The weight of our water and energy crises
The water crisis in Pakistan is worsening with each passing day, and the increasing population growth along with drastic changes in climate have only added to this alarming situation. In a recently released report, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has pointed out that of the countries facing water shortages, Pakistan takes the third worst position.
If one looks at Pakistan’s water availability and usage, studies reveal that 96 percent of our water is being used for agriculture, while industrial and domestic sectors use two percent each. Within the domestic sector, 35 percent of the water supply is not included in the count. This usage also accounts for energy production and supply of said energy to the national grid.
When one looks at the energy contribution through water sources, the contribution of hydel power to the national grid stands at 29 percent. Of this contribution, a majority is being contributed by Tarbela Dam followed by Ghazi-Barotha Hydropower Project and Mangla Dam.
In one of the studies conducted by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), the following water challenges will lead to detrimental impacts on our economy and social fabric. These include depletion of forest resources leading to increased soil erosion, silting of reservoirs and increased variability of flows, depletion of surface storage capacities by silting and groundwater resources with sharply declining water table in Balochistan, and high population growth rates and high rate of migrants towards urban centres.
With the exhaustion of water resources leading to the current energy crisis, a number of challenges and concerns arise regarding the shortage of electricity in the country. Key reasons for this shortage though are the inability of responsbile companies to recover the full economic cost from the consumers, the existence of administrative line losses, and the high cost of maintaining subsidies (to finance energy sector deficit). As mentioned by Vaqar Ahmed in his book Pakistan’s Agenda for Economic Reforms, the effective use of hydel resources also adds to this concern — Pakistan has the potential to generate 50,000 MW of hydropower.
Studies reveal that 96 percent of Pakistan’s water is being used for agriculture, while industrial and domestic sectors use two percent each
Similarly, both energy and water crises are also caused by inadequate resources. For example, the case of Golin Gol Hydel project in Chitral. The project is located far away from any major city, and there are a number of challenges that in the long run will hinder the development and sustainability of this project. These challenges include the weather, and climate effects, and road connectivity.
Besides these challenges, the number of water resources with the potential to produce energy and actual production along with utilisation also brings in numerous challenges. These challenges result in low productivity due to sudden power breakdowns bringing loss to the economy at the macro level. This significance can be viewed from percentage representation of business community (66 percent) giving energy high priority.
Further adding to the productivity challenges, studies also reveal that power breakdowns have affected GDP growth, raising inflation and resulted in capital outflow from the country — as is the case of textile industries where a number of units have moved to Bangladesh. Also, the cost of electricity generation is very high mainly due to faulty fuel mix and use of mechanised technology.
Thus for energy reforms to improve productivity and sustain the economy in the long run, political parties need to prioritise a number of agenda points ahead of the upcoming elections. Firstly, political parties should make both water and energy key features of their manifesto. In the manifesto, priority should be given to water and then energy. In water, preference should be given to water conservation and storage with facilities bearing the pressure of each season. This will thus further help improve the energy sector in terms of generation, balancing demand and supply.
Secondly, there is a need to bring a uniform policy at the national level. To make this policy effective, there is also a need for consensus at the national level. Thirdly, for implementation, there should be a forum with representatives from each province — including political and technical representatives. Representatives from the technical side should look into the framework and challenges, which can be a barrier in implementation, while political representatives should take up advocacy, based on recommendations from technical representatives and legislate where needed.
Fourthly, there is also a need to come up with more water facilities along with improving the capacity of existing ones. New facilities should be constructed in a manner that they can connect a number of cities without any challenge from weather and infrastructure. Within these facilities, there should also be the provision for water facilities targeting jungles and those areas where trees can grow.
Fifthly, policies such as environment, water and energy should be aligned with one another, and they should be connected to each other. The focus should be such that a research component should also be dealt with accordingly.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.