Applied research a must for resolving our water woes
Karachi: “We should shun mediocrity and refrain from making attempts to break Guinness World Records by planting mangroves that disappear the next year,” said senior environmentalist Rahat Najam during an interview with The News on World Wetlands Day, which was observed across the globe on February 2.
She talked about scarcity of agricultural water, fast diminishing wetlands, climate change and global warming, lining of canals and the need for massive plantation.
Rahat acquired a Master’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Karachi in 1994, and after two years joined the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P) as an intern. She was later elevated to wetlands conservation officer and worked for the WWF-P until 2008.
She joined the Sindh Water Sector Improvement Project (WSIP) the next year. She is currently an environmental specialist for the WSIP Project Coordination and Monitoring Unit. She also teaches at a private university.
Excerpts from the interview follow:
Q: Will you please enlighten us about your project and the areas in which you are involved in the project?
A: It’s a World Bank-funded project in collaboration with the Sindh Planning and Development Department.
It’s being implemented in three major areas: the Nara Canal Area Water Board, the Ghotki Feeder Canal and the Left Bank Canal Area Water Board.
The Sindh Water Management Ordinance (SWMO) was promulgated in 2002. The World Bank is keen to safeguard irrigation water assets in Pakistan.
Q: How acute is the problem of irrigation water scarcity in the country?
A: There are two scenarios regarding fast depleting water resources in Pakistan: first, we are living in an arid zone and the rainfall pattern is becoming erratic; and second, there is gross mismanagement in water distribution.
We are endeavouring to minimise losses through rehabilitation of irrigation canals. Our aquifers are depleting.
There are illegal outlets. They are like kundas, and I believe that if the SWMO is implemented in letter and spirit, there will be a change.
Q: Do you agree that the creeping emergency could lead to a water war between India and Pakistan?
A: I agree. However, the problem could be resolved amicably. We need to convince each other through involving professionals instead of politicians.
We are using obsolete data in negotiations. Applied research is urgently needed to resolve the problem, since climate change and global warming will severely impact us.
Our country is a unique strip from zero elevation to the second-highest peak of the world. The ecology on this strip changes after every 100 to 200 kilometres as the gradient increases. Culture, food, customs and topography change with the gradient changes. Due to different temperatures on this unique strip, even animal and plant life changes in different terrains.
Freshwater fish is dependent on river water flow and temperature. Fish breeding grounds and breeding season will be affected adversely due to change in temperature.
Livelihood of millions of citizens is at stake. Climate change will impact their lives and livelihood. Food security is correlated with climate change and global warming.
We have two main sources to ensure food security: agriculture and fishery, and it will be disturbed due to climate change and global warming. Even our crop patterns will change.
Q: What steps need to be adopted to face climate change and global warming?
A: Focus should be on applied research at national level, in our universities and other institutions, in the fishery department – and alternate crops need to be identified.
We need to bring about a change in crops, go for drought-resistant crops. Indigenous trees, including fruit trees, should be planted on a massive scale instead of planting Conocarpus and eucalyptus.