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EDITORIAL: Perhaps the one area where this coalition government can succeed where all else have failed, considering its wide representation from political parties and provinces, is to abide by the 1991 Water Appointment Accord. Any perceived deviation therefrom must be dealt with and immediately rectified on the basis of real-time data and changing conditions rather than deeply embedded biases.

Not only has this been one of the driest years on record with much less than expected snow and rainfall, and the Kharif season began with a 40 percent water shortage, but Tarbela dam is at dead level and Punjab and Sindh have still not been able to overcome their differences. It is because of these reasons that most experts fear that Pakistan might face an acute water shortage in just a few years.

The wheat crop is already compromised, and cotton and rice are about to meet a similar fate, which will put yet more burden on the current account just when it has become one of the biggest problems for the government. Yet this problem does not receive nearly the kind of urgent attention that it should.

Sindh says it still faces about 14 percent more water shortages than Punjab and asks for more, Punjab says it is itself running dry and has none to offer, and the little that it did pass on went mysteriously missing a few weeks ago and nobody’s still the wiser about it. And it is pretty clear that the Indus River Systems Authority (IRSA) is not the right platform to provide solutions for these problems.

Water scarcity has now become the number-one issue not just for this country but for the whole region because as Pakistan and India also wrangle over their share of available water, it is clear that years of waste, negligence, disagreements, incompetence and climate change have now combined to push it in the front of the line of soon-to-be most water-scarce places in the whole world.

The situation has got so bad that it has raised red flags all the way across the world in the United States as well. The first US Action Plan on Global Water Security, launched by Vice President Kamala Harris, not only worries about this problem but also casts doubts on the Indo-Pak Indus Waters Treaty to work any longer. It “has withstood six decades and four Indo-Pakistan wars,” the document notes, and goes on to say that now it is “facing pressure due to regional population growth and disagreement over hydropower use.”

These lingering disputes, whether between different provinces inside Pakistan or between different countries in the subcontinent, are only going to get more bitter because water reserves to be shared are diminishing very quickly. That is why the first and most important thing to do is revise the mechanisms that govern them into more effective frameworks. It does no good, for example, for provinces to keep arguing their cases before IRSA with the same result every time; which is that no agreement is reached.

Similarly, if the Indus Water Treaty is little more than a glorified debating club where complex theoretical arguments are exchanged but nothing actionable is achieved, it only wastes time and makes the whole thing even more inefficient.

Hopefully, all sides realise that there is no more time to toss this issue around and score petty political points. This problem is very real and it has already hit this region with full force. And if those at the helm of affairs still don’t do something about it, then they would and should be held responsible for the fate of millions upon millions of people whose lives would be devastated by this crisis and also the irreparable damage done to various local and national economies in this region.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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