Water crisis, impacts and management in pakistan
Dancing around the fire is not the solution to any problem. One should try to see beneath the surface in order and to grasp an idea about the basic issue. Despite a stream of strong words and announcements made by the previous governments of Pakistan, nothing has been done properly in order to counter the water crisis in the country. Rather the situation has taken a quantum leap for the worse.
Water is a source of life but unfortunately, Pakistan is in the grip of its scarcity, which has disturbed the whole national life. The aggravating crisis is gnawing at the public mind and, regrettably, it has considerably contributed towards straining national harmony and there are no signs of tiding over this grim situation.
With the gradual depletion of water resources, the precarious situation is further embittered by the shortage of rainfall which is so essential for the agriculture sector. This deteriorating state has accentuated the feelings of deprivation among the smaller provinces. Exploiting the situation the hard liners in the areas have embarked on lashing Punjab with a heavy stick for its alleged neglect in resolving the share of water and usurping their share.
Pakistan, according to experts, is going through the worst water shortage of history. The current drought in Sindh and Baluchistan has shattered the economy as well as agriculture of the country. Back in fifties, Quetta was considered Pakistan’s prime orchard, which provided fruit for the country and for export as well. However now many growi9ng areas are in critical situation, threatened by over use of ground water and natural droughts.
The alarming drop in water level has also led to a serious shortfall in hydal power. And these are genuine apprehensions if the situation lingers on for sometime more, the energy crisis would deepen as soon as the water level goes further down in Mangla and Tarbela.
Water shortage has badly affected the agricultural sector of Pakistan which heavily depends on agro based economy. The agricultural lands of the Punjab and Sindh, mostly depend on canal water irrigation because in some areas underground water is brackish. Present water crisis, if allowed to continue, would reduce the production of wheat, rice and sugarcane etc. Briefly water crisis in the country has spread deep concern. The shortage is threatening to create famine like condition across Pakistan.
Water scarcity produces a complex web of impacts that spans many sectors of the economy and reaches well beyond the area experiencing physical drought. Pakistan has been caught in the same on the whole national life of the country.
The direct impacts of water crises in Pakistan have reduced crop, range land, forest productivity and water level. On the other hand, it has increased livestock, wildlife and human beings mortality rates and damaged the wildlife and fish habitats. Direct or primary impacts becomes so diffuse that it’s very difficult to come up with financial estimates of damages.
There are also some social impacts of water crisis in Pakistan, which have mainly involved public safety, health problems, and conflicts between the provinces over water usage. It has also reduced the quality of life.
Environmental losses in Pakistan are the result of damages to plant and animal species, wildlife, air and water quality, degradation of landscape quality, the loss of biodiversity and the social erosion, caused by the drought.
The demography of Pakistan has also changed due to migration of affected population to the already over populated cities. It may increase pressure on the social infrastructure of the country which may enhance poverty, social unrest and ethnicity.
The genesis of the issue is a fact universally acknowledged that water crisis is the national concomitant of our own making. We were fully conscious of the fact that our salvation lay only in building dams, but we conveniently glossed over the problem and remained totally oblivious of the dire consequences. All our past governments continued lasting on the strings of building the Kalabagh Dam, but succumbing to the pressure of vested interests, the issue was each time shelved. In case of our inability to withstand pressure conserving building of Kalabagh, alternately, we could have focused our attention on construction of smaller dams. We did not do the either. Hence the present catastrophe!
World wide experience with governments developing and allocating scarce resources have been a failure, as demonstrated by the Soviet Union’s collapse. Similarly government control of water in Pakistan, as in most counties, has been ineffective at allocating water to where it is most needed. Neither has it succeeded in ensuring the cost effective design, construction and drainage infrastructure nor in preventing soil salinity and environmental degradation.
Mismanagement in production and delivery of this valuable resource has compounded the problem. Many public investments in irrigation and drainage were inappropriately designed, expensively constructed and a re being poorly operated and maintained which has resulted in a severe water crisis in the country.
The general behavior of the masses towards water as to take it a free commodity is one of the main causes about its wastage. They do not care I for wasting billions of gallons of water, daily without using it.
The historical background of the issue irradiates that at the time of partition of sub continent when the province of the Punjab was divided into two parts i.e. the Western Punjab and the Eastern Punjab, the former was linked with Pakistan and the latter remained with India, it gave rise to a serious dispute about the distribution of water between the two states. The two main rivers Ravi and Sutlej along with their respective headworks of Madhopur and Ferozpur were in East Punjab. India claimed tht it had complete right over these rivers as they originated from Indian territory and their respective headworks were in India. While Pakistan claimed that under the international law it had a right, to the water of Rivers Ravi and Sutlej as its economy was dependent on it. India proposed that a joint commission be set up in which outstanding questions could be resolved. The Pakistani government insisted for the dispute to be settled legally by the international court of justice. Moreover the dispute was related to the Kashmir question, as other three rivers flowed into Pakistan from Indian held Kashmir, namely, the Indus, Jhelum and the Chenab. Pakistan faced such critical situation as it could not refer the dispute over rivers to the arbitral tribune which was established but eh British grown to settle the issues arising between Pakistan and India at the time of partition.
Later on the water dispute was resolved through a treaty, named “Indus Water Treaty” in 1960 with the mediation of the World Bank. Through which Pakistan succeeded in managing the scarcity of water by building alternatives i.e. various barrages, link canals and huge dams likes Terbella and Mangla but at the same time it was deprived off from its official right over three rivers; Ravi , Sutlej and Beas, as the were given to India and Pakistan was given its full right over the other three rivers i.e. Indus, Jhelum and the Chenab. The main gain for Pakistan at the time, was that India could not legally interfere with the water coming through the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab.
Pakistan designed and built Mangla Dam on river Jhelum, keeping in view the assurances made by India in “Indus water Treaty”. But India backed out of its promises and assurances and started constructing a barrage named “Wullar Barrage” on the same river i.e Jhelum in its occupied valley of Kashmir. Pakistan protested against the construction of the barrage and argued that it was not only against the provisions of the Indus Water Treaty but also had serious ramifications for its economy. India claimed that the project would only regulate water flow in the river Jhelum and was beneficial to the hydro electric power projects down stream in both sides of the valley. After several rounds of talks between both the parties, an agreement was drafted on the dispute, which would allow India to build the Barrage but under specified conditions regarding the quantum of water to be resorted and released. As a matter of fact by constructing the barrage, India gained control over the water of river Jhelum, releasing or withholding it at will depriving Pakistan from a huge quantity of water legally belonging to it. Due to the construction of the barrage the silt in the Mangla Dam has increased and the life span and the agriculture sector of Pakistan.
No doubt all the barrages, dams and canals played a vital role in the agricultural sector, but at the same time it has proved itself a severe danger for the soil fertilization, causing water logging and salinity due to natural percolation of water from the banks of the canals.
Moreover a huge amount of water is wasted through percolation which itself has caused scarcity of water in its availability for agricultural lands.
The population of Pakistan, which has increased up to a level where exists a vast gulf between the consumers and the available resources. As more population requires per person more amount of between increasing population and decreasing water quantity.
On the other hand the government of Pakistan did a little to over come and to manage the existing and the coming severe scarcity of water which has resulted in the form of drought in many parts of the country.
However the Water accord of 1991, among all the provinces of Pakistan holds much importance in the history of Pakistan. As prior to this accord water was distributed amongst the four provinces on ad hoc basis on year to year. The interim arrangements were neither based on coherent policies nor consistent regulation practices and did not take into account optional harassing of widely fluctuating river flows and future regulate the distribution and redress provincial grievances.
After the singing of this historic accord and by establishing regulatory institution named “Indus River System Authority”, the distribution of water was started according to demand as per indents from the provinces. The authority has played a vital role in the prevailing situation of natural drought and depleted storage of water in the dams. It has acted with high professionalism and has managed the distribution affairs skillfully.
Keeping in view the prevailing critical situation regarding water crisis in the country, the present military regime has succeeded in launching its “2025 Vision Progrmme” which is a bold step towards a better management. It is a mega plan for water resources and hydro water development. The objects of the plan are to bail out the country form water crises, to relish the decrease in capacity of existing reservoir and to develop maximum possible water reservoir for the agri sector. The programme mainly involves the projects of ‘Gomal Zam Dam, Greater Thal Canal, Chasma Right Bank Canal, Quetta water Project, Katchi Canal, Reini Canal and to raise the height of Mngla Dam, which are proposed to build in various parts of the country. The plan is real effort to overcome water shortage as well to minimize the sense of deprivation among the provinces, to strengthen the federation and to remove provincial disharmony.
Water being a valuable basic ingredient, it needs to be saved at all cost for the survival of human and animal life. No doubt, it is our sacred duty to do so.
To overcome the existing water crises, proper use of water in agricultural sector is needed which requires fresh water but a huge amount of water is wasted before reaching the crop.
The total availability of water irrigation can be increased by building water reservoirs and tapping the ground potential and better management, which aims at reducing the transit or conveyance losses and promoting improved agronomical practices on the farm.
It is also proposed that form the water flowing out to the sea of which a substantial quantity can be sorted through building dam of wastage of water from canal through percolation can be saved by lining them.
The increasing problem of availability of pure drinking water can be handled by drilling more and more tube wells in the rural areas especially in Thar and Balochistan. Moreover inexpensive drinking water can be obtained in coastal areas by installing low cost water treatment plants that use solar energy for the desalination of sea water the treated water can be supplied to coastal areas by pumping stations. The process not only ensures the availability of abundant clean drinking water, but also provides employment to the locals. The salt obtained from this process can be used in commercial and industrial applications.
The proposed Kalabagh Dam which is said to be guarantee of a prosperous Pakistan should be dealt without any regional and political bias. After safeguarding the national interest and protecting the reservation of the provinces it must be constructed.
So conceived in this way that the current scenario is however, much gloomier because of stagnating water availability. The very sustainability of agriculture appears to be jeopardized due to escalating water demand, limited water resources and environmental concerns. The solution of prevailing water scarcity requires national consensus over proposed projects and their implementation in letter and spirit. The politicians should stop meddling in the construction of new reservoir in greater interest of the country and its inhabitants as it is being done in other societies.
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Maleeha Iram (Friday, September 12, 2014)
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