Overcoming water shortages: A challenge for next government
Dr Muhammad Khan
The local and international water experts have been warning Pakistan since last three decades to take necessary measures for water preservation. The successive rulers, however, paid lip services to these warnings, taking no action to preserve water through construction of dams and water storage arrangements. Today, everyone in Pakistan (except elite class) is seriously feeling the water scarcity with its devastating effects all over the country. This is evident from the record water shortage; Pakistan is facing over last few years. Years 2017 and 2018 are the worst years from the perspective of availability of water in dams, rivers, lakes and even the water table.
The Express Tribune in its July 8, 2018 publication has quoted the warning of Indus River System Authority (IRSA). The spokesperson of IRSA, Mr Khalid Rana, warned that Tarbela Dam would reach its dead level. Tarbela Dam current water level has fallen below 1,386 feet, which is lowest since 2009. This would be first time in the history that Tarbela Dam has reached the dead level. It clearly depicts that, “water situation in Pakistan is getting critical even.” The situation in Mangla Dam is equally bad. On March 23, 2018, water level at Mangala Dam was 1,050 feet and its dead level is the same.
The Dawn Newspaper in its March 30, 2018, edition published a report, “Is Pakistan running out of fresh water?” It is indeed a NASA-led study, an eye opener for every Pakistani. According to this report, Indus Basin aquifer is the ‘second-most overstressed, being depleted with speed without getting recharged.’ The report says, in Karachi “Nearly 50 to 55 million acre feet (MAF) pumped out, and only 40 to 45 MAF recharged. Lahore’s population of over 11 million is supplied with 1.29 MAF daily of groundwater extracted through hand pumps, motor pumps and tube wells.
It is to be noted that in 1960, there were about 20,000 tube wells in the Punjab province. Today, water experts say there are over a million.” The Balochistan Province, particularly Quetta and surroundings, had already reached water scarce a decade ago. Hanna Lake has been dry for over a decade. KP, AJK and GB are barely maintaining water owing to possession of water catchment areas. In fact, the ground water is rapidly depleting in entire Pakistan, likely to reach below 230 feet by 2025, if there is no miracle from the Almighty in the next few years. As far as water flow down Kotri is concerned, there is need to have this flow approximately 50,000 cusecs, but currently is 30,000 cusecs. Then, Pakistan is an agrarian country, need more water during sowing seasons, which has reduced to a very low level. Currently, the rice plantation is suffering heavily, as the earlier cotton crop suffered. Rice plantation has already been delayed in Sindh Province.
This is to be remembered that International Monetary Fund (IMF) has already grouped Pakistan as number three in the list of water scarce country. The estimates, most of the water and environmentalists have given that, by 2025, there will be an absolute shortage of fresh water in Pakistan. The report says, “Pakistan could run dry by 2025 as its water shortage is reaching an alarming level.” This and many other alarming reports have not been taken seriously by almost all successive governments.
According to water experts like Seema Naz Siddiqui, if environmental issues and climate change have seriously affected the water related issues, the successive governments in Pakistan have also not taken the issues of water management seriously. There has been poor water management; no new dams have been constructed nor did arrangements make for the water storage during monsoon. Resultantly, Pakistan has been facing water shortage in 8-10 months each year and floods for remaining two months. Very recently, the Chief Justice of Pakistan has taken a note of water crisis and asked the concerned departments of Government for planning to construct at least two dams to meet the immediate needs of masses. This initiative should have been taken by Elected Government(s), which unfortunately have not taken any tangible steps during their tenures. They have been playing politics for the survival of their political parties and a few families and individuals. This indeed is food for thought for the masses, as how long these few families should continue ruling Pakistan for advancing their own interests, rather the national interest and catering for the needs of masses.
There is no doubt that India has manipulated the Pakistan’s share of water over the years through construction of dams, water storages and water diversions in Indian-occupied Kashmir. But, here again the responsible people in Pakistan should be held accountable on three accounts; why did not they get early information about Indian water manipulation on Western rivers, why have they not stopped India from those illegal dams construction at the planning stage and finally, why did they fail to pursue Pakistani case (s) at international level. Each time we lost on legal grounds over water issues; may be the Kishanganga, Baghliar or other dams.
The time has come that the next Government should take radical and immediate steps to meet the water scarcity in Pakistan. Rather, meeting the water challenges and pursuance of national interests should form the basis for the election-2018. In this regard, electronic and print media and academicians should play a major role to educate the masses before July 25, 2018.