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Water Economics | Editorial

PAKISTAN is getting very poor economic returns from its large water resources, and when we add in the costs of environmental degradation due to misuse of water, the returns are pushed even further down. This is the finding of a new World Bank report Pakistan: Getting More from Water that takes a close look at the country’s water endowment, and how well the water is used for productive purposes. Some of the findings are so counter-intuitive as to merit a more spirited debate. For example, the authors say that irrigation, which consumes the lion’s share of total water resources, only contributes $22bn to the annual GDP. The four major crops — cotton, wheat, sugarcane and rice — consume 80pc of the water in the system, while they generate less than 5pc of the total GDP. This is a startling perspective because laypersons are used to thinking of Pakistan as an agrarian country, and the gross asymmetry in the water allocations between industry and agriculture, as well as city and country, is almost considered normal under the shadow of this assumption.

The figures point to massive waste as the primary problem in the water sector of Pakistan, not quantity. Proponents of the argument that dams are the only solution to our water woes need to reflect on some of the findings of the report. The amount of water that goes into the cultivation of major crops is far out of proportion to what is needed. Wasteful practices such as flood irrigation will remain in place so long as our water conversation continues to be dominated by the talk of dams. The simple fact brought out by the report is that improvements in water utilisation can do far more to ensure the water security of future generations than any number of dams will. Besides waste, the other main cost that poor utilisation practices impose upon society is through environmental degradation, a fact that is unfortunately absent altogether from the country’s water conversation. This degradation is made possible by the poor state of water data and monitoring, the authors note. One is reminded of the sorry end that the telemetry system installed in the early 2000s met with; it was supposed to measure the streamflow down to the watercourse level. Without data and monitoring, and a woefully outdated pricing regime, Pakistan’s water security will remain on shaky foundations regardless of how many dams the country builds.

Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2019

Source: https://www.dawn.com/news/1460708/water-economics

January 30, 2019
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