Saturday, August 21, 2010

Floods:water accord and discord in Pakistan

It is very interesting and yet depressing to note the diametrically opposite stands and positions of the antagonists from Sindh and Punjab.There is a wide difference of opinion as to the basic data such as river flow/discharge history.There is politics,skepticism and even mistrust. There is a chain of mistrust among the lower and upper riparians ;Pakistan distrusts India as to the implementation of Indus Water Treaty and other possible foul plays:Sindh distrusts Punjab and Balochistan has grievances with Sindh.Ironically what one party is asking from the upper riparian is not ready to give the same to the lower riparian. Every now and then there is a water dispute ,and vicious debate ensues.Small political parties make hey out of it,while large mainstream political parties get headache on how to resolve the issue without losing votes and support.

The differences are mind boggling.For one group there is no excess water.They say they require floods to irrigate their sailabi land and want to have adequate water flow into the sea to save Sindh delta and loss of coastal land.The other group says that 43 % of water is lost on the average,which could be saved in storage dam which would control and regulate floods and also provide for sea escapage.All I can see is misery in Sindh today due to the excess water and the consequent floods.

Water Accord of 1991 was a major positive development achieved in the short-lived reign of Nawaz Sharif government.The accord sets out most of the ground rules.A federal body IRSA(Indus River System Authority) with equal provincial representation has been formed to implement the accord and manage water distribution issue.One of the problem has been the absence of reliable real time availability of data on water flows and withdrawals.General Musharraf regime installed the most advanced telemetry system with a cost of Rs 360 million, with a sincere hope that the availability of reliable data would solve the problem.For one reason or the other,the system is not being used despite being operational.It would be eventually scrapped if not put to use.This is pathetically criminal attitude on the part of those who have a vested interest in continuing the water dispute.There are two parties to this state of affairs.One who fear to lose their stated antagonistic position if the reliable data is available.The other is corrupt officials and local politicians combo which would lose illegitimate income.

As a result their is total lack of transparency.IRSA does not even have a website.Primary data on water flows and withdrawal is simply absent.There is abundance of contentious articles carrying one sided stories and often inaccurate or convenient data.Some complain that WAPDA does not share with them complete data history on water flows.With todays technology it is feasible to post on-line data in real time on the internet from all the points where sensors are installed.Today in Pakistan,there is a highly survivable and widely dispersed wireless mobile
communication system,which is still working in all nooks and corners despite flood destructions.

Current PPP government is in an enviably convenient position to make a beginning in this respect.It is a main-stream political party having roots and representation in all the provinces and much credibility in Sindh.PPP has given to Pakistan the gift of 1973 constitution which every body except the military generals upholds and wants to abide by.The eighteenth ammendment has been able to remove all the distortions that were introduced by the military dictators.In the wake of the martyrdom(shahadat) of Benazir,Pakistan Khappe almost saved Pakistan from a potentially highly injurious civil war.PPP can deliver on this.Although,one is occupied with flood issue at this time, a beginning should be made towards the resolution of the water distribution problem.The framework is there in the form of Water Accord of 1991.Only the implementational issue s are there. Even flood problem and the dam issues are connected with the resolution of this.There are currently four major issues:
1)Implementation and operationalisation of the telemetry system which also has a bearing on flood management capability.
2)removing the lacunae in the Water Accord,such as a formula for distribution in drought and shortages and others.
3)determination of water requirements for Sindh delta and creation of consensus on it.
4)Remove malfunctioning of IRSA and bring in an adequate conflict resolution frame-work.

Truth and impartiality appears to be the rarest commodity in Pakistan's highly politicized water issue.Only outsiders such as world bank can prepare an acceptable regime.Foreign consultants are to be hired in which Pakistanis should not have a role and may possibly have a veto power of the provinces.Otherwise even foreign experts may also be rejected by the contestants.Outside help would be required even in implementing the system.Even a World Bank water auditor and arbitrator may be required for a period spanning a whole water cycle.World Bank has the money, technical capability,impartiality and the muscle.PPP would have to provide the leadership and handle the miscreants.

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