Mitigating The Water Crisis | Editorial

The imminent severe water crisis , forewarned as a liability that can paralyse the country is manifesting its early stages as Tarbela Dam hits dead level for the second time in a fortnight. The connection between water, energy and the food nexus is becoming crucial especially as the resulting paucity for water comes at the start of Kharif crop season, entailing that all the major staple Kharif crops including cotton, sugarcane, rice and maize are looking at probable deprivation of irrigation water.
The agricultural economy has a 19 per cent share in GDP and engages 42.3pc of labour force. With cotton sowing already being adversely hit by the water shortages and entire sown fields going barren with no water the highly misplaced government production targets will be delayed impacting an already faltering export sector.
The political implications of water shortages are palpable as well as the provincial inter-provincial bickering emerges over discharges as irrigation authorities seek greater control over limited resources. Where Sindh has always held that Punjab, being an upper riparian province, thwarts its fair share of water, both provinces face acute water shortages this season. Diverting water to salvage crops will further affect an already parched Balochistan. It will also impact the law and order of the city as scuffles people clamour for the privilege of drinking water. With no irrigation water, livestock also faces starvation.
Further exacerbating factors are India controlling over 85pc of water from Indian-held Kashmir, water wastage (owing to poor agricultural practices), a water loss of 111bn cusecs of water in past three floods, diminishing capacity of reservoirs, excessive (nearly 60pc) conveyance losses, deteriorating infrastructure, high operation costs and an excessive ground water use.
The government needs to immediately address the approaching calamity of water shortage through effective policies and management. The most important recourse is the construction of large dams to increase water storage capacities. Completion of Bhasha and Dasu dams would go a long way in mitigation.
The government needs to prioritise water storage endeavours, rationalise its water pricing system and raise money for operation and maintenance. With more investment, management of irrigation infrastructure can also improve. Moving away from an obsolete and unsustainable canal irrigation system, the government also needs to contribute to water costs for water heavy season of water guzzlers like, rice and sugarcane. It also needs to check institutional failure in regulating groundwater use. Enhancing storage capacity, improving governance and management of overlapping jurisdictions of water institutions and effective water use are the most critical areas for action. Maintenance of our poorly managed irrigation system with an asset management plan is also needed with a sustainable financing program.

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