Pakistan’s population is likely to grow from 195 million in 2010 to 475 million by 2050 — and the water table in its main farming area, Punjab, is disappearing rapidly. This could produce conflict directly, for control of scarce land or water, or indirectly, through migration and spread of refugees.In nuclear-armed, terrorist-torn, over-populated, chronically unstable Pakistan, the once mighty Indus, source of irrigation for the country’s cotton and rice crops, has been reduced to a pathetic trickle as it reaches the sea.So which strategist, planner, analyst, journalist, anchor and the like read the book and were curious about the various predictions included therein? While the team behind Megachange, farsightedly within the book itself, admits in simple terms that it is well nigh impossible to predict the future, for various reasons, that is still no reason to completely ignore a 40-year projected scenario analysis by, in this author’s opinion, the leading publication on political economy.
Before discussing all things water, the opportunity to gloat a bit is too satisfying to pass up. Civil society and all supporters of democracy are advised to peruse the chapter on democracy’s future in the subject book, titled Freedom’s ragged march! Personally, a most satisfying read. On a more serious note, security strategists are advised to carefully peruse the sections on the economy and on warfare. And don’t miss the first qualification by which the book identifies Pakistan: nuclear-armed. Perceptions matter!Getting back to the two entries on Pakistan, reproduced earlier above, when did the Indus get reduced to a pathetic trickle? Where was the leadership, elected and unelected, when all that was happening arguing about the Kalabagh Dam? For the cribbers, who will again divert attention from the real issue towards the misguided characterisation of Pakistan in the book, truly, that is quite unnerving, but noisemaking will not change impressions.
Forget the past, a bigger concern is that the country does not have 40 years to apocalypse; the population will not increase to 475 million in the last year; au contraire, it is projected to increase proportionately. Missing the necessary qualifications, one is clueless on where the water is disappearing and how fast is this phenomena occurring, but venturing an educated guess, that won’t suddenly happen in the 50th year either. What is even more worrying is that if the Indus is already a trickle, perhaps the decline is already there. And things could get a lot worse within a decade.
From an economic standpoint, cotton and rice crops, irrespective of what the pundits might want to project about the service sector, are still the backbone of the economy. If these products decline, the trade deficit will increase exponentially, which, notwithstanding the decline in employment as well, will have serious repercussions for the financial health of the nation. Increasing trade deficits are the causation for increasing foreign debt and with total national debt already above 60 percent of the GDP, there is effectively no space to borrow more.
There is a particular group of analysts who have been screaming about the rather shady deeds of the west with the not-so-friendly neighbour, upstream of the Indus. Again, one is not qualified to comment on the accuracy and appropriateness of such assertions; however, before getting into business with them won’t it be prescient to at least corroborate the technical data amongst other things? It would be rather disastrous if by the time the government concludes planning for hydel generation opportunities, somebody has already walked away with the water.Finally, the political wrangling on the big dams, considering the above projections, is surely perplexing. The politicians will be better off to instantaneously realise that as water levels recede to a point of no return, it will be impossible to pacify the voters, and that is a given. The fury of the mob, which is already reaching a feverish uncontrollable pitch, will be nothing when compared with the wrath of a thirsty, unemployed and inflation-stricken populace. The general consensus amongst the elite is that supporting big dams is synonymous with political suicide; what they should understand is that no water could mean the final nail in the coffin for political institutions for an indefinite period.But who will bell the Camel?Truly the government is extremely occupied with the existing more pressing disasters such as power shortage. However, ignoring a cancer to treat a fracture might not be a kosher strategy. The bigger concern is whether there is any entity in Pakistan charged with developing such future scenarios and if so why wasn’t the red light already flashing? Even worse, as pointed out earlier, nobody will read this article or the book and all this will amount to nothing!Perhaps the water shortage hypothesis is overrated and the doomsday scenario is a conspiracy to distract the nation from the real issues; let the powers that be decide.