Nature works in its own ways that man can hardly fathom. All of a sudden, citizens of this land of plenty find themselves faced with the crisis that the country is faced with the scary possibility of running out of water! Over the past several decades, the one commodity that this land and its people had never fallen short of was water. In fact, what the populace in general was often afraid of was the surfeit of water in the shape of monsoon and floods that inundated vast expanses of the countryside, with devastating effect. Then, there was the allied issue of ‘water-logging’. Makes a person wonder: what went wrong and where?
Before one goes into the why and wherefore in the rest of the country, let us spare a few thoughts to the affected residents of Karachi. And let us point a finger at the nub of the problem that lies in the almost ‘obscene’ expansion of the population of that city over the years. From a sleepy port town with a reasonable population and public facilities, Karachi has expanded several times over. The name of the game is to make the bloated city self-sufficient in water.
The solution to Karachi’s water problem should not be far to seek. Karachi is awash with a surfeit of water along its coast. The solution lies in a cogent plan to harness it and then to put it to use for the benefit of residents. Desalination plants have been serving all over the Middle East for as long as one can remember. Why do our powers that be not think of setting some up for Karachi? By doing this they may be killing two birds with one stone: overcoming the shortage of water for the use of Karachi residents and at the same time giving a re-think to Sindh’s objections against the construction of storage dams on the River Indus.
The matter of lack of financial resources may well be raised by planners. Karachi happens to boast of more millionaires per square kilometre than any other area in the country. There is no reason why they should not be persuaded to chip in to share the cost! Now, to look at the broader canvas: the whole country periodically falls short of water year after year. The fact that our neighbour to the east continues to play ducks and drakes with provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty adds to the woes! What we need to do is to plan for the future with a purpose. Shortage of water is a matter that cannot be taken lightly. The time to be practical, make cogent plans and act on them is NOW!
What this country must not lose sight of is the inescapable fact that financial resources are not easy to come by. We just cannot afford to make grandiose plans, based on ever-evasive loans. For once, let us make plans keeping in view the limits of our purse, such as it is. The first thing that the nation needs to do is to put behind us the regrettable tendency to put political and parochial considerations above human needs and national priorities. This is the sine qua non of a vibrant and thorough-going society.
If political consensus on construction of big dams is lacking, there should be no harm in making a modest beginning with small manageable conservation projects. And let us not forget that dams do not materialise overnight! Our country is blessed with huge rivers. So far, we have done precious little to harness the water that overflows the banks during the flood season. What is feasible is to begin with un-ambitious projects to micro-manage the flow of our major rivers, so that the extra water, when available in the flood season, is channelled into several small reservoirs (not dams) and preserved for the following dry season?
The foregoing suggestion is not as impractical as it looks at first glance. If our irrigation experts are commissioned for the task, the nation may well be in for a pleasant surprise! What is lacking is not water, but forward planning!
Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2018.