With climate change becoming a bigger threat with every passing day, the federal government must concentrate on drafting a long-term roadmap to deal with the country’s water issues.
The recommendation was made by speakers at the third Karachi International Water Conference on Wednesday, as the two-day conference organised by the Hisaar Foundation concluded.
In the morning session titled ‘Pakistan Water Policy – Time is Now’, Oxford University Professor Dr David Grey, who chaired the session, sounded a note of warning, saying that a definite water policy was imperative for Pakistan right away if a crisis of grave dimensions were to be staved off.
Simi Kamal, co-founder of the Hisaar Foundation, presented a proposed policy framework in this regard, taking all the geographic, economic and sociological realities into consideration.
The framework has been developed over a course of three years, with the convening of two international conferences and numerous think tank sessions. The framework covers five focus areas:
• Increasing water for the landless and the poor, and maximising water use efficiency
• Financing the urban and rural water economies and the water value chain
• Safeguarding the Indus Basin, its aquifers and infrastructure
• Improving governance and management of water institutions
• Building a base for science, technology and the social aspects of water
Simi said land and water belonged to the people of Pakistan and form their endowment and entitlement. The water policy framework postulates that water must be a source of dignity, development and prosperity for all citizens.
Pakistan is a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals, and Goal 6 lays down that availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all must be ensured.
Pakistan’s economy is a water economy, with 60 per cent of the population engaged directly in agriculture and livestock, and 80 per cent of the country’s exports are based on these sectors.
Simi said the first step was to extend irrigation and fix entitlement, adding that almost 95 per cent of the surface water and almost all of fresh groundwater was used for agriculture.
She said Pakistan needed a long-term plan for its water requirements, adding that the federal government should take the lead in drafting the long-term roadmap all the way up to 2050 in a world now faced with the complicated phenomenon of climate change. With regard to the safeguarding of the Indus Basin, she said the country had many wastage, drainage, pollution and distribution problems in the basin.
Simi said that since 1970 Pakistan had been having more than its share of floods, drought and extreme weather phenomena. To add to the woes is the latest phenomenon of climate change, with a direct impact on water resources and availability, she added.
Water resources, catchment areas, groundwater and coastline areas have to be secured from degradation and over-exploitation so that they could remain the backbone of Pakistan’s economy and social well-being, she stressed.
This, she said, was the direct responsibility of the federal government, as unregulated activity like the sinking of tube wells had led to the mining of aquifers and adverse of salt water into freshwater aquifers.
Malik Mukhtar of the Punjab Planning & Development Department highlighted two issues that needed to be tackled immediately: underground water and wastewater in urban areas. He said the draft of Punjab’s water policy took these aspects into consideration and was working against the backdrop of a crucial factor, namely rapid population growth, as that was a crucial factor in development today, adding that the specific objective was to up the water availability.
Fateh Marri of the Sindh government, highlighting the importance of water in the province, talked of the challenges and opportunities: climate change, distribution equity, governance, use of technology, scarcity and increased demand because of burgeoning population.
Neelum Toru of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Commission on the Status of Women talked about the effect of the water crisis on women in particular, while the World Bank’s Toru Konishi talked about industrial and municipal pollution, worsening water security for Karachi and deteriorating ecological habitats.