Thunder reverberates up and down the Jhelum Valley as I write this: it is 6 pm and the sky is suddenly dark. The electricity is off - as per usual these days - and I can hear the insistent hiss of a pressure cooker emanating from a neighbour’s house where iftar is being prepared on an outdoor wood fire. It rained, quite heavily, for a while this morning and will probably do so this evening too. But if the meteorological department is to be believed and it often isn’t, the much delayed arrival of the monsoon isn’t really the monsoon at all as it is only forecast to last a mere three days before vanishing again and, while the less informed among us may relish the dry weather, those of us considering the long-term situation are concerned. A failed monsoon, if this is what it is, will be catastrophic for the country as a whole and, even if this is not the case, it appears that either we will not get the rain required or will experience a spell of major flooding and we all know, from unfortunate experience, exactly what that means!

The thing is though, that whatever happens next, the country and everyone in it, is totally unprepared which, given the warning bells that have been ringing full blast for months now, since last autumn if the truth be told as it always should be, yet no one, neither the general population nor the government, appears to give even as much as a momentary damn.

Important dams have been running on almost empty for some time with shortages of water endemic throughout the length and breadth of the country: just last month, for example, one single tanker of suspect water - this taken from heavily contaminated streams adjacent to the main Kashmir Highway otherwise called the N75 - was selling at an astronomical Rs 20,000 generally and at the even more inflated price of Rs 30,000 to the large hotel sitting on top of a mountain in Bhurban. And just a small tank of water, of the size mounted on the back of a pickup, was being offered for Rs 5,000 that, naturally, rural people on low incomes cannot possibly afford. This lack of water in the Murree Hills should serve as a severe warning of what is liable to happen all over the country before too long.

But by the time anyone pays attention, this is unlikely to happen until the price of a tanker of water soars to all-time heights in heavily populated urban localities, it will be way too late as no one, irrespective of how many and how powerful the magic wands they are expected to wave, can conjure up water when there is none to be had. If, as seems increasingly likely over the coming months, this nightmare scenario comes true, the shit will certainly hit the fan in full force with an already seriously disgruntled population taking to the streets like never before, but that too will not alter the basic fact that water management, let alone emergency water supply plans, are totally non-existent and there are no indications that this deplorable situation will change any time soon.

Without adequate water, a situation which has been part and parcel of life for a high percentage of our ever-burgeoning population for years now, even those who are able to pay through the nose for this precious commodity will not be able to purchase something that no longer exists and, as water is essential for life, the situation will rapidly become - I was going to say ‘critical’, but ‘fatal’ is the operative word and then…….yes…….there won’t be any ‘then’, unless something is done and done now - ‘now’ being better late than never at all.

Even if, a very big ‘if’ indeed, water is miraculously provided for human consumption and other basically essential use, there is the massive question of agriculture as, minus water, agriculture and remember that agriculture is the backbone of this rapidly disintegrating country, agriculture, in all of its diverse forms, simply cannot survive and this, so obvious that many people overlook the fact, means no food either.

In a situation of no water and no food, we would all - no exceptions possible - be in severely dire straits indeed and yet, even with this harsh reality staring us right in the face, no one is paying any attention. And, this being Pakistan where forward planning has never ever existed in any shape or form and please do not try to say otherwise, it will, as usual when anything goes wrong, be every person for themselves. In other words, what we have right now is a recipe for disaster on a scale never before experienced in this part of the world and, it is all our own fault!

Blaming the government for all our ills is simply taking the easy way out, as governments are transient and, don’t forget this, ‘we’ voted them in and should have been pressurising which ever government was in office, to do something to alleviate current and potential problems for decades now. Instead of sitting back, complaining to each other, and waiting for someone else to take action. The bottom line is that there isn’t a ‘someone else’ in that particular sense of the term - there is only ‘you’!

The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban.

Email: zahrahnasir@hotmail.com