Need to save and improve water resources

Written By: Hashim Abro

Presently, Pakistan is facing manifold problems and crises. The population is expanding at 1. 9 per cent per annum and the gap between demand and supply of agricultural products is widening day by day. The present population figure exceeds 180 million and is estimated to hit 344.2 million in 2050. A huge chunk of this burgeoning populace constitutes the poor and starved, whereas what we direly need is a healthy population that can contribute actively to the economic development of the country.

On an international level, our economy continues to be faltering. Different departments and sectors of the economy have to compete for the meagre national resources available. Consequently, budgetary allocations for the utilisation and management of water remain inadequate to meet the desired needs.

In order to address the above challenges, it is imperative that appropriate administrative systems are put in place that take into account the interests of all stakeholders in the management of water resources through legislative and institutional mechanisms. Efforts to deal with these issues require financial and human resources, which, unfortunately, are not always available. Government bodies and individuals involved in water-management programmes must provide the funds needed for water-management activities. It is also worthwhile to mention here that development and management of water resources require well-trained and skilled people in engineering, hydrology, chemistry, other related disciplines, who are commonly lacking in our country. We need to build sufficient capacities through appropriate training of staff in these fields. Pakistan must also create an enabling environment which will keep and retain the trained human resources and not lose them through “brain drain”.

We need to establish strong partnerships and mobilise adequate internal and external funds for fostering investment in the water and sanitation sectors to enable attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. Pakistan urgently needs to accelerate development of water resources for increased water supply, food and energy security, and assist in mitigating the effects of climatic changes and water-related natural and human-induced disasters. Support should be extended to provincial governments to develop adequate policies and strategies that can make the above a reality.

The institutional framework for water management should include the policy-making bodies that establish the rules or legislation on the development and use of water resources, and the legislative bodies and agencies with regulatory and political functions and responsibilities. These bodies should strive to reconcile the various interests of water users at any given time. They should ensure that, for water management to be effective, it should be envisaged in an integrated form, through an integrated water-resources management framework.

In context of Sindh and Balochistan, mostly females have to bear the greater burden of ensuring that families are provided with water for cooking, washing and other amenities. Mainstreaming gender within the context of integrated water-resources management is, hence, critical to attain the Millennium Development Goals. Government bodies should ensure equal participation of women and men in decision-making at all levels of water-resources management. At the grass-root level, however, we are far from involving women in the planning processes. This requires a great deal of effort in education and building awareness of the issues involved and a move towards changing the culture of decision-making.

Given the present realities of resources, both financial and human, we have an uphill task to meet our goals of ensuring water security. The government should monitor, evaluate and provide vital information on the state of our water resources to relevant agencies. It is essential to build knowledge of the phenomena of droughts and floods in order to develop early warning systems and capabilities for timely and more accurate forecast of their occurrence and magnitude, giving ample time for implementing mitigation interventions. Effective water-resources development and management depends on the adequacy, quality and management of data on the various components of the hydrological cycle and the environment. Meteorological and hydrological services have to provide the scientific bases for effective water resources development and management in each country. To address this unfortunate state of affairs, we need to sensitise politicians and decision-makers about the importance of meteorological and hydrological data and products, in the language they appreciate, as the necessary basis for proper and reliable designs and optimal management of water-related schemes.

Traditionally, it has been argued that a good network of utilities and services such as water supply and sanitation are a prerequisite for investment. While this is largely true, the private sector can contribute proactively to programmes that will ensure a better environment for business, especially as regards to improved water-resources management. Indeed, the private sector is already playing a part, albeit to a limited extent, in contributing to the improved water situation in Pakistan. Most of the equipment and instruments used in data collection, monitoring, operation and maintenance of water utilities are manufactured by private companies and firms. Most of these instruments are not available in local markets, hence, are purchased from overseas at a high cost. These firms can make a significant contribution by investing in Pakistani local markets and producing the equipment within the country, thereby reducing the financial burden on the government.

To enhance food security, the government needs to develop the huge potential of irrigated agriculture as a strategy for eradication of absolute poverty and hunger. Above all, the government should attract investments in agriculture, agro- forestry and fisheries sectors, improve land management and governance, convert the agriculture sector into profit-oriented enterprise and make judicious use of resources for water management and storage so as secure the future of the country and its prosperity.

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