For Prime Minister Imran Khan to devote his second television address to the nation to ask for donation from overseas Pakistanis to the fund for the construction of dams shows a worrying naiveté both about the water crisis in the country and how government is meant to operate. The fund has so far received donations of nearly two billion rupees – which is only about one percent of the total amount required to complete the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams. No matter how successful the prime minister’s appeal is, this effort in crowd-funding is never going to be able to reach the target. What is even more worrying is that there appears to be no planning for how the dams are going to be constructed. The government needs to start purchasing land and begin work according to a set budget. Contractors have to be chosen through a competitive bidding process and paid accordingly. This can only be done once the funds are available; but by relying on what is essentially a charity appeal the government will not be able to plan in advance. If the government does not want to rely on outside loans to begin work on these projects, it needs to follow the usual procedure of raising revenue through taxation. Improving revenue collection requires hard work and relying on publicity schemes like the dam fund will only obscure the government’s inability to collect the taxes it is owed.
The prime minister’s address to the nation elided over the fact that mega dams are not the solution to Pakistan’s water crisis. What we need is improvements to delivery mechanisms and smarter use of existing water resources rather than dams that will need the forced relocation of thousands of people and cause major environmental problems. Agriculture is the largest consumer of water and right now water is allocated on the basis of land rather than need. This means that land which is being used for the cultivation of crops that are not water-intensive will still be allocated more water than for crops which require greater use of water. The government needs to ensure that existing water resources are not polluted and work to end corruption in the water sector. Water is routinely diverted for use by the powerful, be it for large landowners in rural areas or by the tanker mafia in major cities. The government should be looking to devise a water policy that tackles these existing problems rather than touting pie-in-the-sky solutions like the dam fund.