Justice Saqib Nisar Image Credit: Reuters

Islamabad: The Islamabad Declaration, announced at the final session of the international water conference, has recommended urgent and long-term measures to overcome a looming water crisis of which Pakistanis are already feeling the burden.

Investing in measures to increase water supply (by building dams) and manage consumption (through water pricing), appropriate water technologies, a water tax on the agricultural sector, and better coordination among different departments were among the key points of the water declaration.

Calling for measures for water conservation to preserve depleting water resources, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Saqib Nisar said that the enforcement of basic rights should not be viewed as intrusion by one institution as it was the court’s duty to enforce the fundamental rights guaranteed under the constitution.

He was speaking at the two-day international symposium on ‘Creating a Water-Secure Pakistan’, organised by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad on Saturday.

International water experts from the US, Australia and South Africa attended the conference in which researchers presented their research papers in the five thematic sessions, after which a 20-point declaration was issued to address Pakistan’s looming water crisis.

Speaking at the symposium, President Dr Arif Alvi called for a careful study of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) between Pakistan and India to safeguard the country’s water rights. The declaration also recommends “International Water Law should be taken advantage of by consistently putting forward Pakistan’s perspective before various international forums” while reviewing Pakistan’s strategy regarding IWT.

One of the key emphases of the conference was to invest in numerous small and large dams and reservoirs on a priority basis. The report also suggests “it is imperative for Pakistan to invest in supply augmentation (dams and reservoirs) and ensure better utilisation of its groundwater, adopting appropriate water technologies (water recycling, desalinisation, and water harvesting) and manage consumption and use of water (controlling water demand and pricing).”

Talking to Gulf News, Dr Imran Saqib Khalid, one of the attendees and a subject expert, said the conference that viewed ‘dams’ as the silver bullet missed an important point.

“While the government’s focus is mainly on large dams, Pakistan’s key problem is of management — such as [the] allocation, efficient and equitable use of available water resources,” said Dr Imran Khalid, head of Environment and Climate Change at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).

For Dr Khalid, building more dams in Pakistan is similar to “adding water to a leaky bucket that will never get filled.”

Pakistan needs to focus on the low-hanging fruits of water governance that include the management structure, groundwater policy, preventing water pollution, water-efficient farming techniques and above all, water pricing, he advised.

In July 2018, Pakistan’s chief justice launched a campaign to collect funds for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha dam along the Indus River due to water shortages. The fund has since crossed Rs6.4 billion (Dh175.89 million).

Although dams are important but Dr Khalid argues the crowdfunding mission is virtually impossible as “it will take more than 10 years to build a large dam and the current cost of $15 billion (Dh55.1 billion) will further rise.” Water is also stored in the form of glaciers, groundwater, lakes and small dams, he said.

The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources had already declared that the country “may run dry by 2025” if counteractive measures were not taken soon.

20-point recommendations

1. Prioritising measures to realise the potential of Pakistan’s share of the Indus Basin.

2. Investing in efficient water use through water recycling, desalinisation, and water harvesting and controlling water demand through pricing.

3. Revisiting the Indus Water Treaty to bolster Pakistan’s case globally.

4. Introducing modern water data collection methods to assess water availability.

5. Adopting effective salinity and sedimentation management techniques.

6. Constructing small and large dams and reservoirs on a priority basis.

7. Focusing on innovative solutions for storage facilities for low-gradient plains (flat areas, coastal areas, hard rock, desert areas).

8. Extending the Indus Basin irrigation network to bring several million acres of land under irrigation.

9. Employing various traditional and non-traditional financing methods for the construction of water storage facilities.

10. Improving management of groundwater storage to prevent its unrestricted extraction.

11. Reducing flood risks and tackling environmental hazards.

12. Formulating a fair water-pricing model to be implemented by the competent regulatory institution(s).

13. Reducing the risks faced by Pakistan’s rain-fed areas, deserts, mountain catchment areas and coastlines.

14. Establishing an appropriate Indus Basin Authority through a legal instrument.

16. Empowering institutions with the required mandate and resources, as well as responsibilities.

17. Strengthening the institutional capacity of WAPDA, the main water stakeholder, for the urgent development of dams and reservoirs.

18. Equipping the country’s educational systems to allow for more knowledgeable human resources that are key to addressing the emerging water challenges of the 21st century.

19. Setting up a powerful task-force on water.

20. Levying and recovering agricultural income tax throughout Pakistan.