Myths and the rains

As southern parts of the country receive their first showers in many months, once again we are confronted with the trauma of seeing how we mismanage our water resources at a time when this should be our first priority. Water has become a serious issue all over the world and Pakistan is no exception, except that the northern half of the country does not see what the southern half is going through.

In the country’s largest city – Karachi, water coming through your taps has become a novelty in many areas. Water is usually bought through a mafia which itself bribes both the water board and the police to receive supplies from legal and illegal hydrants. The water pipelines in the city are broken in many parts for operators to suck into the system and steal valuable supplies.  The bottom line is that there is enough water in the city. But it is in the wrong hands.

Then there is the issue of drainage. As the rains arrive in cities across Sindh and Balochistan, we also see the inadequate arrangements made for water discharge, with the result that many areas are flooded, and this water is rendered undrinkable – it is polluted and leads to water-borne diseases, which lead to the death of many.

In all this, there is an emphasis on building dams across the country. While this is a welcome suggestion, one has to understand the myths that surround such thinking.  To begin with, water that flows into the sea is not wasted. It feeds into a fragile eco-system that supports the mangroves as well as the flora and fauna that exist here. This eco-system is essential to the survival of all here. Secondly, the water pushes back seawater which, over the years after outflow reduced from the Indus, has come inland and rendered hundreds of acres of land useless in Thatta and other parts of the coastal line.

Water conservation will not come through building dams. Dams are an outmoded idea. Even Pakistan understood this when it built the Ghazi Barotha Hydropower Project. It is a spillway that only generates power. Maybe that is what we need to build. More importantly, no one is willing to fund a dam that creates controversy. Where will we get the money to build this capital-intensive project? Both the World Bank and the Chinese have expressed reservations.

We need a national policy for water conservation.  We also need a better understanding of sharing water resources. More important, we need to wake up to climate change.  We are now seeing flooding almost every year. This is unusual. Nothing is being done in this area.  We need to share data and information with neighbouring countries on climate trends. Like the World Bank brokered water treaty, the need of the day is a climate change treaty for South Asia.

A system should be put into place to ensure early warnings for floods and also some understanding of what is happening in our region. Some months back, residents in Kathmandu woke up to clumps of mud coming down with the rain. This mud had originated as a dust storm in the lower regions of South Asia, including Pakistan. Imagine how far it went.

Rains give us an opportunity for forestation. There was a time when a planting campaign was coordinated with the monsoon, but this has not been happening for several years now.  We have cut thousands of trees and not planted enough, despite the claims made in different provinces.

If the government wants to show its teeth, it should do so in the following areas. Take note of water theft – be it in the farms or in the cities. Maybe a good idea in Karachi is to privatise the water system. Look how K-Electric has dealt with power theft and improved supply. The second area is in timber theft. Those who cut down trees illegally should be punished severely.  Let us make examples of such mafias.

At the same time, we should wake up to conservation. How to save water. Whether when we use it ourselves or in the design of new houses. Water should be recycled as much as possible.  None should be wasted. Even water drained from air-conditioners should flow into plants. Our mindset has to be changed. Let us wake up. It could be a beginning.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2018.

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