On the brink of water (in)security, Pakistan has to play a proactive role through ecological water governance to address growing water scarcity and fast depleting resources for the future of its people.

“Impoverished people in less developed countries mainly depend on soil, rivers and forests for their basic needs of food, water and fire. Small financial investment may not be sufficient for the livelihood if above natural resources necessary for the sustainability are not adequately accessible to them”. (Mahbub ul Haq, 1995)

Pakistan is being praised the world over for the conclusive attainment of environmental protection targets set under UN Sustainable Development Goal 13 through afforestation, a decade earlier as declared by the UNDP last month. Pakistan achieved this crucial milestone due to perpetual commitment through sustained political support, implementable action plans, robust monitoring mechanisms, dedicated field teams, and purveying requisite resources.

Major interventions initiated in recent times, including 10 billion tree tsunami program, clean green Pakistan initiative, protected areas initiative (15 new national parks) and mangrove afforestation, immensely contributed towards accelerated accomplishment. Under these projects, vast plains of barren land from Shyok riverside to Indus estuary are being converted into fertile habitats by undertaking massive afforestation, biodiversity conservation, animal protection and green employment.

These initiatives have been taken to prevent and to be better prepared for the environmental hazards of climate change induced floods, heatwaves, droughts and melting glaciers. Therefore, expanding forest cover is one of the vital sink measures to mitigate climate change’s adverse impacts and reduce greenhouse gases. However, a critical question arises that are we equally investing in water governance to address threatening water (in)security in Pakistan?

Pakistan possesses the largest contiguous irrigation network called the Indus basin irrigation system or Indus river system. Due to its arid to semi-arid climate, water is the principal natural resource contributing to the national economy as agriculture remains the backbone of Pakistan’s economy and consumes almost 92% of available water. Despite one of the least GHG emitters and contributors to global warming, the country’s water resources face the worst crunch in history, causing rapid melting of glaciers, the river flows variability, erratic monsoon rains’ cycle and depleting groundwater aquifers.

Being a significant contributor to Pakistan’s economy, the agriculture sector is worst affected by water scarcity along with domestic and industrial sectors. This is further aggravated due to the rapidly increasing demand, lack of non-coherent mitigation strategy, obsolete water distribution network and political apathy to water resource management.

According to WAPDA, Pakistan has witnessed drastic reductions in the per capita availability of water. In 1951 it was around 5260m3, which drastically reduced to a mere 1066m3 in 2008 with further dip projected to 858m3 by 2025 due to a rise in temperature, population growth and rapid urbanisation. National Water Policy 2018 amply covers the significant findings concerning depleting water resources in Pakistan. These environmental insecurities caused by water scarcity have a severe regressive bearing on human development as well.

Ecological water governance as a sustainable solution

Sometimes challenges offer opportunities for beneficial changes in resource conservation and distribution through good governance. Since water is considered a consumable commodity that necessitates consumer behaviour; therefore, its management is covered under water governance. This concept involves all the aspects related to “political, social, economic, and administrative systems that are in place to regulate the development and management of water resources and the provision of water services at different levels of society in a sustained process.”

There is no single or simple solution to mitigate climate change induced water scarcity in Pakistan. It demands concerted efforts by all the relevant stakeholders on multiple fronts over a sustained period involving political commitment, institutional reforms, sound policies, matching financial resource allocation and good governance. In the current scenario, the country’s water scarcity can be addressed through a three-pronged strategy based on comprehensive Ecological Water Governance. Which integrates climate change resilience through mitigation and adaptation and sustainable hydro-development being a durable solution.

Climate change mitigation

This regime shall be the first consideration to reverse or reduce adverse the impacts of climate change induced water scarcity. For this prime strategy, Pakistan needs some radical institutional, policy and legal reforms after formally recognizing adverse impacts of climate change on national water resources. National Climate Change Policy-2012 and National Water Policy-2018 are historic steps in the right direction, but some experts found them incoherent and non-inclusive. However, at the moment, it is more important to implement them through the envisaged integrative policy framework and keep refining it in the course of its execution.

Sustainable hydro-development

No development is sustainable if there are no strong institutions run by competent people to undertake desired and objective development and sustain hydro-infrastructure in an ecologically friendly way. Century-old infrastructure needs to be updated, modernized and mechanized with the latest technology. The necessary investment shall also be directed towards constructing new infrastructure to conserve and equitably distribute water. Water losses through seepage, leakage and breaches need to be reduced by the lining of waterways. There is also a need to invest in stormwater drainage, desalination and sewage management systems as well. Similarly, agricultural drainage should also be part of irrigation infrastructural development.

Climate change adaptation and water management

Under the adaptive water approach, Pakistan must lay a sound policy framework to protect and promote local watersheds, lakes and natural storage sites. Further, an integrated water conservation plan must also include adaptation to rainwater, floodwater and seawater harvesting, farm water conservation techniques, recycling of municipal and industrial water for agriculture, horticulture, or forestry usage. On-farm conservation may be enhanced due to technology usages like drip irrigation, sprinkling and laser levelling. Further, environment protection shall be ensured by restricting the use of chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers.

Understandably, water governance is impacted by the overall status of governance, so the future of water governance in Pakistan relies not only on scientific solutions, but also, and most significantly, on good governance coupled with strong political commitment. On the brink of water (in)security, Pakistan has to play a proactive role through ecological water governance to address growing water scarcity and fast depleting resources for the future of its people.

The article is originally published at global village space.