Saturday, October 15, 2011

Grappling with Pakistan's impending water scarcity

The Business Recorder (Pakistan): The UN Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific has released its Statistical Yearbook for 2011, which contains a dire warning of increased water scarcity in Pakistan. It says changing weather patterns across the world have increased occurrences and intensities of extreme events of rain, floods, droughts and cyclones, such as those afflicting Australia, China, Myanmar and Pakistan.

Asia and the Pacific have the highest annual water withdrawal of all the world's regions because of their geographical size, population and irrigation practices - all reasons apply to Pakistan. Hence, the yearbook notes, natural disasters started denting Pakistan's economy from 2001-05 when economic losses rose to $1.1 billion, going up to $1.8 billion in the 2006-10 period. Last year's floods affected 18 million people causing 2,100 deaths. And economic loss reached $7.4 billion, which came to 4.9 percent of the GDP.

The preceding details make it plain that climate change has taken effect, and the natural calamities Pakistan has experienced two years in a row were not unforeseen events. And also that, floods have been causing harm not only to life and property but also economic growth. Yet, the realisation does not seem to have dawned on the government. It acted completely in surprise when disastrous rains hit Sindh this year.

Our policymakers need to understand two fast emerging realities and make necessary preparations to deal with them. One of course is that weather patterns are changing, and consequently the frequency and intensity of rains and droughts are to increase. That calls for adoption of preventive measures, such as construction of embankments and levees in the flood-prone areas and removal of encroachments from riverbanks to allow flow of excess water. Second is a long-term threat to water security. Water scarcity is becoming a world-wide issue having the potential of igniting conflicts....

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