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FEATURE: Water shortages send wake-up call to Pakistan


The team from LEAD Pakistan reports on a policy dialogue with the Government of Pakistan last week to explore how development of the country’s water resources could be more ‘climate compatible’. 

During a seminar convened last week in Islamabad, experts stressed that excellent storage facilities will be needed to store every drop of Pakistan’s water. Glacial melt is decreasing and greater dependence on underground water is leading to the rapid depletion of the country’s freshwater. Earlier this year, Minister for Water and Energy Khawaja Muhammad Asif had warned that Pakistan has only six or seven years at this rate until it becomes a ‘water starved country’.

The policy dialogue, entitled ‘Understanding The Water, Food and Energy Nexus for Climate Compatible Policy, Planning and Practice’ was organised by Pakistan’s Planning Commission, and LEAD Pakistan in collaboration with Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

The dialogue was designed to explore the economic dividends of climate compatible development and a holistic growth strategy to achieve Pakistan’s Vision 2025 targets. Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) largely depends on extraction and utilisation of natural resources; and so, the dialogue focused on specific interventions and a stakeholder engagement plan for mainstreaming climate compatible development into the country’s policy processes. The dialogue brought together experts from key sectors such as water, energy and food security, as well as senior public sector officials from relevant federal ministries and provincial departments.

In his introductory remarks, Naseer Gillani, Chief, Environment and Water, Planning Commission, Government of Pakistan highlighted the importance of the event and said that it has attracted the best minds in the fields of water, energy and food security, and he was positive that the policy outcomes will be of great importance.

Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CEO LEAD Pakistan, spoke on Pakistan’s Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, its challenges and how provinces must deal with them (through the amendment, environmental matters are devolved to provincial assemblies).

Turning to climate compatible policy and planning, Mr. Sheikh explored its linkages to poverty.
“Pakistan’s vulnerability is more than other countries’”, he said, “with water scarcity, sea intrusion etc. presenting major issues”.

He said that the cost of development increases as climate change is felt and we need to design interventions tailored to Pakistan’s unique needs – such as renewable energy.

Khalid Mohtadullah, Senior Advisor, Upper Indus Basin Research,  said that Pakistan is still playing catch-up with the rest of the world when it comes to planning for climate change.

“Sustainable climate compatible development is required. With decreasing water flows, Pakistan’s water usage is unacceptable – 97% of water is used in agriculture, whereas China’s dependency has decreased from 80 – 60% – leading to its status as the world’s second biggest economy,” he underlined.

He said that the key issue is to save water and to do this Pakistan needs excellent storage facilities.

The second half of the conference consisted of technical presentations where the options available to Pakistan were explored.

Vaqar Zakaria, CEO of Hagler Bailly Pakistan spoke on how Pakistan, once a hydropower-rich nation was becoming more and more dependent on fossil fuels, thus expanding its carbon footprint.

The final sessions consisted of three concurrent policy roundtables, whose recommendations will be built into future policy and planning in the water, energy and food security sectors.

 

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Image: Pakistan glacial lake courtesy Junaldrao, flickr.com

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