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Water crisis fast becoming an existential threat

* Experts call for treaty with Afghanistan to prevent future conflict between the two countries on Kabul River

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s water crisis is now at par with terrorism in terms of being an existential threat to the country’s security.
This was the major concern raised by respondents, interviewed for Jinnah Institute (JI)’s latest research report titled ‘Pakistan’s Water Discourse: Attitudes on Water Management Practices’, launched on Friday.
The Jinnah Institute report collated perceptions of a wide range of policy stakeholders on the political economy of water management practices in Pakistan. According to the report, insufficient water storage capacity has greatly impacted the availability of water, while public debate on developing new infrastructure has stalemated in recent years. The limits of state capacity in addressing water-related challenges, underpinned by inadequate social infrastructure, lack of political consensus and financial constraints have been cited as the major roadblocks by a majority of respondents.
On the subject of climate change and disaster management, the report found that while government bodies had learnt critical lessons in recent years, early warning systems were still not in place. Some water experts warn that Pakistan should prepare for an “environmental disaster”, with the country’s seasonal monsoons shifting away from traditional catchments toward Afghanistan. This trend has multiplied the potential for flash floods and erratic rainfall.
The annual water availability per capita has fallen drastically since the partition of the subcontinent, from approximately 5,000 cubic metres to nearly 1,500 cubic metres, impacting marginalised communities; women the most. In the absence of progressive water pricing systems, domestic water wastage in cities is rampant, according to the report.
On the subject of trans-boundary water sharing, a majority of interviewees felt that the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) had stood the test of time and largely served to protect Pakistan’s interests. However, they also expressed a dire need for a framework or treaty with Afghanistan to prevent future conflict between the two countries on the Kabul River. 
Major recommendations made by respondents underscored the need for making accurate and reliable water data available as well as investing in more efficient methods of agriculture and conservation techniques, including drip irrigation and rainwater harvesting.
Former ambassador Shafqat Kakakhel said the report supplements and aids a rich body of documentation. However, he said that he was distressed to see that a majority of Afghans were not interested in a water treaty with Pakistan.
Environmental lawyer Ahmad Rafay Alam presented the findings of the report. Former WAPDA chairman Shamsul Mulk also spoke at the event and suggested that all objections on river flow data between provinces should be taken up in the Council of Common Interests (CCI). Mulk also said that China had built 22,000 large and small dams in the past 50 years, while Pakistan has been unable to move forward on any of its dams. 
The research exercise was undertaken in partnership with a UK-based think tank, Chatham House.

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