Pakistan Army and Pakistan’s Water Security

By all accounts, Pakistan is currently one of the top water stressed countries and the situation is likely to further aggravate in the future. Given the rise of population, urbanization, and loss of forested areas, water planning should be at the top of Pakistani federal and local governments. However, there seems to be no coherent long-term planning at all governmental levels.

The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) has warned that the country may run dry by 2025 if the authorities didn’t take an immediate action. According to a yet-to-be released report, parts of which have been made available to the media, the Islamic country touched the “water stress line” in 1990 and crossed the “water scarcity line” in 2005. 1

One does not need to be a water planning expert to assess the water stress situation in Pakistan. Even in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan, the city has to resort to water rationing and the residents do not seem to have a reliable supply of water. The situation is even worse in older cities, especially the inner city areas of all major urban centers. During the summers, the unregulated private water supply vendors charge exorbitant amounts of money to supply water, and sadly they basically sell public water to the urban citizens. Thus, “water mafia” is yet another powerful net of illegal extortionist businesses in our major cities. So far, most people in the inner cities rely on private wells to draw water, but since the population is rising and more and more city-spaces are being paved, the aquifers that supply the deep wells are also drying up. If this trend of water scarcity continues, Pakistan’s next violent clashes could very well be caused by fights over water.

There are many solutions being offered by people much more educated and wiser than me and given some planning and political will, the government can if not avert this impending disaster then at least reduce the costs and risks. As a former army officer, I would like to encourage our military commanders to make this into a major issue of national interest.

Pakistan army has cantonments all over the country and the army also owns vast stretches of land all over the country. While on a strategic level the federal government could develop a long-term water security plan with the army, the army itself, through its own resources, can also launch some major initiatives. In the United States, for examples, most human-made dams and water reservoirs were built by the US Corps of Engineers over a long time. The Pakistan army could also use the expertise of their own Corp of Engineers and other forces to build small-scale dams and water reservoirs in all cantonment areas. The dams do not have to be massive or large: any size of water storage ponds, lakes, and dams would not only serve the immediate purpose of storing rain and stream water but would also help in raising the water table around the ponds and dams.

Similarly, the Pakistan army cantonments pretty much always have their own independent sewage systems. The army could invest in modernizing the sewage systems and then create efficient water treatment plants to clean and reuse water. The army has the expertise, the manpower, and a centralized effective leadership to accomplish all this and thus become central to securing the future of Pakistan in this important, but sadly neglected, part of our national planning for the future.

Of course, the Pakistan army has already undertaken such projects in water stressed areas. For example:

Wali Tangi Dam, Islam Kach and Levy Post dams in Balochistan and water supply schemes in Thar Desert are a few examples, which have made positive impact on the environment and the local population. Additionally the Army has reactivated a number of abandoned tube wells in Cholistan desert. 2

However, these efforts need to be accelerated both at macro and micro level. 3 In a way, the army could launch a whole program that introduces thousands of micro programs to create and maintain water storage areas all over the country. Furthermore, while developing the army housing schemes for troops and officers, water planning should be a major part of any such planning, for what is the point of building housing for troops and officers if they are left scrambling for water.

While the civilian government ought to lead Pakistan toward its water security and we can hope that water will become a priority for our political governments, the Pakistan army can lead the way in doing its part in ensuring the water security of Pakistan.