The water crisis has become one of, if not the most pertinent issues of the current moment, with the masses being bombarded with the highly politicized dam fund appeals from all directions. One can’t go far without being confronted by slogans proclaiming a complete water shortage by 2025. Are these predictions correct and if so, to what extent? What is the source of the water crisis and what are the possible solutions? These are some of the questions that the esteemed speakers at the seminar attempted to answer.
The talk was moderated by Dr. Agha Ali Akram while the speakers consisted of Dr. Zehra Waheed of SDSB, senior economist at Asianics Agro Development, Dr. Pervaiz Amir as well as Stephen Davies, a senior teaching fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. The speakers were sure to clarify that the problem was not one of the supply of water in itself but rather that of the consumption of fresh water. It was the demand side of the debate that the speakers brought attention to, as it is one that is not often considered when evaluating the water crisis in Pakistan.
The speakers were largely in agreement regarding the fact that Pakistan is unlikely to run dry in the next 30 or so years but the path to a sustainable future is definitely one in which the consumption of water is managed in a far more efficient manner than the current systems in place. While Dr. Pervaiz stressed on the economics of creating a ‘water market’, Mr. Davies supported him by providing an example of such a market that operates in Colorado, United States – a region that has faced extreme scarcity of the cherished resource. On the other hand, Dr. Waheed propagated the idea of appealing to a common sense of ethics and morality that she believes will go a long way in conserving water for the future.
Currently, around 80-90% of Pakistan’s water is being supplied to the agricultural sector, for the cultivation of crops such as wheat, rice and cotton, that the speakers believed are low-value crops that consume more water than they can afford. It will be cheaper to import these at lower costs while using the water supply for higher value crops. The agricultural sector consumes the vast majority of the fresh water in the country and this usage is almost entirely unaccounted for due to the traditional systems of farming that dominate the landscape. The speakers stressed upon the importance of effective legal infrastructure and the protection of property rights that will go a long way in reducing the unregulated flow of water to the fields.
The crux of the talk was centered on the possibility of exploring an effective pricing mechanism for the consumption of water in agriculture, industry and the domestic sector. Metered measurement and consequent pricing per unit of consumption is the way forward, similar to the way in which gas and electricity are charged for consumption.
Therefore, while the speakers acknowledged the difficulties in introducing these systems to Pakistani society and the resistance they may be met with, they were all in agreement that these policies need to be in place in order to conserve water for the future.