By Daanish Mustafa
August 9, 2018
The sad truth is that the future the TV channels are warning us about, has already come to pass for the vast majority of the people in Pakistan
It seems that the “looming” water scarcity crisis has finally caught the country’s attention. Every television channel in Pakistan seems to be warning the country about the droughts and devastation which could be just around the corner. There are nationalistic exhortations to Pakistanis to contribute to the Dam fund for the building of the Mohmand and Bhasha Dams. People who had never cared about water related issues before, come up to me today and ask how long Pakistanis have before we run out of water.
I believe that there are two catalysts to this sudden surge in interest in all things related to water. One is the Pakistan Council for Water Resources Research’s (PCRWR) prediction that Pakistan will face mass droughts and may even run out of water by 2025. I believe the second stimulus was the inauguration of the Kishenganga-Jehlum project by the Indian Prime Minister, earlier this year upstream of River Neelum, in the Indian Administered Kashmir (IAK). As for the PCRWR’s claim of mass drought in Pakistan, the scientific basis for the grim prediction remains a mystery. Yes, the population will have grown by a few more millions in another seven years, but one doesn’t need PCRWR and people with doctorates to tell one that. And as for the Kishenganga project, as I have explained before, it is a run of the river project with almost negligible effect on water flow to Pakistan, especially in light of the Court of Arbitration’s ruling in favour of Pakistan in 2010. So why do we believe that we are doomed?
Pakistan won’t run out of water. A few of the rich and powerful will have more than they could ever use, while others will have less than what they need to live. And that’s the sad reality of this country
The international policy debates on water, over the past couple of decades have almost entirely been high jacked by a single figure, per capita cubic metres of water.Everyone is saying that Pakistan is going to run out of water because we have five times less water availability per capita, than we had at the time of independence. Incredulously, I also counter argue that we also have five times less Oxygen availability per capita today than we did in 1947. The population being five time what it was then. I don’t see anyone bemoaning the lack of Oxygen. There are teeming millions of Pakistanis suffering from respiratory ailments and choking on foul air, to no particular concern by the policy makers.
The above analogy may sound frivolous to some, and downright wrong and mischievous to others. But the argument remains. Do we really need mathematical geniuses to tell us that if the population increases per capita water availability will decrease? And what does this figure even mean? What does water scarcity mean on the DHA golf course in Lahore or Karachi? And what does that number mean in Orangi, Karachi and Sariab Road, Quetta? The answer as every child living in Orangi and Sariab Road knows it is not absolute scarcity but the distribution of water between this country’s populace. Only the people at PCRWR and WAPDA don’t seem to know that reality. It almost seems as if the more education you have in this country, the more divorced you are from its actual realities. Hence we have this hullabaloo about running out of water in 2025.
According to the Pakistan Water Policy 2018, 97 percent of the water use in Pakistan is for agriculture. And anyone in agriculture will tell you, the vast majority of that water is used for cash crops like cotton, rice and sugarcane for exports and not to provide food to the poor. And if the commercial agriculture is the ultimate victim of water scarcity, surely it could part with just 2-4 percent of water for the domestic sector, for a few million tons less of sugarcane, rice or cotton. That could double or triple the water availability for the domestic sector, and eliminate any supply problems in one go. But no such elementary sense is to be mentioned in Pakistan. We are modern, we must build dams for $12-14 billion a piece (more than $20 billion for real), as we prepare to go to the IMF to ask for $12 billion to just keep us from going bankrupt. Am I the only one who senses a lack of logic here?
The sad truth is that the future the TV channels are warning us about, has already come to pass for the vast majority of the people in Pakistan. Stop by Manchar lake in Sindh and you will see children suffering from renal failure, caused by dehydration. This because they live by a lake that has been poisoned by World Bank funded drainage projects. Tell the people in Ghaziabad in Karachi that we will run out of water, who haven’t seen tap water in more than a decade. Meanwhile, irrigation for exotic ornamental plants in the posh localities of Karachi continues.
Under what physical process, climate change or not, would Pakistan run out of water? The answer is that it won’t. It will have just as much water as this land has had for millions of years. The country will also have the same water for millions of years more. However, a few of the rich and powerful will have more than they could ever use, while others will have less than what they need to live. And that’s the sad reality of this country.
The writer is a researcher in Politics and Environment at the Department of Geography, King’s College, London. His research includes water resources, hazards and development geography
Published in Daily Times, August 9th 2018.
(Courtesy, Daily Times)