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Business Recorder

Published Date: May 10, 2014

Nepal an exception: experts raise alarm over water shortages in region

Water sector experts and diplomats on Friday raised the alarm about possible shortage of water in the region (with the exception of Nepal) and urged storage and better management of available water. The alarm bell rang at the launching ceremony of a perception survey on “Pakistan water discourse – attitudes on water management practices,” conducted by
the Chatham House, Jinnah Institute.

Former ambassador to Afghanistan, Shafqat Kakakhel, former Chairman Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) and key campaigner of redundant Kalabagh dam, Shams-ul-Mulk and author of the survey, Ahmad Rafay Alam spoke on the occasion. The country ‘s Planning Commission which recently gathered water sector experts to prepare an integrated water policy and Water and Power Ministry were not represented at the launching ceremony of survey.

Shafqat Kakakhel, in his remarks, stressed on the stakeholders (at the federal and provincial levels) to improve co-ordination with respect to better management of available water resources. Data of water
reservoirs must be shared amongst the stakeholders as this factor largely remained unimplemented, he added.

Kakakhel stressed identification of drivers of water scarcity so
that a comprehensive strategy could be made to deal with the situation Pakistan is facing, adding that the policymaker should focus on better methods of usage of available water sources. Shafqat Kakakhel further stated that the amount of Abiana is ridiculous and it should be enhanced
to a reasonable level. The former diplomat also criticised India for not treating its neighbours fairly, saying all small neighbours of India
are suspicious of India.

Shafqat Kakakhel who has served as Pakistan ‘s ambassador to Afghanistan recommended that an agreement should be inked between Pakistan and Afghanistan on Kabul rivers water usage rights. He said Pakistan and Afghanistan have not held any senior level meeting on this issue. Afghanistan recently raised objections on the construction of Dassu Dam, being funded by the World Bank. India is extending all kind of support to Afghanistan to build dams which would have negative impact
on Pakistani inflows.

Former Chairman Wapda, advocated construction of more dams and cited the examples of China, India and United States constructing hundreds of medium and large dams during the last five decades; whereas Pakistan has opted for only a couple of dams. He further maintained that
there is very strong lobby which does not want sharing of water data. According to a report, majority of respondents expressed confidence in the International Water Treaty (IWT) as offering a broad scope for co-operation between Pakistan and India. Respondents felt that the Treaty could be creatively interpreted to safeguard Pakistan ‘s interests
emerging from new economic imperatives and demographic changes. Safeguarding livelihoods was critical in areas that depended on the Indus ‘ tributaries. It was further pointed out that the IWT had enabled a
successful arbitration dynamic for trans-boundary water disputes: the politics of the Baglihar and Kishenganga projects notwithstanding, both cases were cited as examples of a highly effective dispute resolution process that catered for the presence of a neutral expert and set precedents for future litigation.

Respondents observed that the Treaty ‘s shortcomings on climate change and environmental flows on the one hand, and excessive focus on engineering and design on the other, were a function of the scientific state of play at the time of ratification in 1960. It was argued that challenges related to climate change could best be addressed in supplementary protocols to the IWT, but that the Treaty itself should not be discarded. Any deficiencies of the IWT were compensated for by its success in bringing order to an otherwise vexed political relationship between India and Pakistan. In comparison with other outstanding issues between the two countries, respondents felt that the IWT had mitigated water-related conflict since an early stage.

However, the Treaty ‘s clauses on future co-operation remain under-utilised as a result of political differences between the two countries. While Articles 6-8 of the IWT provide for joint projects between India and Pakistan, most respondents felt that such projects could not be envisaged in the near future owing to the prevalent climate
of political distrust.

Many respondents felt that India was entitled to its share of water – including the building of dams – under the IWT, and the impression that India was ‘stealing ‘ Pakistan ‘s share was not based on any real empirical evidence. However, the rapid scale of upstream construction had arguably impacted cumulative flows, and some respondents flagged the unverifiable flow data provided by India as a source of concern. A minority view held that India was engaging in ‘water aggression ‘ and was wilfully not adhering to the IWT in letter or

Only a fringe minority was aware of whether groundwater extraction across the border in India could affect Pakistani aquifers. For the most part, interviewees agreed that the issue of groundwater lay
outside the purview of the IWT, which itself was primarily a surface water treaty. It was generally felt that groundwater issues predominantly related to agricultural practices and food production. Respondents stressed the need for further research on Pakistani aquifers
to broaden an understanding of groundwater sources and their recharge.

On the question of whether Pakistan should trade water with India for non-water benefits such as electricity, respondents largely answered in the negative, maintaining that water should not be traded for short-term gains. Others felt this was an agreeable notion, but unlikely to materialise in the near future.

A significant majority of stakeholders held that Pakistan and Afghanistan needed an agreement for trans-boundary water sharing. The government in Afghanistan was seen to be building capacity in this regard; it was recommended that both Islamabad and Kabul should undertake measures to shore up confidence and prevent disagreements over
the Kabul River. With Afghanistan ‘s other security challenges looming large, it was generally felt that water would not be included on the bilateral agenda for some time. However, many informants believed that a
purposeful dialogue could be started between the two neighbouring countries, and that Afghanistan could even be assisted by Pakistan in developing infrastructure along the Kabul River.

The research report has given following recommendations. General
observations – Specific areas of water management – ie building dams, maintaining infrastructure, tackling pollution, changing agricultural practices or water conservation – should not be invoked sequentially. Instead, these areas should mutually reinforce each other within the public discourse.

The Council of Common Interests (CCI) ought to focus more on resolving inter-provincial water issues. At the same time, flood response mechanisms should be institutionalised at the district level. While provincial and federal level planning and organisation for flood control is well-established, researched and staffed, individual districts lack resources and attention. Unrestricted construction activities in urban centres – particularly those that put groundwater quality at risk of contamination – ought to be regulated.

Need for accurate data and information “Until we know scientifically where we stand with river flows and rain inflows, we will
never know which solutions to prioritise. There is a pressing need for accurate real-time data on water flows and aquifer storage and recovery,
and for the scientific updating of stream flow formulas in the Indus Basin. A glaring lack of reliable water data is seen to be the major reason for an ill-informed public debate and policy engagement on water issues. A uniform method of measuring river flows should be institutionalised; utilising IRSA ‘s telemetry tools can help ascertain water flows more accurately. Glacial melt should also be recorded and greater elementary geomorphologic research and awareness needs to be promoted to break the hold of stone and cement water experts on policy planning. A concert of satellite imaging technology and scientific data should be employed to facilitate better informed public debate.

Agricultural best practices- There is a growing need to move towards a ‘more crop per drop ‘ method of assessing agricultural productivity. Flood irrigation should be regulated; more scientifically proven techniques such as drip irrigation and sprinkle irrigation should
be promoted. Similarly, urban rainwater harvesting should be employed to save water for domestic usage.

Pollution control- Pollution control should be modelled on an ecosystem-based approach, with an emphasis on the preservation and protection of catchment areas. Industrial waste is the primary cause of water pollution in the Indus Basin and industries ought to treat their waste before discharging it into water bodies. Individual industries should be penalised for polluting the Indus and its tributaries.

Curbing water wastage – The Canal and Drainage Act of 1873 could
be implemented to control freshwater wastage in the relevant riverine areas. In relation to urban water management practices, the example of Karachi ‘s housing schemes should be emulated: these townships purchase water in bulk from the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB), and then
supply directly to individual homes that are electronically metered to record water consumption.

Making the discourse inclusive- Greater numbers of women should be consulted in water management projects at both the community level as
well as higher levels of policy planning. Increased female representation in dialogue and advocacy forums across South Asia is necessary to ensure that their voices are heard. There should also be greater investment in community participation at multiple stages of policy planning, as part of a wider strategy to reduce top-down policy direction.