Water Policy | Editorial

THE approval of a new national water policy in the closing days of the current government is a tribute to the capacities of democracy. Water is the lifeblood of Pakistan, and since the building of the world’s largest irrigation system, along with a huge storage infrastructure, in the 1960s and 1970s, the sharing and utilisation of water across sectors and among provinces has been one of the thorniest issues in our politics. The policy itself has been under discussion, on and off, for over a decade, and the final signatures of the four chief ministers and the prime minister last week can be seen as a milestone, much like the water-sharing accord of 1991.
But now comes the hard part. The policy calls for increasing the share of resources from federal and provincial development programmes to be dedicated to the water infrastructure. At the federal level, this means accelerating work on the Diamer Bhasha dam, and at the provincial level it means public works to plug leaks through lining the water courses. The latter ought to be the biggest priority. Losses of water are estimated at 46 MAF annually, whereas the Diamer Bhasha dam will add 6.4 MAF of storage capacity. If the policy succeeds in reducing losses by a third, as is the stated goal, the amount of water it would free up would be double the capacity of the Diamer Bhasha dam, at presumably less than half the cost. Far too often, Pakistan’s water woes during climate change are presented as shortage in the supply of water, whereas the real challenge is in the improved utilisation of the existing supply. This involves some investment in physical infrastructure, but also large-scale changes in farm-water management techniques and the sound measurement of water flows through the system, to give a few examples. This requires a crucial reform: water pricing — the only way to sensitise farmers to the prevailing scarcity of water, and to urge greater efficiency in the use of this resource. And yet, this is one area where the policy minces its words. It wants to link water pricing with the “users’ ability to pay”, which is going to be next to impossible for the state to assess. Until a realistic water-pricing regime is brought into play, mobilising investment and changing utilisation patterns in agriculture will prove to be a losing battle.
Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2018
Source: https://www.dawn.com/news/1405139/water-policy

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