Da Vinci aptly stated: “Water is the driving force of all nature”. Human beings can survive many things; conflict, natural and man-made disasters and much more. However, there is no denying that our very existence relies on water. Amid all the recent political tensions, it seems yet again that the issues which should be on Pakistan’s priority list, have taken a backseat.In 2016, the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) served a warning to the entire country that we will run out of water by the year 2025 unless the State takes immediate and effective action. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has deemed Pakistan’s position to be one of the worst in the world in terms of water scarcity. From the drastic drop in the availability of fresh water to the complete lack of policies and protection measures being put in place for the preservation of existing water resources, Pakistan faces a grave crisis that requires an immediate diversion of our efforts and resources. At present, around 84 percent of our population lacks the basic human right of access to safe drinking water, despite the fact that Pakistan is a State Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Under Article 11 of the ICESCR, Pakistan is to work towards securing the right of every citizen to “an adequate standard of living” as well as a “continuous improvement of living conditions”. While States Parties to the ICESCR are allowed a certain leeway in the implementation of the rights enlisted within the Convention, the progressive realization of these rights cannot be stunted by negligence and inaction on the part of the State.Most of our water is utilized for agricultural purposes but a large proportion of that water is wasted every year. With a deteriorating relationship with India and a population that only keeps expanding, the water crisis is not simply about some lofty ideal of securing basic human rights but has the potential to transform into a national security risk that threatens the very survival of the country.. Considering that the major sector of our economy is agriculture, and also taking into account the pressure on the environment resulting from development projects under CPEC, Pakistan has very little time to design an effective water use and conservation policyThe key aspects of the problem are summed up quite succinctly by Dr Abid Suleri, Executive Director of the Sustainable Development and Policy Institute (SDPI): “We don’t have a water use policy, and we don’t have a water extraction policy, like we don’t have a proper land-use policy”. Similar concerns have been expressed by quarters in the government, particularly the Punjab Agriculture Department: “Pakistan has only 30 days of water storage left, only 15 million litre feet, as compared to 900 days of the United States of America and Australia, and over 200 days of India”.Considering that the major sector of our economy is agriculture, and also taking into account the pressure on the environment resulting from development projects under CPEC, Pakistan has very little time to design an effective water use and conservation policy. One anticipated that the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Task Force would have triggered positive action on this front, particularly in view of Goal Six of the SDGs, which seeks to “ensure access to water and sanitation for all”. In this regard, three areas are of immediate concern: water scarcity and poor water quality, inadequate sanitation, and policies for improving our supply-side measures (in the form of construction of dams and hydropower projects). Provincial infighting over water has hindered consensus on a much-needed national water policy. To resolve this requires a concerted effort on the part of all federal and provincial stakeholders in establishing and implementing a forward-thinking plan on fair and equitable distribution of water. While India has continued to develop hydropower projects along the Indus, despite facing challenges within the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) framework from Pakistan, we have been unable to agree on the construction of dams on our side of the border. It is estimated that the rivers of the Indus have a “potential of generating 59,000 megawatts” of hydro energy, while Pakistan only utilizes around 6,500 megawatts (Asia Foundation, 2017). We are wasting not only water but the opportunity to transform our economy through appropriate utilization of this resource.While domestic measures are definitely required, particularly in developing and adhering to a national water strategy, Pakistan must simultaneously cooperate with India to ensure that all efforts are being made on the diplomatic front to tackle this common challenge. International law experts at the Research Society of International Law (RSIL) have suggested that the possibility of further, more serious water disputes between India and Pakistan require “both countries to engage constructively in order to understand each other’s concerns and fears and resolve them through bilateral dialogue”. In this regard, perhaps cue should be taken from the letter written by the Chief Minister Punjab to his Indian counterpart to “make a collective effort towards identifying technologies and business methods that may eliminate… and help control smog formation”. In fact, the Chief Minister took the far-sighted initiative of recommending a regional cooperation agreement to address the alarming smog problems on both sides of the border.The bottom line is, by the year 2025, Pakistan will be severely water scarce – in 2005, we already crossed the “water scarcity line”. While this country faces its fair share of disagreements on every political, legal and social issue, the very simple (and terrifying) fact is that we can no longer afford to argue or engage in political-point scoring where water is concerned. The time to act was a long time ago but there is still some hope if we get our act together at this late stage. On some issues, playing politics will cost us dearly and no one will be immune from the negative consequences that flow from our bickering on this issue. The writer is a lawyerPublished in Daily Times, December 16th 2017.