of production requires storage of the water flows to dampen the seasonal and cyclical nature of river flows. California has 900 days of storage, Australia averages 900 days and even the Nile has 900 days of storage. We have less than 30 days of storage or only 7% of the flows. As a corollary, of the 100000MW of potential power embedded in the river flows we are only tapping 6500MW or less than 7% of the potential. David Grey, the eminent water expert at Oxford University, postulates that every developed country started by fully utilising its water economy potential as a catalyst for its subsequent economic growth and development.
Starting in 1947 Pakistan’s policymakers have been on a twin quest of national security and national prosperity through our foreign and economic policy. Securing Pakistan against a very large hostile neighbour and ensuring a reasonable level of prosperity for the teaming millions in a poverty-ridden Pakistan has been the perennial narrative of our establishment and political elites.
For security, Pakistan became the most allied of all allies of the United States through membership in the SEATO and the CENTO alliances. As part of allying ourselves we tried to become the first Korea of the fifties and the sixties, simultaneously achieving both national security and national prosperity.
The Harvard group was sitting in Pakistan’s planning commission devising its economic strategy around the twin pillars of agriculture and industrialisation. This was critical as without the underpinning of a strong economy the role as a key frontline state was not possible. So while the West could finance the building up of the military might of Pakistan sustaining it and ushering in prosperity for the people required a rapidly growing economy.
Initially, the model worked well. Pakistan was able to build a strong army, coupled with a fast growing economy. Pakistan became a role model for western oriented countries. In the agricultural sector particularly it had spectacular success. it was able to conclude the Indus Basin Water Treaty with India, build two large dams, that provided critical water storage capacity for its farm lands, expand its irrigation networks to new virgin lands, establish world class networks of outstanding agricultural research institutions and usher in a green revolution that bought food security and prosperity to the nation. Furthermore, the dams provided the dividend of cheap hydro power for industrialisation.
The unravelling of the economic miracle started with the ill-advised 1965 war with India that ultimately led to the break-up of Pakistan in 1971. Post-break-up, economic policy was turned upside down with nationalisation of many private banks and industries.
Worst of all, the water economy that had performed so well in the past came to a grinding halt. The consensus on water projects broke down and Kalabagh dam that was to be built after the completion of Tarbela dam in 1976; became politicised and subsequently three provincial assemblies voted against its construction.
Since then Pakistan has gone through many changes. We have gone from sanctions imposed by our allies after defeat of the Soviet Union, to 9/11 and subsequent enlistment as a non-Nato military ally to the current launching of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
We have tried nationalisation, denationalisation, privatization, liberalisation and deregulation. We have tried dictatorship followed by democracy, followed by martial law and democracy again. We have gone from a planned capitalism, to crony socialism to crony capitalism and Islamization without much success.
During these forty years of monumental change one thing we have steadfastly refused to entertain is the thought of restarting the water economy derailed since 1976. This refusal has now come home to roost. The economy has run out of steam. We have accumulated trillions in public debt including $70 billion in external debt. Gone through several IMF programs and structural reforms but nothing seems to work on a sustainable basis.
The mammoth scale of our people’s deprivation has been deeply entrenched and If the remittance boom in Pakistan had not occurred, Pakistan’s poverty and hunger levels would have been even greater. With hindsight it is evident that our myopic leadership has been instrumental in depriving our people from fully utilising their water resources and in the process have condemned them to a life of poverty and hunger. The International Fund for Agriculture Development website description of Pakistan’s rural poverty aptly portrays the situation.
“Pakistan ranks 146th out of 187 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s 2013 Human Development Index – a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living for countries world-wide. And poverty in Pakistan is predominantly a rural problem.
While rural people make up two-thirds of the population, they account for 80 per cent of the country’s poor people. Agriculture is at the heart of the rural economy and accounts for roughly one fifth of the economy. Most of the land is arid, semi-arid or rugged, and not easily cultivated. Water resources are scarce in most of the country, and finding water for irrigation is a critical challenge for the agriculture sector – particularly in remote areas.”
We could have easily avoided this situation. Our national and regional leaders have been truly guilty of a major criminal breach of trust with the people of Pakistan in general and particularly the people who are under perpetual threat of destruction from floods and those who are perpetually poor in the water deprived districts of eastern Sindh, southern Punjab, southern KP and eastern Balochistan. Does anybody care?
Source: Business Recorder