Adam Thomson

British High Commissioner to Pakistan

Part of UK in Pakistan

15th October 2010 Islamabad, Pakistan


Today is Blog Action Day, an annual event that unites the world’s bloggers in writing about an important issue that affects us all.  This year’s topic is water.

This is a crucial matter for poor Pakistan.  Tragically, the country has too much water right now as it struggles to recover from unprecedented and devastating floods.  But, equally, the country has far, far too little water as it copes with a rapidly expanding population.

The floods that started in northern Pakistan at the end of July as a result of torrential monsoon downpours cannonaded down the length of the country through the Indus River and canal system.  Twenty million people in an area the size of England were affected by flooding.  Eleven weeks on we see two million homes destroyed; millions of livelihoods and businesses wiped out; hundreds of bridges and roads washed away; and almost 2000 people killed.

The UK will stand by Pakistan in this disaster.  It was one of the first and most generous countries to respond.  We have committed a total of £134 million (nearly 18 billion Rupees) towards the relief efforts.  The UK public has generously donated a further £56 million (approximately 7.5 billion Rupees) from their own pockets.

This money has made possible a lot of good things, including one months food packages for nearly one million people and an emergency field camp in the worst affected area near Sukkur.  But British assistance – and indeed all the international humanitarian response combined – will meet only a fraction of the total recovery requirement.  For ordinary Pakistanis affected by the floods, much will depend on how Pakistan itself responds.

The short term relief response by the Federal and Provincial authorities, the Army and many wonderful Pakistani charities and individuals has been as good as could be expected for a country facing a catastrophe more widespread than anything any country in the world has faced in recent decades.  In the longer term, as reconstruction gets underway I hope the national debate will not just be recriminations over who breached what dyke.  I hope it will go beyond the contentious subject of major dam construction.  The national debate and policy implementation also needs to focus on the myriad of small ways in which Pakistan can both protect itself better against future floods and store and use more monsoon rain water. 

Certainly, water storage and water usage are going to become increasingly vital questions.  Pakistan already has a population of about 175 million people.  It is already “water stressed”.  By 2035, it will have added another 100 million Pakistanis to its population and will be “water scarce”.

90% of Pakistan’s water is currently used for irrigation and agriculture, leaving on around 10% for drinking and bathing.  Yet by 2035, Pakistan’s vast population will be more urban than rural.  From where will the clean drinking water come?  How will relations between Pakistan’s provinces by affected as they try to cope with the competing demands of agriculture, industry and a booming population?  What will be the impact on relations between Pakistan and India as they both try to identify the best ways in which they can share water from the Indus River Basin?

The UK will be as helpful as it can.  The sooner major national debate on water begins in Pakistan, the more helpful we can be.  Paradoxically, the floods are an opportunity to kick start policy discussion about water scarcity.