Tuesday August 09, 2022

Water council

By Editorial Board
October 16, 2018

While the state seems to have decided that building large dams is the only solution to our water crisis, there has been remarkably little discussion about the problems in water distribution and pricing. The National Water Council, set up by the previous government earlier this year, was meant to be the forum for this discussion. The four chief ministers, relevant federal officials and private sector experts were empowered to sort out problems on the national and provincial levels. Now, after many months of inaction, the PTI government has decided to call the first meeting of the National Water Council later this month. There will be much for the council to discuss. Sindh, in particular, is likely to raise concerns about the construction of large dams as it is worried that it will lead to a greater diversion of water to Punjab and reduce the flow of water from the Indus to the Arabian Sea. Sindh has also repeatedly requested an amendment to the water-sharing formula and for Karachi to be given a larger share because of the city’s expanded population. The other provinces have resisted this but in light of last year’s census there is definitely a need for the formula to be updated.

The National Water Council will be most suited to changing how scarce water resources are allocated not only between provinces but also within the agricultural sector. Irrigation is by far the largest use of water and its distribution is done inefficiently. Water is given on the basis of land size rather than taking into account the different needs of various crops. Those who have large agricultural holdings are disproportionately influential in politics and so have thwarted any attempt at reform. The National Water Council needs to put parochial interests aside to stave off what could become a national security crisis. As the ravages of global warming take their toll and India further reduces the water we receive by building more dams, water could end up being the cause of our next war. We need to get smart about how much water we consume and the ways in which it is used before it is too late. Many have correctly diagnosed the bleak future that lies ahead of us but the treatment they have recommended does not have the support of scientists and experts in the field. When the National Water Council finally meets, it needs to move beyond faddish solutions and come up with lasting reforms that will stand the test of time.