Water Resources Utilization and Sustainable Development Goals

Dr. Atiq-ur-Rehman
In 2015, the nations from around the world agreed on some common goals, labeled as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are based on the idea that not only the present human race has the right to live, but also our children and future generations have the right to have a good environment and to live a decent life. Therefore, in the process of development, it is necessary to avoid the relentless use of resources and the actions that are detrimental to the environment, so that future generations can have access to the means of livelihood and a decent environment. In 2016, the SDGs were adopted by the National Assembly of Pakistan as national goals through a unanimous resolution. So the SDGs are not only international goals, but also Pakistan’s national development goals. Therefore, the development projects in Pakistan must be planned keeping in view these goals, and if there is a risk of harm to these goals from a project, such projects should be avoided. In fact, there is often a tradeoff between goals. For example, if a factory is set up to generate employment, the environment may be at a risk and abandoning the factory to save the environment may make it harder to achieve the goal of employment. In such cases, planning needs to focus on minimizing the damage to other goals in a plan designed to achieve one goal. For example, if it is necessary to set up a factory, choose a technology which minimizes the emission of chemicals, or install a system to clean the chemicals before release to the environment.    Hydropower projects simultaneously affect several development goals. The primary objective of the hydropower project is to achieve energy, one of the goals of SDGs, but there are many other goals, significantly associated with these projects. No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Climate Action, Life Below Water, Life On Land which are goal number 1,2,6,7,8,9,11,13,14 and 15 respectively, all are associated with the hydropower project. There are two types of methods used for hydropower projects. In one method water is stored by making a large reservoir of water, and then electricity is made from this stored water. This method was used in construction of Mangla Dam. In the second method, instead of building a large reservoir of water, a tunnel is dug to divert the water and generate electricity. The second method was used in the Neelum Jhelum project, and the same method is being considered for the proposed Kohala project. The two methods have the same implication for goal number 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, but the two methods have quite opposite implications for all other SDGs. For example, if a hydropower project is linked to water storage, the project can provide water even on days when the natural flow is short, thus, the project will help in achieving the target number 6, Clean Water and Sanitation. But if the project consists of a tunnel, there would be shortage of water in the areas connected to the natural course of the river, as happened in Muzaffarabad. So, such a project will hamper the goal of access to clean water. If the project is based on water storage, a suitable habitat for aquatic life could be found in the reservoir, which is a positive step towards target number 14, Life below Water. Conversely, if the project is based on a tunnel, there is no concept of aquatic life inside the tunnel, and whatever little aquatic life is possible in the river, the tunnel will cause its demise. If water is stored, water can be made available for agriculture in down-stream areas, which can help to reduce poverty and hunger, the goals No. 1 and 2. Conversely, if the project is based on a tunnel, the availability of water on the river’s natural routes will be reduced, having exactly the opposite effect for the goals. Water reservoirs provide resources for fishing, boating, and tourism, which are in line with Target No. 8 Employment and Economic Growth, the tunnel based projects wastes all such opportunities. Water storage is the key to a steady supply of water in down-stream areas, which can help in the goal 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities. The tunnel-based project will have the exactly opposite effect. A tunnel-based project can help achieve the goal 7 but negatively affects many other goals. In contrast, a dam-based project provides all the benefits of a tunnel-based project, and avoids the potential damage caused by a tunnel. It also supports a number of other development goals. Therefore, keeping in view the national development goals, a project like a tunnel should not be considered worthy of attention. While water storage projects should be encouraged to help achieve national development goals and sustainable development goals. Some experts believe that water resources should not be tampered with in any way. They are not convinced of the dam or the tunnel, nor do they consider any obstruction to the natural flow of the river to be justified. This position is the result of having only one goal in mind, i.e. the environment. The ideal is to maintain the flow of the river as given by nature but it is not possible to do so with such a large population. In fact, it is very unlikely to benefit the environment in this way. Our population has grown so much and a large section of the youth is unemployed and provision of livelihood for them is not possible without energy. If we ignore water energy, we have to rely on fossil fuels, i.e. petrol, coal or gas based energy. These sources damage the environment at a faster pace. Therefore, non-utilization of water resources will lead to more environmental problems, and at the same time, the benefits associated with construction of dams would be lost. The current unemployment rate in Azad Kashmir is 12%, which is almost double that of Pakistan. Achieving employmunemployed youth is certainly a difficult goal, and the construction of a dam can help achieve that goal. Tunnel-based projects, on the other hand, are a waste of resources that could be available in the form of a dam. Realistically, as the terms of the Neelum Jhelum project included the creation of lakes in and around Muzaffarabad. If these promises are fulfilled, the effects of water scarcity in the city can be dealt with, as well as each lake can provide a recreational facility. Each lake can be used for purposes such as fishing and boating, and all of these opportunities will also contribute to some of development goals. We have done enough damage by the Neelum-Jhelum project. Now, as promised, in addition to building lakes around Muzaffarabad, several medium-sized lakes should be built upstream of the Neelum-Jhelum project. Each lake will help in obtaining energy, and in addition will help in achieving the benefits of the lakes we have mentioned above. In addition, each lake will reduce the riverine soil flowing towards the Neelum Jhelum project, which will increase the lifespan of the Neelum Jhelum Project and the Mangla Dam. At the same time, in the days when there is a shortage of water in the river, the flow of water can be improved, and by conserving a portion of the water that is wasted every year, it can play a positive role in Pakistan’s agriculture. Conversely, if we focus on tunnel-based projects, development goals will become more difficult to achieve, and we will leave a bad environment and a bad economy for our future generations.

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