Better Water Management can make a Key Contribution to Poverty Reduction.
After partition in 1947, Pakistan had the highest growth rate in South Asia. In 1965 it exported more manufactured products than Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Turkey combined. It would have made anyone’s list of the Asian countries most likely to enjoy spectacular level growth rates over the ensuing years. This did not occur. While the growth rate in the 1990’s fell to around 4 percent a year. Pakistan became the slowest growing country in South Asia, an exact reversal of its previous role. Chronic fiscal deficits fed into mounting debt and rising interest spending, Sparring inflation, ever-increasing corruption and mismanagement of natural resources led to this disastrous situation.The incidence of poverty, which declined from 46 per cent in the mid-1980s to 34 percent in the early 1990s, has largely stagnated since, especially in rural areas, leading to a further widening of the rural urban gap .In last the fifty-seven years our fields dried out because our political decision makers in the past failed to pursue sustainable agriculture and water policies. Today, however we find that access to water is not least a social issue but poverty and access to water are mutually related; many people are poor because they have no water, especially in rural areas. But even more people have no water because they are poor.The World Bank report on the issue illustrated the deteriorating scenario in Pakistan in a very logical manner for the policy makers to take a U-turn and devise an intelligent strategy to achieve water and food security. The social gap can be shown most starkly by looking at the extremes. Between 1950 and 1999, the country enjoyed annual average per capita income growth of 2.2 percent tripling the average income of its citizens, which by 1999 exceeded that of the third of the world’s other countries. From 1960 to 1998 the country was also the world’s third largest recipient of the official development assistance, lagging only India and Egypt behind. During this time it received $58 billion in aid, including $22 billions from IMF and the World Bank, adjustment loans and considerable bilateral assistance from the United State and other countries.Despite this, Pakistan’s social indicators have failed to match its economic progress. Some have actually deteriorated over time. For instance, female primary school enrolment is 40.5 percent lower than in comparable countries. Social indicators in rural areas are also lagging. At 47 percent, for instance, poverty in the rural Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is more than twice that of urban Sindh, at 19 percent. Population in rural and urban areas is ever increasing and thus defeating provincial and federal policies.Lack of education and access to health and other public services are closely and casually related to material poverty. For examples, at 43 percent, the illiterate, especially in rural areas, suffer far higher poverty rate than the college educated, at 6 percent. If one is to address poverty in Pakistan, it is therefore imperative to focus on bridging its social gap, bridging the differences among the rural areas and provinces and men and women.All aspects of water, including drinking water and sanitation, can produce economic growth while economic growth in turn enables increased investment in water. If we all make a commitment to act then together we can save lives in the future. We can give the poor a chance to live a better life, a life free from the slavery of water and poverty. Water and food insecurity is knocking at the doors of Pakistan; let all stakeholders unite and devise a serious strategy to deal with this ugly situation before it is too late.