After the deluge, Pakistan needs to realise that it actually is faced with a terrible water scarcity.
There is something strange happening to the weather. The cold deserts of Ladakh (in India) have always received precipitation in the form of snow. It hardly ever rains in this high altitude desert. But for some years now, rains had begun to happen. Even last year, it rained more than it snowed. In the first week of August, it didn't only rain in Leh but a cloudburst that lasted for about two hours caused extensive damage.
In neighbouring Pakistan, BBC reports that the worst floods in the country's history have hit at least 14 million people, killing at least 1,600. Strangely, the floods hit the dry belt of Sindh, much of it semi-arid, besides other adjoining areas. While the climate experts are trying to find out whether the extreme weather conditions have something to do with global warming, I think the political and intellectual leaders are failing to look beyond climate change.
Meanwhile, Russia, and parts of Africa have lost millions of acres of wheat due to an unprecedented drought and the resulting heat wave. Russia has banned wheat export. The Russian ban explains how vulnerable is food security to sudden changes in climate. Pakistan may have to resort to foodgrain imports once the floods recede. Australia and Canada in the past have had low wheat harvests necessiating large cuts in grain exports.
Dependence on imported food to meet the food security challenges is no longer a sustainable option. Pakistan had always relied on food imports. India is fast catching up. But hopefully global warming should make countries across globe to rethink food policies, to ensure that more food is produced within the country. It needs government policies in agriculture that does not end up acerbating the existing crisis. More urgently, it needs governments to reframe economic policies so that they don't lead to greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere.
The bigger tragedy however is that all weather extremes are now being very conveniently blamed on climate change. Somehow an impression is being given as if climate change is the act of god, and is beyond human role. Climate change has become the scapegoat for all ills.
I see this mindset to be more devastating than the actual destruction being wrought by greenhouse gases. Intensive farming across globe, aided by commodity trading and futures, is one major reason for the crop cycles busting. More than blaming the weather gods, it is time governments revisit agriculture programmes to revert to more sustainable farming systems, and apply the principles of food sovereignty to lessen the impact of global warming on food supplies. Re-desiging agriculture has to be accompanied with a shift away from the policies and approaches that are part of what is called as growth economics.
Pakistan however faces a much bigger challenge. After the deluge recedes, it will be time to realise that Pakistan is perhaps faced with its worst-ever freshwater crisis. This will compound the crisis that Pakistan already faces in food security. The FAO estimates that Pakistan is at the bottom of the 26 Asian countries when it comes to water availability. Pakistan is fast moving from being a water stressed country to a water scarce country.
In fact, water stress stares at not only but also India and China. In Pakistan, the looming water scarcity makes it more vulnerable to socio-political upheavals, something that is not desirable for the South Asia region as a whole. It is in this context that I came across an interesting and thought-provoking article in the International Herald Tribune. Written by Steven Solomon, author of "Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization," it suggests several steps that the country must take immediately.
I am not sure whether the suggestion of mega projects is the right one. But I think it will be useful if this blog could draw some opinion/comments from within Pakistan as to what the Pakistanis feel should be the right strategy to combat looming water scarcity.
Pakistan's looming freshwater crisis
by Steven Solomon
HARD as it may be to believe when you see the images of the monsoon floods that are now devastating Pakistan, the country is actually on the verge of a critical shortage of fresh water. And water scarcity is not only a worry for Pakistan’s population — it is a threat to America’s national security as well.
Given the rapid melting of the Himalayan glaciers that feed the Indus River — a possible contributor to the current floods — and growing tensions with upriver archenemy India about use of the river’s tributaries, it’s unlikely that Pakistani food production will long keep pace with the growing population.
It’s no surprise, then, that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made Pakistani headlines a few weeks before the flooding by unveiling major water projects aimed at bolstering national storage capacity, irrigation, safe drinking water and faltering electrical power service under America’s new $7.5 billion assistance program. In March, the State Department announced that water scarcity had been upgraded to “a central U.S. foreign policy concern.” Pakistan is at the center of it.
This is because a widespread water shortage in Pakistan would further destabilize the fractious country, hurting its efforts to root out its resident international terrorists. The struggle for water could also become a tipping point for renewed war with India. The jihadists know how important the issue is: in April 2009, Taliban forces launched an offensive that got within 35 miles of the giant Tarbela Dam, the linchpin of Pakistan’s hydroelectric and irrigation system.
Pakistan needs to rebuild and overhaul the administration of the world’s largest contiguous irrigation network. For decades, Islamabad has spent far too little on basic maintenance, drainage and distribution canals, new water storage and hydropower plants.
To some extent, these deficiencies have been masked since the 1970s by farmers drilling hundreds of thousands of little tube wells, which now provide half of the country’s irrigation. But in many of these places the groundwater is running dry and becoming too salty for use. The result is an agricultural crisis of wasted water, inefficient production and incipient crop shortfalls.
Like Egypt on the Nile, arid Pakistan is totally reliant on the Indus and its tributaries. Yet the river’s water is already so overdrawn that it no longer reaches the sea, dribbling to a meager end near the Indian Ocean port of Karachi. Its once-fertile delta of rice paddies and fisheries has shriveled up.
Chronic water shortages in the southern province of Sindh breed suspicions that politically connected landowners in upriver Punjab are siphoning more than their allotted share. There have been repeated riots over lack of water and electricity in Karachi, and across the country people suffer from contaminated drinking water, poor sanitation and pollution.
The future looks grim. Pakistan’s population is expected to rise to 220 million over the next decade, up from around 170 million today. Yet, eventually, flows of the Indus are expected to decrease as global warming causes the Himalayan glaciers to retreat, while monsoons will get more intense. Terrifyingly, Pakistan only has the capacity to hold a 30-day reserve storage of water as a buffer against drought.
India, meanwhile, is straining the limits of the Indus Waters Treaty, a 1960 agreement on sharing the river system. To cope with its own severe electricity shortages, it is building a series of hydropower dams on Indus tributaries in Jammu and Kashmir State, where the rivers emerge from the Himalayas.
Read the full article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/opinion/16solomon.htmlPakistan