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Tuesday October 26, 2021

Water issues

October 14, 2021

The Water Apportionment Accord of 1991 is three decades old. It has served the purpose well and it is one of those documents that have stood the test of time. An accord which has served to consolidate the federation and avoided any major controversy for that long needs to be revised only in exceptional circumstances. With this backdrop, Sindh’s rejection of the federal offer to revisit the accord deserves careful consideration. Sindh appears to have some misgivings that the proposed revision may not be in its benefit. There are other stakeholders in this accord that should be ready to listen to each other’s concerns before jumping to conclusions regarding any one stance that a province takes. The main concern of Sindh seems to be revolving around the assumption that upper riparian partners may deprive the lower riparian provinces of their due share of water. Federal Minister for Water Resources Moonis Elahi is keen on revising the accord whereas Sindh is adamant that the accord should remain unchanged. In this matter, it is imperative that no new restriction be imposed without the consent of all stakeholders.

The Indus River System Authority (Irsa) needs an upgrade so that it can ensure full implementation of the accord which at times faces violations, as Sindh has been complaining. A redrafting of the accord is not likely to serve any purpose at the moment, and the idea that it promises to distribute more water than is available does not appear to be substantiated by ground realities. Rather than revising the accord, the government should be planning to build more reservoirs so that the availability of water becomes smoother for all provinces. Though most countries with long rivers have water distribution challenges, these need resolution keeping in mind the needs of lower riparian areas as well. Interprovincial water conflicts should not be blown out of proportion and the federal government would do better by containing these disputes rather than aggravating them with insistence on accord revisions. What the accord needs is more clarity to avoid ambiguities, and for that Sindh should also show some flexibility as long as it does not affect its fair share allocation. More than the accord itself, Irsa at times acts arbitrarily -- raising concerns among the provinces.

The role of Irsa definitely needs some revision to match the changing realities and fluctuating demand and supply of water. Continued tension between the federal government and Sindh is not good for democracy and for the federation itself. The centre already has a plateful of controversies of its own making. With a rapidly changing climate, both the federal and provincial governments need to focus more on devising strategies for environmental protection in their respective domains. There are more frequent rains and flooding across regions, and the ability and capacity to store rain and flood water will play a crucial role in future. A good water distribution mechanism keeps in view both availability and use of water, and just focusing on one is not an ideal solution. To keep an eye on water distribution, there are new technologies such as meters and other measurement tools that can offer a better solution. Perhaps the best option now is to keep the old accord and -- if need be -- do some minor tweaking, with more stress on new technology for measurement.