The Federal Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif in a meeting with a delegation from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial and Research Organisation revealed that the government was in the process of preparing a water management policy – the first in the history of the country.
Pakistan was warned well over a decade ago by relevant experts, both international as well as local, that until and unless the government took appropriate policy decisions Pakistan would emerge as a water-deficient country. Sadly no government, civilian or military, deemed it appropriate to focus on resolving this looming crisis and the Pakistani public today is experiencing major issues as reflected by the decline in those with access to clean drinking water, annual flooding during the monsoon season and failure to harness the floodwaters for hydel generation.
Over time the monsoon rains have become unpredictable attributed to climate change and over the past several years the country has been subjected to severe flooding almost every year dislocating hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis and accounting for losses estimated in billions of rupees to physical infrastructure, farm land as well as livestock.
Thus the attempts by the Ministry of Water and Power to prepare the first-ever water management policy must be lauded and though one would have hoped this policy had been prepared and implemented over a decade ago yet one would be compelled to invoke the old proverb ‘better late than never.’
Provincial governments continue to bicker over water rights and many past federal governments have, over time, opted to abandon controversial projects like the Kalabagh dam making it highly controversial politically – a project that had the capacity for improving the country’s water management system.
Be that as it may, there are other run of the mill dams as well as mega projects like Diamer-Bhasha dam that have emerged as alternates to Kalabagh dam and one would hope that their planned completion is not delayed due to financial constraints.
There is evidence to suggest that dams are environmentally unfriendly with multilaterals as well as bilaterals extremely hesitant to financially support such ventures throughout the world – a support that Pakistan desperately needs given our severe resource constraints.
However, China, itself a firm proponent of building dams as evidenced from the construction of Three Gorges dam in spite of opposition by environmentalists and multilaterals, has offered to provide Pakistan with the necessary support – financial and technical – to build dams and this is fully supported.
Khawaja Asif stated that the government is fully aware of the sensitivity of the issue and is actively pursuing policies, supporting legislation as well as identifying on the ground practical steps for improved water management.
While he did highlight the need for awareness programmes, he did not mention any major policy thrust that is being considered to improve water management – a failure that his critics maintain may well point to the very early stages of policy formulation; he instead came out with a list of outcomes that looks like a wish list.
What was however extremely disturbing was the report that the Water and Power Ministry is not liaising with the Ministry for Planning, Development and Reforms in developing water management policy and this is unfortunate as it reflects continued infighting within the federal cabinet.
It is imperative that instead of competing with each other cabinet members take advantage of each other’s expertise in the interest of formulating a policy that would be in the national interest.