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Event Title: Senate Special Committee on Water Scarcity held at Parliament Lodges

Event Date: 2018-09-06

The meeting of the Senate Special Committee on Water Scarcity was held on Thursday. Convened by Senator Moula Bux Chandio; the meeting was attended by Senator Sassui Palijo, Senator Dr. Ghous Muhammad Khan Niazi, Senator  Brig. (R) John Kenneth Williams, Senator Muhammad Akram, Senator Molana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, and senior officers of the Ministry of Water Resources, Indus Rivers Systems Authority (IRSA) and Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR).

The meeting commenced with a briefing on the current water scarcity situation in Pakistan by Secretary Water Resources, Shumail Ahmed Khawaja. He informed the Committee that the water resources available currently are 138 million acre feet with a storage capacity of 13.7 million acre feet -- 10 percent of our available water resource.  Pakistan can store water for a maximum of 35 to 36 days which is way less than the rest of the world that can hold water reserves for 130 days.

He further stated that since water is a devolved subject, the four provinces are the key players. In order to come to a consensus on this all important issue four sessions with Chief Ministers of all four provinces were held under the Council of Common Interest (CCI).  After rigorous deliberations a consensus was achieved after which the National Water Policy was conceived.  All provinces agreed to a Water Charter according to which no matter which party holds the reins of power, there shall be no change in the policy until 2030 on account of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Agreement on the construction of Mohmand and Bhasha Dams were achieved as a result of this meeting as well.

In addition to construction of dams, Secretary Water Resources, Shumail Ahmed Khawaja stressed the need to conserve water.  He stated that 90-95 percent of Pakistan’s water is being used for irrigation; 50 per cent of which is lost during canal diversion. According to the National Water Policy until 2030, 33 percent of water should be conserved. However, this seems impossible in the current context.  According to different reports 8-9 million acre feet of water can be conserved if this wastage is controlled.  He further said that the National Water Council was established to achieve this goal.  The panel was headed by the Prime Minister and included Chief Ministers of the four provinces, Prime Minister Azad Kashmir and Chief Minister Gilgit Baltistan. Some ministers and secretaries were also part of the team. As a result of detailed deliberations it was suggested that water distribution systems around the country be developed. However, lack of coordination got the better of it and nothing could be achieved in this regard.     Senator Azam Khan Swati stressed the need to strengthen officers working on this daunting challenge. He also asserted that for any progress to be made it is imperative that awareness about this issue is created at every tier of society.

While highlighting the problems of Sindh, Senator Sassui Palijo said that since yearly rainfall is rare in the province, the people of Sindh depend on its river systems for water. She stressed the need for equal distribution of water and implementation of the Water Apportionment Accord 1991 to address grievances of smaller provinces.    

Secretary Water Resources, Shumail Ahmed Khawaja was of the view that for any progress to be made it was imperative that water distribution in the four provinces is regulated. 

While discussing Senator Sherry Rehman’s notice on 23 July, 2018 regarding the need for installation of water desalination plants in the country, the PCWR informed the Committee that when faced with acute water shortage desalination is the last option, due to exorbitant costs.

 It was revealed that investment costs for a large plant was USD 900-1200/m3 and USD 2500/m3 for a small plant. Desalination costs would come up to USD1.0/m3 for a small plant. Senator Kenneth John Williams was of the view that the option of installation of filtration plants on the coastal belt must also be explored.