‘Natural security’ and water By Kashif Hasnie

‘Natural security’ and water By Kashif Hasnie
Dawn, 13 Apr, 2010
IN one of my earlier commentaries for the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., titled 'water Security in Pakistan', I was able to get the attention of the water authorities in Pakistan by explaining to them the grim situation the country is facing with regard to this precious resource.

I wrote that “Islamabad, we have a problem!” Today I write to attract their attention by saying, “Islamabad, we need a solution!”
In the recently concluded ‘strategic dialogue’ between Pakistan and the United States, water issues did not get the prominence they deserved. Water became part of the energy dialogue in one of the second-day sessions, giving it less prominence than required.

Given the high population growth rate, growing poverty, religious militancy and natural disasters, it sometimes feels as if matters in Pakistan could not get worse. Pakistan is ranked 125 out of 163 countries in the 2010 Environmental Performance Index (EPI).

The EPI focuses on two overarching environmental objectives: a) reducing environmental stresses to human health; and b) promoting ecosystem vitality and sound natural resource management.

Moreover, since Pakistan is primarily an agrarian country, water becomes the most important of all the natural resources to be secured and managed. Ironically, although the complex Punjab rivers and link canals system could very well be classified as one of the 20th century engineering wonders, today one is left wondering what good the engineering wonder has accomplished in a country where water resource management has failed for all intents and purposes.

To many, water security entails the idea of ‘water wars,’ which is a plausible scenario in the case of the waters shared by Pakistan and India. A good gauge of the trans-boundary significance of water is the dependency ratio, which is a measure of water resources originating outside the country.

Pakistan has a dependency ratio of 77 per cent, which is one of the highest in Asia. Therefore, we all hear about the classic, model treaty between India and Pakistan, called the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). So much has been said, written and discussed about the treaty that there might as well be another one by the name of Indus Water Treaty 2.

Since enough has been said about the trans-boundary water issue between India and Pakistan, I would briefly add that although the treaty is admired for withstanding wars and conflicts between the two countries, it has not been able to play any role in forestalling war. The mechanics of the treaty has survived so far, but the treaty itself has not been able to be part of a solution to animosities.

This is because the institutions, which deal with water and environment, do not work in tandem with the national security agencies. Quite recently, the water issue created friction between the two countries when after the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, Pakistani political commentators started accusing Indian officials of violating the Indus Waters Treaty, suggesting that water was the root cause of the Kashmir issue. Is this the case?

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