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Aggravating Water Crisis | Ali Ashraf Khan

AMONG the many problems that Pakistanis are suffering from is water shortage that has been mainly man made. The water issue was still a minor headache during the Kashmir war with India in 1948. Then within 15 years International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) thrust on Pakistan the Indus Basin Treaty under which three out of five rivers of the Punjab were sold to India; one has never ever heard before that nature’s gift like rivers, air and sunlight can be monopolised or usurped by strength or sold like cattle. But this was done by our visionless and spineless leaders who continue to compromise on vital national interests including water resources which India is further diverting by construction of Kishan Ganga dam and others reservoirs in total violation of the IBP Treaty. For decades Pakistan has not been able to present its case against India in the Water Commission meetings as a result of negligence.

There is a scarcity of water for private consumers from the pipeline and many people especially those living in kachi abadis do not even have access to water from a pipeline. The majority of our citizens does not have access to clean drinking water and water coming from the pipeline is often unfit for consumption due to heavy contamination and industrial chemical and waste flowing through open drains in streets and towns. They say that if only the people of Pakistan could be provided with clean drinking water half of the health problems would cease to exist.

According to the Asian Development Bank Pakistan is already one of the most water-stressed countries in the world. This means only 1,000 cubic meters of water are available per person per year, which is approximately five times less than what was available at the country’s inception in 1947. By 2020, water availability will further reduce to less than five hundred cubic meters per capita per year, making Pakistan one of the worst water-scarce country in the world. The amount of water Pakistan has stored for emergency purposes only during last thirty days, compared to the international standard of 120 days and the recommended standard of 1,000 days for countries with similar climate. The reasons for this looming water scarcity that are quoted by international organisations are mainly population growth, and urbanisation.

The problem, however, is more complex. Pakistan’s water crisis has been exacerbated by other reasons such as climate change but even more than that by poor water management, wastage of water and a lack of political will to change the status quo. Nobody has realised the negative effects of not properly lining the linkcanals built under IBRD/ World Bank assistance that led to another crises of water logging, salinity and reclamation needs requiring loans and aid. Pakistan is an agrarian economy but without proper policy or planning bureaucratic corruption led to permission for bulk import of pesticides and other chemicals.

Those were then locally packed for marketing by adding water or other solvents that destroyed the soil and produce adversely and we became victim in the hands of corrupt mafia who are now ruling the roost and the nation is bleeding through its nose. Critics of the sitting PML (N) government are never tired of saying that this government is wasting money for their pet projects and is not giving priority to projects of basic necessities like water, health and education. In a recent media show the host quoted an example and said that for the Orange Line Train the PML-N government has been utilising funds earmarked for health, water and graveyards. But the situation in Karachi is even worse. Pipelines provide ever less water and citizens have to rely on water tankers for water. World Bank financed projects in 1980ies were reported to have been built on papers and millions of dollars misappropriated by vested interest groups who became industrialists and billionaire in this melee drama while the following K3 and K4 projects became redundant because of corrosion and contamination of pipeline network bringing water from the Halijhe and other lakes. The price for tankers have been sky rocketing so that many people are not able to afford it to buy water any more.

Out of the 145 water hydrants in Karachi, 129 are illegal. Pakistan’s ‘water mafia’ relies on these illegal hydrants and sells water at these extortionate rates. With the help of local politicians and officials, the mafia creates an artificial demand for water by cutting government and private supplies. But on the other hand, water is leaking from broken pipelines and is running down the street. Given this situation, there is a dire need to refocus the attention of the government and the administration to tackling the basic necessities of the population.

It is also only partially true that there is not enough water in Pakistan. Pakistan will just have to better organize itself and catch and utilize the water that is available. For instance, as a result of climate change Pakistan is experiencing torrential rains and flooding more often than in the past. That means that there is a need to make arrangements to catch and store the additional water that is coming down on us. Another major problem is the water management by dams. We mismanaged the construction of Tabela dam project, when the capacity of that reservoir was cut to half before it came into operation.

At that time we had only tapped 28% of our natural water resource and all following dams were politicised and a recourse to bring the culprits before the bar of justice not possible in the ongoing political dispensation. The construction of dams not only provide water but electricity as well, but instead of megaprojects that are made politically controversial like Kalabagh and others small local projects should be initiated that help the local water management especially in northern Pakistan and create power for local use.

Most of the water available go for irrigational purposes of our agricultural land. But it is a matter of fact that irrigation water charges recover less than a quarter of the annual operating and maintenance costs. On the whole, agriculture is largely untaxed — and yet more than 90pc of Pakistan’s water resources are allocated to that sector. Because a strong family treecomprising of politicians, bureaucrats and army has come closer with inter marriages that has created a ruling elite and masses are helpless like a flock of cattle.

This has to be changed which is not an easy task given the fact that most of the members of parliament are land holders themselves and as such interested in the perpetuation of the status quo. But still if an honest measure is taken to redeem this social discrimination we can, by charging more for water used in irrigation not only would consumers presumably use it more judiciously, but the government would also gain desperately needed revenue by bringing agriculture produce under the tax net. And this revenue would enable Pakistan to pay for badly needed repairs of the irrigational canals systems, dykes and pipelines.

It is high time to address these problems not waste money on projects that are politically opportune but otherwise ofsecondary importance if there is any importance for restoring good governance, which is corruption free so that all those billions of dollars flown out of Pakistan in last decade is retrieved back in the national coffer and culprits punished with iron hands. God Bless Pakistan and Humanity.

—The writer is a senior columnist based in Karachi.


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