National Water Policy
The Council of Common Interests (CCI) has finally unanimously approved the National Water Policy (NWP) on April 24, 2018 that had been hanging fire for a decade over the reservations of the provinces. The CCI directed WAPDA and the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces to work out their respective net hydel profit arrears according to the A G N Kazi formula. This too had been a long standing bone of contention. According to KP Chief Minister (CM) Pervez Khattak, his province stands to receive an additional Rs 60-70 billion on this account as a result. The CCI also approved the National Water Charter, which was signed by all four CMs. The first ever NWP envisages selection of water reservoirs with consensus in line with the 1991 Water Apportionment Accord after thorough examination of their impact on sea intrusion, environmental protection and provincial water rights to secure surplus water. The NWP’s initial target is to increase the storage capacity from the existing 14 mega acre feet (MAF) by immediately starting the 6.4 MAF Diamer-Bhasha Dam, which was cleared by the CCI in 2009 but has run into obstacles such as financing and the reluctance of donors given that it lies in disputed territory (China too is believed to have reservations as regards this project for this reason). The meeting was told that water scarcity is looming and population growth and increasing demand dictate enhancing storage capacity. Under the NWP, the provinces will develop their own master plans within the national framework for sustainable development and management of water resources. While water resources are a national responsibility, irrigation, agriculture, water supply, the environment and other water-related sub-sectors remain provincial subjects. The NWP will be implemented through a National Water Council (NWC), headed by the prime minister and comprising the federal ministers for water resources, finance, power, planning and development and reforms and all the provincial CMs. A steering committee of the NWC headed by the federal minister for water resources will monitor implantation of the NWP with representatives of the federal and provincial governments and concerned departments. The NWP recognizes the need to provide at least 10 percent of the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) to the water sector, gradually increasing this to 20 percent by 2030. The provinces too will be called upon to increase their spending as the total allocation of Rs 145 billion, seven percent of the combined federal and provincial development budgets for 2017-18, has proved inadequate. Water losses of 46 MAF are to be cut by 33 percent by 2030 through canal and watercourse lining, which should also have a salutary effect on the loss of arable land to waterlogging and salinity. Water usage efficiency will be improved by 30 percent by 2030 through the incremental introduction of drip and sprinkler irrigation and other similar technologies. A more realistic water pricing mechanism and data collection and monitoring form part of the ambitious package. Since food, water and energy security are inextricably linked, the federal government is expected to play a leading role in ensuring the efficient, sustainable utilisation of ground water, its industrial uses and waste water management, with the cooperation of the provinces.
About the adoption of the NWP, suffice it to say, better late than never. Pakistan lies in a region widely predicted to suffer the effects of climate change, particularly water scarcity. It goes without saying that the issue has two main facets: storage of whatever water is or could be available, and its most efficient utilisation. Since storages have become a politicised matter, especially the Kalabagh Dam, we have to tread carefully. India continues to flout the provisions of the Indus Water Treaty in building projects on the western rivers whose waters are supposed to flow without impediment into Pakistan. Internally, past disputes between the upper riparian Punjab and Sindh in particular, but also the other two provinces, has left a residue of mistrust and suspicion. Storages like Kalabagh Dam can in this obtaining climate perhaps only be built if guarantees are available to the lower riparians that no new canals will sprout from the Dam, thereby ensuring Sindh and Balochistan’s due share of the waters of the Indus, while KP would need to be satisfied through guarantees of prompt and just rehabilitation of displaced people and compensation for agricultural losses due to the water table rising. While the NWP has put in place an organisational structure, it is the trust factor that will ultimately determine the country’s ability to proceed. Financing difficulties notwithstanding, it is encouraging that allocations are being envisaged for the Diamer-Bhasha Dam in the upcoming PSDP. The canal and watercourse lining proposal can incrementally save water equivalent to the envisaged storages, prevent waterlogging and salinity, and arguably is affordable. The Indus Delta must not be deprived most of the year of water south of Kotri as is being done since the 1991 Accord. Minimum perennial flows keep the sea at bay, protect agriculture in the Delta and surrounding areas, and preserve the rich flora and fauna that Nature has blessed us with.