Water environment security of Pakistan will be a pipe dream if it remains within the four walls of air-conditioned offices and five star conference halls, with power point presentations and glossy reports by the well meaning institutions and dedicated professionals.
It is intrinsically linked with people for drinking water, food, health-care, daily chores, protection from inclement weather, rains, floods, snow falls and effects of global climate change phenomenon such as: global warming, glacier lake outburst floods (GLOF), extreme temperatures, droughts, sea water intrusions and migration to name a few.All civilizations, including ours of Indus and Ghandhara, have faced many of these challenges and developed ways and means to fight it. Had that not been the case we would have vanished completely from the face of earth. The question is not the survival but the quality of life with dignity and happiness for all people.
Our ability to face the challenges of today is greatly enhanced with education, research, availability of technology, continued current 5.3% economic growth, real-time communication across our vast territory as well as global communication. Despite these and many other strengths we are challenged by our increasing population, insufficient resource allocations to water environment sector, greater need for required skill building, highest priority that is required to be given to our territorial security in the face of hostility from neighbors, recurring political destabilization, institutional overlapping and above all by weak grievance channels.
All is not lost to this nation of over 200 million inhabitants of Indus basin and Karakoram – Himalayas mountains. It has vibrant youth and institutions. It has demonstrated time and again capability to overcome both natural and man-caused challenges to survive and move forward against all odds. A closer study of recent country actions show that it has necessary policies and plans, actions, institutions and infrastructure in place. As a responsible state it has participated in world forums for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) and other global initiatives with its plans and programs. It has fulfilled international and bilateral commitments despite several violations of its sovereignty. It has National Water Policy draft of 2012 which was discussed and a draft circulated in 2015 amongst various stakeholders and in 2017 sent to Council of Common Interest for discussion and decision; Climate Change Ministry was established in April 2012; Framework for implementation of National Climate Change Policy (2014-2030) was launched in November 2013; The National Environment Policy was launched in 2005 which is now incorporated in climate change framework; and National Forest Policy in 2015. Water, environment, food, forests being provincial subjects the federal ministries have to work in close coordination with the provinces. Federal climate change ministry is now engaging civil society in preparation of COP 23 and other global forums. This augers well for our future with well thought of policy formulation.
Future belongs to those countries which truly believe and are developing knowledge-based society. The knowledge-based society is a subject by itself but suffice to say that education, education and nothing but the education is door to knowledge-based society and it is argued it can be opened with necessary funding allocation. Education is in provincial domain and in 2017-18 budgets, the budget allocations have been increased on education sector; in Punjab it is 17%, in Sindh 19%, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 23% and in Balochistan 14%.
The funding allocations alone cannot qualify us to be a knowledge-based society, although it is a necessary and positive step in the right direction. The real change towards that goal can come with paradigm shift in our thinking against the extremist elements and vested interests.
In addition to our commitment to ‘Open Government Partnership’, we need specialized think tanks with participation of all sections of society. Besides government think tanks and foreign supported think tanks, society needs think tanks of businesses and people. Businesses need not be complacent and present its demands to governments in budget process but establish think tanks, like in other countries, to invest in understanding global trends in water environment sector and cash-in the investment opportunities in growing areas of solar, wind and micro-hydel. People can form local study circles to articulate their water environment situation and combine the centuries old experience and current knowledge to formulate plans for sharing with all, including their leadership, towards secure today and tomorrow.
The strategic direction on the subject thus developed can help move to develop policy papers for planning and execution. The success will be assured if our strategic direction and plans are bipartisan with built in controls, audits and dispute resolution mechanism. The practice of judiciary as watchdog will thus be reduced automatically and save our expenses and perception of politicization of every thing and anything. The de-politicizing of this security subject will then be a matter of service to people without the dance of one-step forward and two-steps backward.
In order to move forward the professionals from education, research, media, specialized civil services and politicians must move in unison. In this regard the parliamentary committees have a special role of protecting rights of their electorates without abdicating its mandate to over burdened judiciary.
All NGOs should be filing the gaps while INGO’s bringing global experience, regional communication and capacity building. People are at the core of all this and must be counted and provided enabling environment with awareness of water environment security towards their achieving better quality of life with dignity and happiness.
Nisar A Memon: The writer is Chairman of Water Environment Forum, Pakistan