Umair Jalali looks at a crucial issue of Impediments in storing water
The country has been ransacked by rains with huge levels of Impediments in storing water that is standing still in almost all parts of the country. Despite such massive availability of rain water the authorities have singularly failed to make arrangements for storing water. Successive governments have tinkered with plans to build large storage dams but excessive political manipulation has consistently hampered such crucial projects. Most elected representatives ended up squandering development funds owing to disproportionate parts of the lobbies striving to secure their respective interests. This tendency spread dangerously creating a general feel in the political elements to dabble into development work for obtaining personal gains.
The situation aggravated when political leaders sitting at the helm of affairs wanted to take the credit for development tasks without realising that such municipal tasks are not something that federal politicians should be involved in and such matters are better left in the hands of local governments. In this context the most harmful result of such short-sighted approach is lack of water storage facilities in the country. The distribution of water is always considered the most contentious issue in any country that is usually solved by intense application of the process of give-and-take that is sadly missing in Pakistan. Such bargaining is carried out behind closed doors and revolves around the willingness to offer and willingness to accept. The methodology is then tested and fine-tuned for implementation.
Pakistan is no exception to difference of opinion between federating units as is evident by the stiff opposition mounted by the residents of Mirpur in the 1960s when Mangla Dam was constructed. The government accommodated many families in adjacent areas and initiated a scheme to let the other affectees migrate to North West England particularly to Bradford where they have done well. The problem in the area recurred in 2000s when Mangla Dan Rising Project came to the anvil. The Tarbela, Ghazi Barotha and Neelum-Jhelum projects were also confronted with serious concerns and entailed long-term discussions that were satisfactorily brought to fruition by politicians, government officials and technocrats.
Patient negotiation has never been part of Pakistani national psyche that is driven by fears of manipulation all around. But once efforts are made to patiently debate an issue, the effort produces positive results as was borne out by Water Accord on 1991 that helped create IRSA. Similarly, Council of Common Interests debated and then finally sanctioned the building of Diamer-Bhasha Dam (DBD). The welcome development was that the political set-up gave enough credibility to technical advice rendered by WAPDA and accepted the plans tendered by it. Then the political inertia gripped the issue, as usual, and nothing was done about the project for eight years. One of the hitches was that DBD was tagged along with Dasu Dam whereas it was widely thought to be unnecessary.
While muted political opposition for DBD was there but the fact that it promised to increase the water share of KP by about two-million acre-feet and Balochistan will also be benefitted by almost one-and-a-half-million acre-feet kept the opposition to lower levels. The availability of stored water will make both provinces food secure, With Tarbela in place and DBD under construction, the mighty Indus would finally be tamed. The floods in the Peshawar Valley are normally caused by River Swat but with the construction of Mohmand Dam on River Swat, the annual flooding of Hashtnagar and Nowshera will become history.
To avoid further aggravation it is essential that the Water Accord 1991 provides iron-clad guarantees to the provincial water rights with no chances of any breaches. It is also required that the difficulty of seawater intrusion in Sindh Delta that has caused about 200,000 acres to inundate, is appropriately addressed and it should be ensured that seawater intrusion is checked and a constant flow of 8 million acre-feet is guaranteed annually for the delta.
The dams entail water conservation and they also entail construction of dykes, embankments and adjustable mechanical gates to protect lands. The cost of building these devices may be reimbursed by levying a charge on net hydel profits accrued from the dams and net hydel profits should be paid to the provinces in proportion to the losses sustained due to the project. Most importantly the full value of water input is required to be measured and paid. Cultivation of high-water requiring crops such as sugarcane and rice may be discouraged through volumetric water charges.
It must also be kept in view that out of the new storage facilities Sindh will benefit from supply of freshwater to the tune of five to six million acre-feet. The additional supply would require extra cultivable land and as an incentive the kutcha areas should be brought under regular cultivation and pay their water bills against the current practice of them paying nothing. The time has come when all impediments to storage of water are gradually removed so that Pakistan may take advantage of high-levels of rainwater that usually goes to waste. TW