Sunday, March 23, 2014

Daily Times Editorial March 23, 2014

World Water Day THE World Water Development Report, the fifth in a series by UNESCO, published on the eve of World Water Day says surging populations and economies in the developing world will cause a double crunch in demand for water and energy in the coming decades. The report says the demand for clean water and electricity are intertwined and could badly strain Earth’s limited resources. Already, 768 million people do not have access to a safe, reliable source of water, 2.5 billion do not have decent sanitation and more than 1.3 billion do not have mains electricity. About 20 percent of the world’s aquifers today are depleted. Agriculture accounts for two-thirds of water use. The link between energy production and water lies in the fact that 90 percent of energy production uses water-intensive techniques. In 2010, this gobbled up 66 billion cubic metres of fresh water. The report’s snapshot of the future is frightening. Global water demand is likely to increase by 55percent by 2050. By then, more than 40 percent of the world’s population will be under severe water stress, many of them in the broad swathe of land from North Africa and the Middle East to western South Asia (Pakistan lies in the last region). Conflicts over water can be expected in the Aral Sea, Ganges-Brahmaputra River, Indus and Mekong River basins. Pakistan is already showing signs of water scarcity. This year’s drought in Thar, and now reportedly in Cholistan, is merely the reflection of changing weather patterns (causing lower rainfall), neglect of such desert regions, mismanagement, etc. Ironically, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Thar, he asked the question why such dire conditions had emerged in Thar but not in Cholistan. As though on cue, reports started to appear in the media soon after on Cholistan’s heading for a similar disaster. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has on the one hand denied any deaths in Cholistan (so far) and on the other trotted out the same arguments as Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah that migrations of the desert dwellers in times of drought are ‘normal’. If the latter got such bad press for this, how wise was it for the Punjab chief minister to rely on almost the same wording? If all is well in Cholistan, as Shahbaz Sharif argues, why has he felt the need at this moment to announce a Rs 2.37 billion package for Cholistan for provision of clean drinking water, construction of roads and development of the livestock sector? Clearly, the echoes of the criticism faced by the Sindh PPP government for its handling of the Thar crisis have resonated in Punjab’s hallowed halls of power. People in Pakistan, as in most parts of the developing world, do not have high expectations from their governments. They have learnt to adapt over the years to catastrophes such as droughts and if the calamity kills people and livestock, they accept it in a stoic manner as the inevitable fallout of nature’s ways. Such fatalism however, should not become an excuse for governments to wriggle out of their responsibility to deal with such recurring crises. All that has been done in Sindh as relief in Thar and what is now being mooted by Punjab for long term development of Cholistan should and could have been done earlier. The fact that the media highlighted the plight of the people of the deserts can be considered the main factor in the sudden waking up of the two governments to the misery, disease and death that afflicts communities eking out a living in the harsh and forbidding environment that is their home. It is time, given the alarm that has been raised by the drought in Thar and Cholistan, and in the light of the UN report quoted above, that long term plans be drawn up for the development of these areas, first and foremost the supply of clean drinking water, so that these children of a lesser god are not left to their own devices in the face of nature’s harsh afflictions, made worse by human neglect and mismanagement.

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