It is hard to believe when you see images and videos of monsoon floods devastating our country. It is unfortunate that despite an abundance of water in Pakistan during the 1990s, the government’s lagging policies have raised the prospect of water scarcity that is threatening national security on one hand and the economy on the other.

The availability and non-availability of water draws sharp boundaries between the haves and have nots. The sense of depravity and injustice sparks a controversy between the people. It is a lugubrious whim that the people of the same nation are disunited over a very basic commodity—water.

Pakistan’s first ever National Water Policy was formulated and approved in 2018 by consensus among the provinces. Unfortunately, there was no mention of the multi-purpose Kalabagh dam which would otherwise proffer several benefits. The conflict dynamics of Kalabagh dam basically rely on lack of consensus among provinces. Not too long ago, the need for at least two dams or water storage facilities was stressed upon. The current situation is grim.

Kalabagh dam was proposed as the second dam under the Indus Basin Settlement Plan of 1960. However, at that time it was thought suitable by the officials to construct a dam at Tarbela, and to build Kalabagh dam later. Accordingly, Tarbela dam was completed by the mid-1970s but Kalabagh dam is still nowhere in sight. Over the next decades, this issue was both favoured and opposed by the rulers; both civil and military, every now and then, but the result is yet to be seen.

To date, Punjab is raising demands for the construction of Kalabagh dam as already much time has been lost and our resources are becoming scarce due to the absence of major dams in the country. On the other hand, the other three provinces are opposed to the idea of constructing Kalabagh dam on political grounds and vested interests. If the shortage of water, somehow or another, convinces people into believing that one particular province is usurping their due share, and their financial losses are due to unfair distribution of water, they will surely revolt. The grievance of the provinces must be addressed lest it transforms into something uglier.

There are many differences on the hotspot that is Kalabagh dam which need to be resolved in an environment of mutual respect and trust. It wouldn’t be provident to unilaterally decide the fate of Kalabagh project on behalf of concerned powers. Politicians have forever diverted and misled the nation through scare-mongering, demagogic viewpoint and spinning stories about ‘better’ alternatives and options to the dam. Many mistakes have been made in the past and we are still facing their consequences. Why add another one to the litany?

For a developing country like Pakistan that lacks precious resources, resilience to natural calamities, and cohesive policies, the distress brought about by increasing water insecurity will further disturb the country’s stability and result in conflicts and disagreements.

The gap between the supply and demand of water is likely to widen. It can be tackled through a systematic and institutionalised approach. National unity is a fragile term which must be taken care of accordingly. It is the government’s duty to raise awareness about water conservation and preserve national unity. However, national unity becomes vulnerable when leaders speak on “behalf of the majority” and present alternative facts and disintegrate national integrity. The state should reach a consensus on the construction of Kalabagh dam in the spirit of national interest.