Amidst a burgeoning water crisis, Pakistan has received a further blow that may have worse implications on its water problem. The World Bank has asked Pakistan to stand down from pursuing its stand of referring the Kishanganga dam dispute to the International Court of Arbitration (ICA) and instead accept India’s offer of appointing a “neutral expert”.

This verdict from the World Bank is disappointing since it was Pakistan that had affirmatively gone for the peaceful route and pushed for cooperation with the World Bank and India. It is also Pakistan that has the most at stake, as India’s construction of the Kishanganga dam grants it a manipulative tool to use against Pakistan in foreign relations issues. The Kishanganga dam, if misused by the India, will not only alter the course of the river but also deplete the water level of the rivers that flow into Pakistan. This is why Pakistan has been adamant about the Court of Arbitration instead of a technical expert, whose accountability and neutrality would be difficult to ensure.

The World Bank decision comes across as even more irresponsible when one considers that it has come about when Pakistan is trying to prevent what could be a disastrous water crisis. According to a recent UN report, Pakistan is on track to become the most water-stressed country in the region and 23rd in the world by 2040. Low levels of water compared with extreme weather conditions have had further damaging effects on the country’s agricultural produce. Severe shortage of water may cause 40 percent decline in production of three major crops - cotton, sugarcane and rice - as compared to the last year. Reduced flow of the Neelum River would only serve to worsen the already crippling water crisis.

While things look more terrible as ever for water shortage, one positive sign is that this year the government has taken active steps to spread awareness for water conservation. The state’s activism for water makes us hopeful that it will not settle with the WB verdict, which could be further crippling for the water crisis, and exert pressure on the WB to reconsider the matter. A three-judge Supreme Court bench has taken up the issue, and directed the federal government to furnish a comprehensive report on reduced flow of the Neelum River because of the construction of the Kishanganga dam, which displays the prominent message that Pakistan would not be comprising on its water security.