Diplomatic channels need to be open for ‘hydro diplomacy’ that can address water management issues between India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The conference titled “Water Beyond Borders” was organized by Lead Pakistan. Parliamentarians, diplomats and water experts were participants of the conference.
Leader of the House in the Senate Shibli Faraz said Water is a basic human right, but the population explosion, technological boom and high demand for water has led to a global water shortage that is endangering millions.
He said that cooperative ties between water-sharing nations are critical to ensuring adequate access to water, adding that Afghanistan’s push to build dams to store and regulate water was an indirect blow to Pakistan.
He further said that if this shared resource was not mutually regulated through political cooperation, it could lead to a drastic water shortage.
He said that despite a treaty India threatened Pakistan by blocking its share of water flowing from its borders. He maintained that it is of course a violation of international law to do so, but in case of any conflict, it is one aspect that we must be aware of and prepare for.
The availability of water means everything to Pakistan, an agricultural national with the world’s most interconnected irrigation system, he said. He added that this was why the government began the Diamer-Bhasha dam project, which would neutralize external water threats by ensuring adequate water storage in the country.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam said that Pakistan’s challenge was to manage its shared water resources. He said that the Indus Water Treaty needs to be revisited to account for climate change variability and sharing groundwater aquifer.
Irrigation Minister of Punjab Mohsin Leghari stated that total water available is sum of total runoff water and stored water. However, due to increasing silting in dams, the storage is decreasing.
Former Water and Power secretary Ashfaq Mehmood said the next step after planning a water policy should be continuous monitoring and accountability to ensure that action plans work proficiently.
Senator Usman Kakar raised the point in conference that the provinces have not been given their due share, including when it comes to water distribution.
He said that parliament was not being taken into confidence on this critical matter.
He added that “The people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa do not get their share of water; 92 million acre feet of water passes under the Attock Bridge but Baluchistan does not get its share, which is equal to Tarbela Dam”.
He further said that the people of Afghanistan already have concerns that Pakistan wants to occupy their water.
He suggested Pakistan improve relations with Afghanistan, as Pakistan may otherwise face water issues.
A book on trans-boundary waters was also launched at the end of conference. The book contains the perspective of the public and private sectors, industry and agriculture, academia, international development institutions and local NGOs on water, environment and climate concerns for Pakistan and the Indus region at large.