Water is a vital amenity and a major source for sustainable development of any economy. In Pakistan, the debate on water and water resource management continues to evolve.
Being an agro-based economy, steady supply and efficient management of water resources in Pakistan is critical for sustainable economic development in the midst of a growing population, increasing urbanisation and rapid industrialisation, all at the same time.
Currently, Pakistan has a limited supply of water. An increasing population has put a strain on the reservoirs. This limited supply is further threatened by climate change and global warming. Pakistan heavily relies on River Indus and its five tributaries of Kabul, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi and Sutlej for water supply – roughly accounting for over 140 million acre-feet of river inflows – and seven main reservoirs: the Tarbela, Mangla, Hub, Tanda, Khanpur, Warsak and Rawal. While we rely only on the Indus River Basin, China relies on nine major river basins, all of which accommodate more than 1,500 rivers and 85,000 reservoirs.
Of course, it would not be fair to compare China’s reservoirs to Pakistan’s, since the former is one of the world’s largest countries. However, this comparison puts into perspective how much Pakistan can learn and benefit from China’s rich experience in water resource management and development. Thus, it is essential that Pakistan comes up with measures for better and sustainable water resources, whether it entails finding alternative resources or efficiently managing the existing ones, by collaborating with China under CPEC.
Pakistan is already collaborating with China in key areas, such as water resource utilisation, conservation and production under CPEC’s Long-Term Plan. CPEC will also promote the construction of water-saving modern agricultural zones; strengthen drip irrigation technology for water efficiency; and improve water resource operation and management as well as Pakistan’s capacity to coordinate the planning of water resources development, utilisation, conservation, protection, and also disaster relief.
China, like many other countries in the world, also faces the challenge of sufficiently managing water resources to meet the demands of its rapid urbanisation and industrial growth, together with a huge population. Since the early 1980s, when China opened up its economy to global markets, it has been developing water conservation, protection and water resource management measures, which have been greatly assisting its economic and social development. However, due to a growing population and increasing development, China had to face water shortages in some parts of the country, with pollution in industrial hubs and surrounding areas increasing.
To address these challenges, China’s government set up a roadmap in 2011. This roadmap consisted of strategies and targets to implement stringent water resource management techniques. But most importantly, it included setting up ‘three red lines’ – limits on total water consumption, water use efficiency and water pollution – based on three targets for the years 2015, 2020 and 2030.
By 2020, China will be among those countries that have a modern water resource management system, which fulfils the country’s policy and goal of building a healthy and prosperous society. This strategy has six main objectives, which can also be implemented in Pakistan to help manage its scarce water resources efficiently.
The first objective for China is to establish a strict water resource management system that includes monitoring and evaluation rules and regulations, and norms and technical standards. Similarly, a strict management system also entails rules and regulations on water allocation and governance systems that focus on the quality and distribution of water resources, along with licensing and environmental protection measures.
The second objective is to safeguard clean drinking water. This is especially important for Pakistan as there are many rural areas which still lack access to clean water. This results in illnesses and diseases, especially in the young population. With a system to ensure that high-quality drinking water is available for all urban and rural communities as well as for industries, Pakistan, like China, can move a step closer towards sustainable water resource management.
Establishing an effective water allocation and usage system is also one of the main objectives of China’s water resource management policy. By applying reasonable limits to the water consumption of industries, they have attempted to increase the supply of water for irrigation purposes, thereby increasing the efficiency of both the agriculture and industrial sector. Pakistan can also follow suit and limit the water consumption of the industrial sector to facilitate the stagnant agricultural sector.
Establishing a water resource protection mechanism is also important for Pakistan. This is what China is doing to ensure its water resource management policy is a success. Such a mechanism monitors and ensures that the over-exploitation of water resources does not take place. An example could be the over-exploitation of groundwater by people, which, if excessively done, can deplete underground aquifers. This protection mechanism will also ensure that those rivers in China that have been affected by aquatic ecological degradation can also be recovered to their full potential.
China is also on track to establish a secure system of water governance by 2020. This will entail managing river basins through a government-designated administration that will coordinate and look after concerns such as waterlogging, floods, drainage, polluted water treatments and recycling. China is also working to build institutions for water resource management. These will focus on researching and devising water resource management techniques through the application of science and modern technology.
This new approach and policy of China places emphasis on sustainable development, a coordinated systems approach to water management, accountability and clear responsibilities for all water users, and those managing and monitoring the resources. Pakistan should capitalise on the knowledge and experience of its all-weather friend on how to successfully manage water resources to meet the increasing demand of the country.
Thanks to CPEC, there are now multiple avenues for public as well as private-sector collaboration with China vis-a-vis knowledge and skill-sharing when it comes to water management techniques and measures. Just like the two countries have built a consortium of business schools, a similar consortium or collaboration between institutes can take place with a focus on innovative techniques to manage water resources and overcome the challenges of climate change and water pollution.
In Taoism, water represents wisdom and intelligence. But it has a multifaceted nature, whereby it can give life yet also destroy life when it wields great powers in floods. Therefore, water is a resource that should not be taken for granted, especially for an agriculture-based economy like ours that heavily depends on water.
In order to successfully develop a sustainable economy, Pakistan also needs to come up with a sustainable water resource management system to overcome its challenges and prepare for the shortcomings of the future. As the famous Chinese proverb goes, “water spilled can never be retrieved”.
The writer is a civil servant and project management specialist.
He teaches project management in various universities.