Omer Zaheer Meer

Pakistan is an agricultural country and needless to say that agriculture is the backbone of its economy. Water management is therefore an integral and extremely important aspect of growing Pakistan’s economy just like for any agricultural economy of the world. However, Pakistan’s water management leaves much to be desired with regular cyclical flooding causing extensive losses to economy along with disrupting millions of lives regularly.

Improper and inadequate water management has not only resulted in shortfall of water in Pakistan but also the tragic wastage of precious water resources which instead wreak havoc in the form of floods every fear years, ending up being wasted without proper water-storage facilities. This is more ironic in the light of the severe energy crisis the country faces and the un-utilised cheap electricity generation option available from most dams.

Think-tanks in developed nations highlight and resolve such issues of national significance. It is therefore extremely important that these issues are deliberated upon, discussed and solutions proposed. Hameed Nizami Press Institute under Absar Abdul Ali took up the mettle to address this highly neglected issue recently and shared extensive knowledge about the topic as well as proposing valuable corrective measures.

Before sharing some of the key proposals of the experts’ in the conference mentioned above, it is worth mentioning here that just last year alone (in 2014) forty five thousands (45,000) houses and fifteen thousands (15,000) animals were destroyed as well as the losses due to the crops destroyed or damaged in over 300,000 acres of cultivated land, totaling to Rs 240 billion as per the experts in the said conference. 22 major floods since independence have ravaged Pakistan regularly causing significant economic losses and contributing towards our national dependence on foreign debt and aid. However despite the availability of scientific progressions, practical measures and naturally adequate water-reservoir sites, unfortunately we have been acting as the disobedient son of Prophet Noah (PBUH) and keep on destroying ourselves despite the availability of “ship” which can take us to safety.

The constant floods faced by Pakistan since it gained independence resulted in losses of trillions of rupees due to the destruction of crops, properties, infrastructures, industries, cattle and most importantly human lives. Fazal Ahmad shared that the former East Pakistan and now Bangladesh used to face worse flooding as compared to the region that is now Pakistan. However their leaders prepared extensive plans to address the situation and implemented it with assistance from international donors. As a result Bangladesh has now materially reduced the problems it faced from flooding, thereby strengthening its economy and improving the quality of lives of its citizens. The question is that if Bangladesh can do it, what is stopping Pakistan from doing the same and reaping the consequential economic benefits?

In this context, former Chairman IRSA Shafqat Mehmood elaborated that the climate changes are expected to result in erratic behaviour of monsoon along with glacier melting which will cause increase in river flow. To address this potential exacerbation, work is required on both structural and non-structural measures for flood-prevention and protection. Pakistan must increase the storage capacity to mitigate the effect of floods and instead utilise the precious water resources instead of them being wasted. The measures proposed to turnaround the disaster of flooding into a valuable resource includes building dams and water reservoirs, catchments management, high flow diversions, water channel improvements along with proper regulations, educating the masses, developing reliable flood forecasting and early warning systems, disaster preparedness, flood insurance and post-flood recovery plans.

While smaller dams and reservoirs are being built, there is a general consensus amongst experts that the highly politicised but hugely beneficial “Kalabagh” Dam (KBD) cannot only bring significant economic benefits and energy generation capabilities to energy-starved Pakistan but also materially reduce the destruction of floods coming from that path. Former SVP Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry and Chairman of its Kalabagh Dam committee Abdul Basit highlighted this issue.

Unfortunately KBD has been largely politicised in Sindh and KPK. While KPK’s objections can be resolved with proper education that Nowsheha will not be flooded but rather saved from flooding due to KBD as many experts including former heads of Wapda shared along with offering financial incentives to soften the anti-KBD sentiments. In Sindh the issue is more of a lack of trust as to the fair distribution of water and recently raised issue of damage to the environment. Both can be addressed by measures including giving governing position of the KBD to Sindh with representation of all provinces in a specially formed body to oversee the administration and running of this mega-project which can change the economic and energy fortunes of Pakistan. Some structural changes and mitigation measures can also be agreed to reduce the damage to the environment.

But for that political will is necessary to accomplish the feat. We must recall that never in the known history of nations has there been an absolute consensus on any such project involving human relocation. Even in Pakistan, Mangla and Tarbela Dams were strongly opposed at first but once the Governments decided in their favour, the state implemented its writ. The affected were compensated and today the whole country is reaping the benefits. Imagine if the Governments at that time had given-in to the political pressures instead of making a decision to stand by the national interests where would Pakistan be standing today without both these mega-dams considering the already crippled energy generation systems and meager water storage facilities.

Those who cite political dogma of parties basing their politics on anti-KBD agendas needs to be reminded that despite divided opinion when the decision making circles made a decision, operation against terrorism ensued successfully. Why, then this operation against economic destruction which is equally important for the survival and growth of Pakistan, cannot be undertaken? It can and should be undertaken for the sake of Pakistan. All measures should be used to address the genuine concerns of all stakeholders but any dissent against national interests of Pakistan based on irrationalism and petty self-interests needs to be tackled as such. KBD can be as big for Pakistan’s economy and energy resources as Atomic weapons were to Pakistan’s defense.