Water: more a governance issue
It is mostly mismanagement that creates scarcity in the midst of plenty. Two recent World Bank reports bring this point home with regard to Pakistan’s water sector. The latest report says Pakistan needs urgent reforms to improve water use efficiency and its efficient delivery to get more economic, social and environmental benefits from its water. It says Pakistan is well endowed with water but water availability per person is comparatively low, water wastage is high and agricultural yields are low. Climate change and transboundary issues are significant hindrance for Pakistan’s water sector, but the greatest challenges and opportunities are internal and not external. The report says “water security in Pakistan is reaching a critical point that demands urgent attention and reform.” It recommends a judicious use of irrigation water to increase agricultural productivity and says paying more attention to social and environmental aspects of water management is critical. While irrigation dominates water use in the country, the four major crops — rice, wheat, sugar cane, and cotton — that use 80 per cent of water contribute only five per cent of GDP. Poor water management is conservatively estimated to cost four per cent of GDP or around Rs12 billion. Causes resulting from climate change and mismanagement of water resources have severely degraded rivers, lakes and the extensive Indus Delta undermining important ecosystem services. It says issues related to water security require strong collaboration between federal and provincial governments and other stakeholders. The objective must be to strengthen water governance and strategic water planning to build resilience in the face of changing climate and growing water demands.
The report says building new dams can help improve water security but will not address the pressing water problems. It recommends modernising the irrigation system, expansion of hydromet system and investment in recyclying of wastewater. The earlier report also mostly pointed to predominance of wastage and governance issues in the country’s water sector.