Where’s the water?

  • And why aren’t we worried?

Much like Amir Khan’s hit film Lagaan where poverty-stricken villagers desperately wait for rain to grow crops as a way of clearing debt; the mid-century tale is much relevant to the 2018 Pakistanis. The question of ‘where is water?’ is less uttered, while more focus is given on why haven’t we been able to act on a National Water Policy announced earlier this year. This question has led to extensive debate and chatter on the thousands of news channels with little respite, there is still no water and with temperatures rising to an all-time high, Ashutosh Gowariker’s dramatic ending to Lagaan might do little for us.
On my recent trip to Abbottabad via motorway and national highway, I wasn’t only alarmed by the almost negligible amount of water in rivers and streams I crossed, but also with how obliviously content everyone living off of it seemed to be. Accounting for almost 25pc of the economy, the agriculture sector of Pakistan heavily relies on this water as an important resource. With the entire country dried up and low chances of rain, there seems to be no plan for how the population would be fed, domestic consumption fulfilled, surplus crop exported and development activities, heavily reliant on the provision of water be carried out.
Much like most other crises, this too has taken its due course of time. Few years ago, news started to surface, predicting Pakistan to be completely without water by the year 2025. Our actions and inefficient policies have exacerbated the crisis and brought the calamity of ‘dead water levels’ in dams too soon.
The country’s first National Water Policy was introduced in April of this year. It’s appalling that a country so reliant on water would take 71 years to devise a policy. That too only when the situation has become so dire that this inconclusive, trial of a policy is too irrelevant to be applauded as a step forward.
Many have raised concerns and signed online petitions for the construction of Kalabagh Dam. This is because most Pakistanis believe that this particular dam with its 6.1 million acre-feet (MAF) capacity is the answer to water and power-generation deficiency that the country faces. At the present rate, Pakistan is expected to need 83 MAF by the year 2025 which can be only provided if Pakistan builds 13 dams the size of Kalabagh Dam, right now. As I type this and it is printed, we’ve already lost time.

With adverse effects of climate change taking toll, we’re running out of clean water resources. This begs for not just a water policy, but an all-out climate change policy

While the country’s metropolitan cities have emerged as concrete jungles, the phenomena of ‘urban heat sinks’ has also seeped in simultaneously. The phenomena talks about increased temperatures in major cities because of human activities as compared to their cooler surroundings. Cutting down trees for urbanisation and high levels of pollution are one of the reasons for this. The most relevant example of this phenomenon is Karachi where during last three summers, almost 2,000 people have died of heat strokes.
Moving ahead, an all-encompassing strategy is needed, which can ensure sustainability of the economy, taking into account the population growth rate. With one of the highest in the world, the water needs of this country will also rise with time. But creating additional dams isn’t the only solution. With adverse effects of climate change taking toll, we’re running out of clean water resources. This begs for not just a water policy, but an all-out climate change policy. The politicised one million tree tsunami campaigns, should be replicated, with the right plant species, throughout Pakistan. A climate-change policy is needed and relevant to this because for several years now, Pakistan has been experiencing drought-like conditions in various parts of the country during dry seasons, and flash-flooding during monsoon months. To account for the erratic changes in weather, the water storage capacity has to be increased significantly.
Being a largely agrarian economy, we can’t do without water; neither can the country wait for the fulfilment of rain-related prayers, being held amassed. The mad red hat men need to be knocked for their consciousness to know better and conscience to choose better for their people. Rendering Kalabagh Dam as a politicised matter is jeopardising the future of our generation and those who will come after us. But stopping at just planning for dams won’t do much good either. Already India’s Kishenganga Dam has thwarted the prospects of Pakistan’s Neelum-Jhelum. While reservoirs would cater to the storage capacity that can significantly reduce flooding, more needs to be done for artificially-created crisis-turned businesses in cities like Karachi and Rawalpindi, etc.
We have to sit together, get experts on board and understand what went wrong in a country where four rivers flowed together and naturally irrigated one of the highest-yielding lands. This isn’t just a social media campaign, or a seasonal matter, or a political agenda, this is the reality – a question that isn’t being asked in the higher political lobbies and needs to be urgently addressed.