Scores lost their lives to raging waters that swept through hundreds of villages and livelihoods; and those who did survive, died, if not of diseases then of persistent hunger.
These events, consequent of massive floods, particularly in Sindh and Punjab, have become annual occurrences in Pakistan since 2010 – the causes for which stem from the successive governments’ absence of political will coupled with their “criminal misgovernance” of water.
Experts at a seminar titled “Water Governance in Pakistan”, organised by the US-Pakistan Centre for Advanced Studies in Water (US-PCASW) on Monday discussed various aspects plaguing water management in the country.
The US-PCASW is a joint venture of the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology (MUET), Jamshoro and the University of Utah, USA.
Provincial finance minister Murad Ali Shah in his keynote address spoke of the persisting issue of water wastage in the Arabian Sea because of a lack of dams in Sindh that consequently affected efficient and optimal use of water.
“Water from Mirpurkhas and Tharparkar cannot possibly be stored in a dam built in the northern parts of the country,” said Shah while speaking of the debate surrounding the construction of the Kalabagh Dam and the Diamer-Bhasha Dam.
“To debate the feasibility and technicalities of the issue is meaningless in the absence of a political will and acceptability of the stakeholders,” he added.
With the Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015) agenda to end in the last week of September, the first session of the seminar, chaired by federal secretary for climate change Arif Ahmed Khan, focused on the post-2015 water development agenda.
A research professor at the department of economics and head of the US-PCASW, University of Utah Dr M Aslam Chaudhry spoke about strengthening, planning and implementation capacities while transitioning from MDGs to Sustainable Development Goals.
“Pakistan has managed to achieve nine of the 41 indicators set in the MDGs,” Dr Chaudhry said.
He suggested focusing on targets such as provision of safe drinking water, access to improved quality of water and effective water usage among others. He maintained that SDGs would be easier to achieve as all developing countries could choose targets in accordance with their resources.
Dr Chaudhry added that increased political commitment, technological advancements, and identification of financial resources and capacities were the keys to achieving the set goals.
Dr Muhammad Ashraf, the chairman of the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, said the four main indicators used to assess water situation clearly indicated that the country was vulnerable to water scarcity.
Pakistan had, for the first time, touched the mark denoting water scarcity in 1991, and then in 2005. Indicators suggest that by 2025, it will rank among absolute water-scarce countries.
The water poverty index of Pakistan shows that the majority of the country’s population did not have access to water even for the purpose of drinking and washing basic items including clothes and utensils.
As far as the quality of water was concerned, 80 percent of water available was unsafe for consumption.
A constant increase in population, urbanisation, industrialisation and agricultural activities had led to a shortage of water by 11 percent in 2004 which can further rise up to 31 percent by 2025.
“These problems will continue to persist unless Pakistan chooses to follow the hard path which meant increasing water storage capacity and legislating on increased abstraction of water whereas an attempt to improve water productivity can also help,” Dr Ashraf explained.
Dr Fateh M Mari, the programme coordinator for the Sindh government’s Water Sector Improvement Project, identified the basic issues surrounding the water governance crisis.
According to the water distribution plan, Punjab received the lion’s share of 50 percent while there had only been two instances wherein Sindh and Balochistan had received their due share of water.
Citing Karachi's water distribution as an example, Dr Mari said the city received 650mgd of water daily but its poor distribution system had rendered several areas of the metropolis waterless.
An ageing infrastructure that included worn-out pumping machines, lack of maintenance, institutional incapacity and poor performance in addition to challenges such as climate change were some of the other factors identified by Dr Mari.
The latter session focused on policy and research priorities with respect to water management.
The first speaker, Prof Michael Barber, the head of the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Utah, shed light on a few issues and challenges faced by the US while negotiating and implementing water compacts and treaties signed between the states and countries respectively.
Dr Arif Anwar, a senior researcher at the International Water Management Institute, Pakistan, expressed his disappointment over a lack of research in Pakistani universities.
“By no means would we be able to progress unless applied research was made part and parcel of such fields,” he added.
Strengthening Participatory Organisation CEO Naseer Ahmed Memon in his presentation, “Hydro-Climatic Disasters: Emerging Research Challenges”, said Pakistan was among the top 10 countries vulnerable to climate change.
He referred to the severe heat wave in Karachi that claimed over 1,800 lives as a clear example of the fast-changing climatic conditions.
Among a few causes affecting climate, Memon highlighted some key ones including deforestation, glacial melt, loss of biodiversity and rise in sea level.
Also dismayed over a dearth of research in higher educational institutes, Memon suggested several principal research areas in water governance that needed to be worked on including the effects of climate change on livelihoods and health, climate changes in relation with hydro-climatic diseases, flood plain management and improving weather predictability.
“If you cannot deliver on any front, then the least you can do is to improve the standard of houses in which the poor reside,” he added.
Later, the US-PCASW and MUET signed various partnership agreements with several government entities in various areas including higher education in water, applied research in water-related disciplines, sharing of data and information and training on water sustainability issues.
The US-PCASW has been designed to support Pakistan's economic development by strengthening universities and encouraging applied research in energy, water, agriculture, and food security. The project is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and is being executed in collaboration with the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan.
US Consul General Brian Heath, Sindh Senior Information and Irrigation Minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, MUET Vice Chancellor Dr Mohammad Aslam Uqaili also spoke at the event executed in collaboration with the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan.
US Consul General Brian Heath, Sindh Senior Information and Irrigation Minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, MUET Vice Chancellor Dr Mohammad Aslam Uqaili also spoke at the event.
Major causes of water scarcity
l Increased population, urbanisation, and industrial and agricultural activities
l Water shortage (Shortfall that was 11pc in 2004 will increase to 31pc by 2025)
l Recurring floods (2010, 2011, 2014 and 2015) 90 MAF
l Inadequate water harvesting and storage facilities (only 10pc of the average annual flow)
l Reduction in storage capacities of existing reservoirs due to sedimentation (0.2 MAF)
l Unutilised potential – hill torrents, Sailaba (runoff farming)
l Low system efficiency (less than 40pc)
l Conventional methods of irrigation: unlevelled basins, improper size of furrows
l Low land and water productivity
l Groundwater mining
Source: “Managing Water Scarcity in Pakistan: Moving Beyond Rhetoric” by Dr Muhammad Ashraf (Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources)