As Pakistan awaits its national water policy, a multinational company (MNC) manufacturing bottled water recently launched its water plan at one of Pakistan’s top private universities. The event was well attended and had high level government representation. The scenario was presented as an alliance between the government, thinktanks, academia and the MNC to save the country’s precious water resources. The media reported that “The Water Plan aimed to bring together multiple partners to preserve and protect water resources by leveraging research and technology to reduce and recycle water, introduce sustainable agricultural techniques to reduce water consumption vis-à-vis increased yield, and provide access to clean and safe water within communities.” Despite the glamour of these words, it’s very pertinent to point out that this MNC has in the recent past contested that water is not a universal right and has remained part of global controversies around child labour and un-regulated water pumping.Water is a universal human right. The United Nations (UN) proclaims that “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realisation of other human rights”. However, the global water shortage of affordable and safe drinking water is manifested in Pakistan with an estimated 44 percent of the population without access to safe drinking water. According to Water Aid, 16 million people in Pakistan have no choice but to drink dirty water. Additionally, rapid urbanisation is making access to clean water even more difficult. Over 39,000 children die every year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation in Pakistan. The Pakistan center for research in water resources (PCRWR) reports that around only 72 percent of water supply schemes are functional whereas 84 percent of that supply water is not fit for human consumption.Multinational corporations are not local, hence they have no interest in water resource preservation. They drain aquifers and once they are done they move to more lucrative places. Regulations and laws around ground water consumption and water rights remain ambiguousMNCs continue to profit in the in the absence of potable water and sanitation. Bottled water has captured a huge share of the market in Pakistan. Water commodification has made a free resource into a profit making venture for corporations who pump local water and sell the same again to the community from where it extracts the free resource.In this backdrop, according to independent studies, water companies pumping water without adequate regulation cause the depletion of the water table by approximately 1.4 meters annually. The top reason cited under various research reports is unregulated private exploitation of ground water for domestic consumption.Regulatory bodies like PCRWR and Pakistan Standards & Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) have indicated that unregulated ground water extraction cause depletion of water reserves for the local population. Consequently, declining shallow ground water increases the cost of digging new and deeper wells. This jeopardizes peoples access to water, making them dependent on tube well owners and water selling companies. The use of ground water is already discriminatory in Punjab and is further worsened by public and industrial exploitation. Moreover, Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles used to sell this bottled water are considered highly detrimental to the environment.Water companies connect with humanitarian projects to present a softer image. Big corporations are profit making entities; they simply do not undertake any ventures that are not profitable. What they do undertake are marketing endeavors in name of corporate social responsibility. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), itself a contested idea and has evolved over the years as an MNC tool to battle accusations around their questionable marketing practices. The dilemma is that these MNCs are not local, and hence have no interest in water resource preservation despite their tall claims. They drain aquifers and once they are done they move business to more lucrative places. Regulations and laws around ground water consumption and water rights remain ambiguous. It is a complex issue to determine if water pumping right resides with land owners, industry or the local community. MNCs are also accused of ignoring regulations due to their access to Pakistan’s top leadership. Since citizens cannot fight against the MNCs for their rights to water, the government is expected to safeguard their rights. A government whose prime function is to regulate profit making companies when creating partnerships with them jeopardises it’s basic responsibility to citizens; the protection of their rights and interests.According to the South Asian Climate Forum (SASCOF), Pakistan is expected to face harsher periods of drought while approaching absolute water scarcity in 2025. Certain policy decisions need to be taken on a priority basis. A comprehensive national water policy must be approved, which is still sitting on the back burners of the Council of Common Interest. On the implementation front, the government needs to perform its regulatory functions with sincerity.Water Regulatory institutes like the Provincial Irrigation and Drainage Authority (PIDA), the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) and Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA)needs to be adequately empowered to deal with violators. Pakistan has remained largely focused on agriculture related water issues. This focus needs to be inclusive of ensuring the poor population’s right to accessible, affordable and safe drinking water as a basic human right. MNCs must not be allowed to abuse the water rights of the local population while setting up ground water extraction plants. Extraction of ground water should be effectively regulated. Lack of regulation, influence of MNCs over national leadership and MNC alliances with academia and NGOs are gravely dangerous for the human rights of the poor. This is not only an obstacle to accountability and sustainable development but also undermines government’s main function as protector of the citizen human rights. Legal frameworks for compensation and rehabilitation of communities affected by un-regulated domestic and industrial water extraction should be put in place.In the current scenario, Pakistan is unlikely to meet its sustainable development goals for safe water provision to its population by 2030. It is time for making comprehensive water policies, firm implementation and extensive regulations. It is time to protect the citizen’s rights to clean water, healthy life and dignified existence. This is not the time for government to make compromising alliances with MNCs while the academia and development sector looks on. The writer is a policy practitioner, an Oxford public policy alumnus and Oxford Global leadership initiative fellow Published in Daily Times, October 12th 2017.