The people responsible for ensuring governance are fighting on meaningless issues completely ignoring that Pakistan is in the severe grip of water scarcity. When Pakistan achieved independence in 1947, it was affluent in water. It had 5,000 cubic meters per capita renewable water that is now down to 1,000 cubic meters per capita and population boom is a major contributing factor in acute lessening of water availability. But there are others factors responsible for the crisis including out dated irrigation system. In a country where 90 per cent water in used in irrigation of crops , the agricultural sector is totally oblivions or willfully neglectful of the huge amount of water used to grow sugar for 84 sugar mills whereas sugar is cheaper to buy from the international market than growing it in the country. They do not realise that life sustaining staples, wheat and rice also are water intensive but the country needs them and not sugar cane.
Many water scarce countries have opted for better water management systems like sprinkler systems and drip irrigation system whereas agriculturists in Pakistan use the method of flooding the crops. Water leading to areas of irrigation from rivers lack lining that in turn causes a loss of 40 per cent of water en route. Pakistan has also over decades not worked to increase its water reservoirs.
Pakistan is dependent for water from a single source: the Indus River basin. Indian building of hydroelectric power project at Sawalkot can only cause further water stress to Pakistan. The project of Sawalkot is on the Chenab River in the India-held Jammu and Kashmir. The article III of the Indus Water Treaty binds India not to hinder the flow of the western rivers, i.e. Indus, Jhelum and Chenab to Pakistan and India cannot store any water or construct any storage works on the above cited rivers. Pakistan is authorised to get flood surplus of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej that is released in case of excessive rains helping in recharging Pakistan’s ground waters levels but that too will cease after the second Ravi-Beas Link is made.
Today while Pakistani governance sector is fighting amongst themselves, India has started works on the; Pakal Dul 1,000MW, Kiru 600MW,Karwar 520 MW, Baglihar (eventual 900MW),Sawalkot 1,200MW (two 600mw units), Salal 390 MW, Sewa-II 120 MW, and finally the Bursur project on the Marusudar river, which, is a major tributary of Chenab river. Here India intends to build a massive water storage dam which will control and regulate the flow to maintain levels of Pakal Dul, Dul Hasti, Rattle, Baglihar, Sawalkot and Salal Hydro-projects, on the Chenab.
Climate change is another factor contributing to decline of water provision as glaciers of the Hindu Kush-Karakorum-Himalaya mountains are lost and do not flow into the Indus Water basin. This decline has to be balanced against an increase in water demand owing to hotter season. Water will evaporate quicker leading to increasing water demand by irrigation sector. This will be coupled with decreased levels of soil moisture. Pakistan’s thermal sector is responsible for roughly 60 to 65 per cent of energy provision. Thermal energy depends largely on streams and their cooling. As higher air temperatures decrease the efficiency of the thermal conversion process greater volumes of water will be required by this sector to maintain production levels. Diminished water levels can lead to greater difficulty in clean drinking water to the populace in quantity.
Water quality is yet another issue. According to a recent research more than 50 million people across Pakistan are in danger of poisoning from contaminated water containing high levels of arsenic. The study was conducted on samples from 12,000 wells across the country.
The flow of water varies widely in summers and winters: 84 per cent in summer with a mere 16 per cent in winter. According to the report, with a Kharif to Rabi ratio of two to one, the seasonal needs were about 66 per cent in summer and 34 per cent in winter, showing surpluses of 18 per cent in summer and shortages of 18 per cent in winter. Also, due of a high degree of groundwater mining poses a high risk to the wells running dry. The flow of surplus water in summers causes floods causing damage to crops and harms to the economy in totality.
Water is back bone of Pakistan yet the role of regional politics cannot be ignored in aggravating Pakistan’s water woes as the relationship dynamic with India determines the flow in the western rivers since the source lies in disputed territory of Kashmir and as a corollary, has implications for internal politics vis-à-vis distribution of water within the provinces. With the once mighty Indus delta now reduced to a mere canal, there is more cause to worry as the inland flow of sea water can render cultivable land unfit for cultivation and completely useless.
Unfortunately, Pakistani policy makers have not focused on this looming disaster and what is urgently needed is multifaceted water based policies dealing with a) conservation and storage of excess water in summers b) smart updated irrigation policy for water carriage, new methods and lining the path from the river to area of use c) new dams, many small ones d) a vigorous presence to deflect India’s steps at violation of Indus Treaty. TW