Earth, revered as a blue planet, is believed to be the only planet in the entire solar system that constitutes life. This intriguing feature of life that our earth is capable of and what makes it unique and distinct from rest of its counter-parts- i.e other planets- is ascribed to its endowment of water reserves. Hence it is water that makes life possible here and act as its building block. Pakistan virtually being a small mini planet as it has been inhabiting and supporting lives of approximately 180 million cohorts of people having varying lifestyles, ambitions, demographics, languages and races now appears to be on the verge of losing its life fostering status as it is being stranded and terribly mired in a tortuous tangle of water crisis. While myriad of reasons ranging from internal to external and then environmental have been cited which are deemed to bring Pakistan’s water reserves from a state of once efficient to the dire state of alarmingly deficient levels, however an in-depth introspection of all these internal, external and environmental factors denude that they seem to have a common root or a symbiotic connection with multiple facets of National Unity.
Referring to a press released report crafted by World Bank contended “The availability of water in Pakistan since its independence has been reduced by 400% and it is expected to retrench further if immediate action is not taken for preserving existing water reservoirs”. The shrinkage of water at such pace has impaired almost every sector of the country as they have been heavily reliant upon it. This plight of water scarcity soon escalated in to crisis when it plunged down below the threshold limit of countries net water requirement.
As Pakistan’s political system has endured intermittent Military intervention, it is not able to reap the fruits of democracy that guarantees National Unity by strengthening and integrating its all federating units rather such occupation shattered its very foundation through excessive centralization and alienation of one or more federating units. The destabilization of democratic system and the imposition of dictatorial rules impeded any reform at policy, planning and implementation level that could have prevented water resources from the dead-end brink of crisis. The end result is the crisis of water that has now begun to threaten country’s national integrity as well as its energy, food and national security.
Pakistan being the fifth most populous country is now on its way to become the fourth most populated country of the world as its population has been rising at an annual rate of 2%. Whereas no other significant proactive and preventive arrangement has been undertaken by ruling elites to manage and oversee such massive influx of new comers in its social fabric, this population surge has aggravated the already neglected water sector by drawing more water from the depleting reservoirs besides crippling its natural recharge system. Due to the limited carrying capacity of the water reserves the country ended up in infringing its per capita availability of water to compensate the new comers. Moreover as no other water pricing mechanism and its effective regulatory and management system has been put in place to conserve and recycle the available water, this valuable reserve becomes wasted bringing pollution, diseases and disasters hence adding more problems to already swarming country’s problem cart. However this picture of gloom could have been the glimpse of opportunities if a holistic approach was adopted through building consensus, coordination and political will that would subsequently target the palpable and subtle factors will be presumed to be the primary causes of water crisis. Unfortunately no progress was able to make it possible owing to the lack of unanimity of national and provincial political elite at legislative and executive tiers that could have open the eyes of the bureaucratic and governance machinery from its deep slumbers and draw their immediate intervention to introduce, develop and enforce strategies that would have stymied water from teetering in to crisis through managing its abruptly grown population and advanced policy initiatives to curb water pollution and recycle water for its main water national grid alongside increasing its grid capacity to ensure its maximum storage for preventing any natural or foreign incurred disasters such as flood.
The International monetary fund has ranked Pakistan’s economy as one of the most water stressed economy of the world owing to its high water consumption per capita of GDP output. While Pakistan’s land constitutes vast proportion of arable land, its geographical location at the temperate zone makes that arable land arid or semi-arid land leaving it substantially dependent upon either monsoon rain system or irrigation channels that supplies water from natural river streams to the agricultural areas. Another bane of water crisis emanates from the deterioration or personified manipulation of the afore mentioned arrangement that not only will provide water to our system but is also meant to store, maintain and supply that water to their required destination producing the necessary agri-output to ensure our food security and support our economy. As Pakistan agricultural research council in its research gazette highlighted Pakistan’s agriculture sector potential which not only contributes 22% of its net GDP and but also accommodates 41% of its human resource (labour force) besides leveraging a lion’s share in its total exports, yet it further lamented the global environmental changes as evident in our changing monsoon pattern and increasing frequency and intensification of climatic events reflected in the form of drought, flood and hurricanes in conjunction with our resultant failure to reinforce policies of adaptation and mitigation strategies have severely affected the entire agriculture sector as our outdated water infrastructure and management system is not capable enough to adjust itself with the encompassing changes. This dismal situation has added future dimensions to water crisis when state adopted indifferent attitude and did not launch any substantial corrective measures that could have attenuated the twilight situation and strengthened its system capacity to increase its water security against the backdrop of these vagaries.
The element of national unity is an undeniable factor that led to such state apathy towards water crisis as it was not able to muster sufficient political support and will from all the stakeholders involved ranging from political parties to civil society and landlords having stakes and interest in the given arrangement. The perpetual state of denial and political impasse strangulated much needed following substantive reforms such as overhauling the whole water regulatory managemental and institutional framework; Documenting and taxing agriculture sector; Incorporating internationally recognized adaptation and mitigation techniques to conserve water; Revamping the existing irrigation network by strengthening its enclosing embankments, dykes and increasing its channel capacity by removing accrued silt deposits; Introduction of spate irrigation techniques that store flood water as a backup to be used in dry season; and promoting crop per drop techniques that lowers water consumption, increase crop productivity and provide crop varieties which are not only resistant to heat shocks but also less prone to pest and weeds.
The renowned Diplomat Muneer Akram in his editorial once remarked that Asia is home to 60% percent of the world population and it generates 2/3 of the world output, it would be a centre of geopolitics and focal of power as Europe was 200 years ago. Moreover he predicted that as Asian development bank has regarded South Asia as the most water stressed region of the world, the world is more likely to witness conflicts among South Asian states in their quest for capturing maximum share of water from the floundering water reservoirs.
The long-stalled dispute and three intermittent wars between Pakistan and India over Kashmir owing to its geostrategic location as it contains water main hydrants besides being the main conduit from where the water goes to elsewhere including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and to some parts of Afghanistan, also manifest the potential of water to trigger any future conflict between regional states. Moreover if any war or conflict occurred, it would be more deadly and costly from the previous ones as South Asian states have now equipped themselves with nuclear weapons and missiles. Adding insult to the injury, this tumultuous situation has been more compounded by the devastating effects of climate change which is affecting the entire region’s topography, reliefs and eco system as the region is home to two major states India and China which are the world dominant emitters of carbon today. The routine violation of Indus water treaty on part of India either by choking or flooding western water streams that is the primary water source of Pakistan either- through construction of Kishanganga Dam and Tulbul Navigation project or by releasing more water in to it during monsoon seasons without any prior warming and notification- also lends credence to the lingering spectre of any future conventional war over water in the years to come.
India’s Machiavellian designs to secure Indus river basin by using water as a non-conventional weapon-tool against Pakistan have been facilitated by our own imprudent, irrational and politically expedient policies. Given western river stream cardinal role in sustaining our food, maintaining food and agri output , ensuring production of cheap electricity and by providing the necessary amount of water to keep the every small and large industrial engine mobile and flip our failure to install adequate arrangement and develop national responses at domestic and foreign level to fortify our national security that could thwart such Indian subversive activities providing another leverage to India in its vicious plot to overwhelm Pakistan by dint of such non-military or non-kinetic means.
While identifying domestic and foreign reciprocated measures which could serve as a pragmatic recourse. At Domestic level: Revamping and expanding our existing water physical infrastructure by increasing our reservoirs’ capacity and building more small and medium size reservoirs to cope with the problem of water overflows allegedly released by India during monsoon season; Resolve Inter-provincial disputes pertaining to sharing of water and dams such as Kalabagh; Revive, Autonomies and de-politicize regulatory body, IRSA, besides according each federating unit due representation in its entire policy, planning and decision making processes; Maintain Transparency and fairness in all ongoing water related projects i.e Neelum-jhelum project and Diamer-Bhahsa dam project besides ensuring its scheduled completion; Promote water conservation culture through public, private and civil society participation and by incentivizing modern methods and technologies which conserve water or in any way lowers water consumption in the given process either of domestic, agricultural or industrial nature. At foreign level: To secure international support against India for resolving the Kashmir dispute through robust and offensive diplomatic campaign; Build National consensus over water related issues to showcase a clear, coherent and congruent unanimous posture to India against its water aggression doctrines and grave violations of internationally recognized Indus water treaty; Expose India’s hegemonic policies of deteriorating the entire Indus river basin’s natural flow system by developing artificial diversion canals and other navigation channels which is a breach of international law besides maintaining that such belligerent attitude towards its immediate neighbours is threatening regional peace and security and would lead to war if arbitrary intervention is not made by the International community and its immediate offices i.e United nations, World Bank and International court of Justice These domestic and external reciprocal approaches however failed to contextualize and instead perversely aggravated the very crisis as state as a whole ignored the seminal role of national integrity in the pursuance of all aforementioned strategies coupled with its unwillingness to forge national integrity which could have brought all the federating units together to unify on such national agenda adopted for said purposes. Moreover if national unity was first inculcated in all such matters of interest it would have facilitated the state not only in its attempt to develop policies but also assisted the state in the implementation of that policy requiring particular course of action and appropriate contribution from every state stakeholders entailing provinces, civil-society and corporate sector for fruition. Nevertheless the fact, 18th constitutional amendment has resituated the federal and parliamentary status of Pakistan through power devolution and Provincial autonomy consolidation however ill treatment and non-utilization of Council of common interest forum by all federating units for the resolution of sub-national disputes specifically with respect to water and its associated sectors indicates the interdependent nexus of water crisis with the national unity.
The Pakistani nation has been enduring through tough times. It has been mired in a dire dilemma of water crisis. As popular idioms says “every crowd has a silver lining” implies that with every difficult situation there must always exist a way-out too. In national unity lies our way-out plan; because annals of Nations History revealed that whenever any nation had been confronted with existential crisis its ultimate strength had always been a demonstration of national integrity and integration in the face of such crisis. It has been widely suggested that future wars would be fought over waters even though our dysfunctional and timorous attitude towards the containment of water crisis is very dismal but it should spur us to take action besides motivating our state-ship to adjust its sails with the prevailing storm.
Byline: Hasham Khan
December 26, 2016