A general rhetoric about Pakistan’s water crises circulating in the mainstream media for the past few months is that the country will go dry by 2025 if something is not done at the earliest. This expression is followed by calls to build dams and other sources of water conservation. The biggest advocate for the construction of dams is the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Saqib Nisar’s crowd funding drive for the construction of Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams was later endorsed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, and several public figures have donated for the joint dam fund. But critics fear crowd funding dams in an unrealistic approach and will not succeed. Further, some experts are of the opinion that there may be other solutions to solve the water issue. Environment lawyer and activist Ahmad Rafay Alam says dams are not the “solution” to Pakistan’s water issues. “Let’s dispel ourselves of the notion that, somewhere out there, there is a silver bullet to our woes. First off, the water crisis is not a monolith. Like water – which operates at different levels and scales – the water crisis in Pakistan plays out in different spaces. Water is used in irrigation, and there are a number of aspects to the challenges this sector faces”, he says. Alam goes on to say that drinking water in cities sometimes comes from groundwater, which has no direct connection with irrigation. “Many sanitary and health issues (like diarrhea, which is caused, amongst other things, by not having clean water to wash your hands with) are just as much water-related as dams and hydropower. So to imagine a dam as the only solution to Pakistan’s water crisis is to envisage Pakistan’s water crisis incorrectly,” he opined. The policy of the new government of PTI about the water crisis, so far, entails merely extending support to the CJP-formed dam fund and collecting the amount needed to build dams. No other mechanism has been announced at the state level in this regard. Alam says in order to have adequate water supply, many WASAs and the Housing, Urban Development and Public Health Engineering Departments will have to work to meter connections. “Fresh inter-provincial water sharing arrangements may need to be considered. In order to build dams, the provinces have to learn how to share the financial benefits of the hydropower. There are many, many issues to resolve in Pakistan’s water crisis,” he says. About the claims that Pakistan will go dry by 2025, Alam says what is clear is that Pakistan’s per capital water availability is falling rapidly (from 5,000 cubic meters per person per year at Partition to about or less than 1,000 cubic meters per person per year at present). But per capita availability is not a reliable measure, he explains. “Firstly, it is no indicator of the absolute amount of water resources in Pakistan (the glaciers are still there, the monsoons are still there, just as they were decades and centuries ago). What it reflects in fact is the dramatic population growth in the country over the past decades. In any event, there are countries (Australia and Israel) that have less per capita water than Pakistan. They’re doing just fine.” Alam stresses on the need to use water wisely. “The issue of declining water per capita is actually an issue of how we use our water and for what. There’s plenty of water. If we use it rationally and wisely”, he says, adding that over 90% of the water in Pakistan is used in irrigation. “Irrigation supports nearly half the adult workforce but contributes to only 20 per cent of GDP. And rural livelihoods are hard, where the incidence of poverty or near-to-poverty are greater than in urban areas. In these circumstances, one could respond by asking whether it is wise to continue to employ nearly half the workforce in agriculture, keeping them close to poverty while consuming most of the water? Shouldn’t our workforce by groomed to aspire to more than farming? If you ask questions like this, then declining water per capita open up exciting new possibilities.” In April this year, the then government of PML-N adopted a National Water Policy approved by the Council of Common Interests (CCI). Alam says a policy adopted by a government during its final weeks in office before the general elections holds no value. He adds that there is nothing sacrosanct in it and it was more of a political gimmick than an genuine effort to adopt a holistic and inclusive water policy for the country. Environmental lawyer and activist RafayAlam says per capita availability is no indicator of the absolute amount of water resources in Pakistan. “There are countries (Australia and Israel) that have less per capita water than Pakistan and they’re doing just fine” Alam further says that the CCI does not have the mandate to approve a national water policy. “The CCI has the limited mandate to settle inter-provincial water disputes and to regulate policies on a defined number of federal legislative subjects. Water, on the other hand, has always been a provincial legislative subject and in any event is not within the policy mandate of the CCI,” he says, adding that a synthesis of provincial policies could form the basis of a federal policy. On the effectiveness of the said policy, Alam says the mandate of any policy is important when it comes to its implementation. “Was the water policy debated in any provincial assembly or placed before any provincial cabinet before the CCI adopted it? If not, then the document suffers from a fatal democratic deficit that threatens its effectiveness.” Further, he says that another flaw the National Water Policy suffers from is lack of inclusion and discrimination. “While everyone knows women interact with water as much as men (whether in irrigation, in arranging domestic supplies or in other domestic activities), the policy is absolutely silent as to the role of women in the water sector.” Alam adds that Pakistan’s policy space and practice areas in water are entirely male dominated. “The fields comprise mostly hydrologists, engineers and retired diplomats and soldiers. There is no female representation in this space, and neither is there an adequate female presence in any of the public sector institutions that oversee water governance in Pakistan. And so for the National Water Policy to be absolutely blind to this is an oversight that undermines its credibility.” The writer is Assistant Editor, Daily Times. She writes on counter-terrorism, human rights and freedom of speech among other issues. She tweets at @AiliaZehra and can be reached at [email protected] Published in Daily Times, November 6th 2018.