KARACHI: The absence of a formal water policy in the country was lamented by speakers at the session, ‘Pakistan Water Policy – Time is Now’, on the second and last day of the third Karachi International Water Conference on Wednesday.

Representing the planning and development department of Punjab, Malik Mukhtar Ahmed Noul, however, informed the audience that Punjab had drafted its water policy which was expected to be presented in the Punjab Assembly for approval soon.

According to Noul, the two biggest challenges faced by the Punjab government regarding water were the depletion of underground water and wastage of water in urban areas. In Lahore, the underground water level is decreasing at a rate of one metre per year, which is alarming, he said.

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The Punjab government representative said 95% of water resources in Punjab are used in agriculture, 2% used in industries and 3% used in other domains, including human consumption. He, however, added that it has been forecast that with the passage of time, the share of water for agricultural use would decrease and, by 2025, it would come down to 85%.

Hisaar Foundation Think Tank Convener Seemi Kamal shared some of the recommendations made by the foundation for the water policy of the country. She called for measures to extend irrigation to desert areas which could make five million acres of land cultivable.

Later, commenting on the conflicts over river water between Sindh, which is a low riparian province, and Punjab, which is high riparian province, Kamal said all rivers in the world have upper and lower riparian areas but the areas resolve their conflicts.

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Member of the Sindh planning and development department Fateh Marri urged the need for integrated management, which in turn required coordination among various departments while dealing with water.

The water infrastructure in the country is more than a century old and our barrages are also aging, Marri said, calling for the modernisation of the infrastructure and use of modern technology. He also urged the need for tapping into under-utilised water resources, such as hill torrents.

Replying to a question from the audience regarding the need for a new water accord between the provinces, Marri said the equitable distribution of water was accepted in the accord of 1991 and no new accord was needed after that.

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There was no authority in Sindh which was acting as the custodian of the water resource, said World Bank (WB) representative Toru Knoshi. The absence of any legal framework or policy regarding water in the province made matters complex, he added.

Sindh had to shift from irrigation-centric water management to a broader style of management, the WB representative said. The economy of Sindh is not entirely based on agriculture and is diversifying, hence, water resources should be managed after taking into account factors other than agriculture, he maintained.

It is high time for Sindh to acknowledge the need for urgent steps for the water issue as the water crisis is expected to hit the province in five to 10 years, the WB representative warned.

Water crisis attributed to failure of governance

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Women Commission Chairperson Neelum Toru emphasised on encompassing gender-related issues while formulating any policy regarding water. Many female students in K-P drop out of school because there are no toilets or water available in toilets at schools, she claimed.

No explicit mention of the need for the construction of new dams was made by any speaker in the session on water policy.

Concluding the session, one of the moderators, University of Oxford visiting professor Dr David Grey said the issue of water in Pakistan merited emergency measures by the government. He also discussed rift among the provinces over water which hindered national consensus on water. The provinces should sit together to resolve their disputes over water, Dr Grey concluded.

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