Pakistan’s National Security Policy (2022–2026) is the first of its kind for the country. It outlines the vision and Pakistan’s global engagement in the context of strategic and security trends. Significantly, it identifies areas of interest and challenges emanating from them. The National Security Policy (NSP) document is the culmination of the National Security Division’s seven years of assessment of global dynamics. There are eight sections in this policy document. Section VIII (Human Security), addresses the climate and water stress in Pakistan.
By Pintu Kumar Mahla
Although Pakistan’s initiatives in climate change have seen a seriousness in recent times, such as initiating a climate change mitigation policy, undertaking a ten billion tree plantation drive, and committing to a 50 per cent reduction in projected emissions by 2030 subject to international grant finance, it, however, requires a more cohesive and integrated response at the national level to deal with the looming impact of climate change on water resources.
In the light of this, the NSP while linking the existential challenges of human security to climate change and water acknowledges in the process the necessity for effective water management system, particularly in the wake of extreme climatic events, declining agricultural productivity, increased variability of water availability, sea water incursion and various other related challenges. Climate change has impacted Pakistan in serious ways and is one of the most susceptible countries to climate risk. According to the Germanwatch Report, “Pakistan has 9,989 lives and has suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion from 1998 to 2018.” The Report further notes Pakistan as the eighth most affected country to the impact of climate change. Extreme weather occurrences put enormous pressures on Pakistan’s livelihood on a regular basis. In the last two decades, Pakistan has had over 140 severe weather occurrences,1 such as the massive urban flooding of Lahore (1996), Islamabad (2001) and Karachi (2009), and the severe droughts it witnessed from 1999 to 2002. These incidents have had a collective impact on the people and their livelihood as well as significant economic losses. To mitigate these concerns, Pakistan has updated its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) and has set the ‘Vision 2030’ for climate change mitigation.
Pakistan is ranked third among nations experiencing severe water scarcity, with per capita water availability of 908 cubic metres in 2021, down from 1,500 cubic metres in 2009. Water quality and availability are being jeopardised as a result of the growing population and increased urban, industrial, and agricultural activities. As laid down in the provisions of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), Pakistan is entitled to use a defined volume of waters from the Ravi and Sutlej. A joint venture between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) initiated a monitoring programme on water quality in the Ravi and Sutlej rivers. These two rivers have become a wastewater outlet carrying sewage from Lahore as well as industrial effluents from a variety of industries. Consequently, water quality management has become very challenging. Added to this is the uneven water distribution that Pakistan faces. While the major agricultural area is in the east, the western sector has more water.
The Indus basin covers a major part of the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region. It is primarily reliant on the HKH glaciers, which serve as a reservoir, catching snow and rain, and then releasing it into the rivers that feed the plains. A scientific study has reported a rapid loss in Himalayan glaciers and notes that “the mean retreat rate of Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers is 14.9, 15.1 meter/annum; which varies from 12.
13.2 m/a in the Indus Basin”. This continuous loss of the Himalayan glaciers will cause major flooding and drainage issues, particularly in the basin’s lower reaches.
The climatological and hydrological changes apart, the Indus basin, despite the IWT, remains a political issue between India and Pakistan. Being transboundary, the Indus basin is of security concern especially as Pakistan is highly dependent on the Indus system of rivers. The looming water challenges threaten the agricultural sector in Pakistan as “approximately 65 per cent of agricultural land in Pakistan is irrigated by water from the Indus, which accounts for approximately 90 per cent of the country’s food and fiber production”. The agriculture sector extensively and inefficiently uses the water resources in Pakistan, which over the decades has impacted its groundwater availability. It has been predicted that “the per capita water availability in Pakistan will be reduced to less than 600 cubic metre which would mean a shortfall in water requirements of approximately 32 per cent, which will result in a food shortage of 70 million tons by the year 2025”. Moreover, current research shows that “the climate change and siltation of main reservoirs will reduce the surface water storage capacity by 30 per cent by 2025”. These statistics indicate, according to a World Bank Report, Pakistan’s poor water management mechanism which is “conservatively estimated to cost 4 percent of GDP or around $12 billion per year”.
The NSP is honest in the recognition of the human security challenges and avoids the rhetoric that one is accustomed to seeing in Pakistan and thereby acknowledges a serious need for a robust water management mechanism and an inclusive climate change policy.
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