PAKISTAN is struggling to achieve many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to water safety. While many countries have moved towards precision agriculture and other modern techniques to meet their needs, policymakers in Pakistan appear adamant about continuing with outdated methods. The obsolete techniques used for irrigation and water conservation not only cause wastage of precious water resources, but also contribute to the country’s overall economic losses.
According to a survey conducted by some international organisations, Pakistan wastes about 30 million acre-feet (MAF) or 10 trillion gallons of water per year. Several other reports have indicated time and again that Pakistan is the third most water-stressed country in the world and would face absolute water scarcity by 2025 when its population is expected to reach 227 million. The country’s per capita water availability has dropped by a whopping 400 per cent from 5,600 cubic metres in 1947 to about 1,038 cubic metres in 2021.
One key factor behind the deplorable water crisis is the strange recruitment process in the irrigation department. Civil engineers are recruited on the basis of their expertise in construction and infrastructure of water bodies, and they lack the requisite knowledge about agriculture and water-conservation techniques. Most of the hired civil engineers have no exposure or experience of working with modern agriculture techniques, such as hydroponics, a technique of growing plants without soil, and aeroponics, which involves growing plants in the air.
This institutional lack of expertise and knowledge about related fields ends up costing the country both in terms of resource wastage and potential economic gains. This is exactly why a large number of countries have changed their recruitment policies to correspond with their needs and enabled the hiring of more niche experts in the irrigation sector.
It would be wrong to assume that such experts cannot be found within the country. A team having thousands of agricultural engineers is working on modern techniques and has been successful in developing numerous modern agricultural techniques.
However, owing to the failure of government policies and the hegemony of related sectors that favour the status quo, these agricultural engineers are being deprived of the chance to use their expertise and knowledge for the betterment of the country. Pakistan must be the only country in the world where the irrigation sector is run by irrelevant engineers having no knowledge of water conservation.
The influence of the civil engineers’ lobby in Punjab’s Irrigation Department was noticeable in a recent advertisement that appeared to deliberately go against the hiring of agricultural engineers. This is quite unfair because these professionals are competent and happen to be the best fit for most such positions.
The inclusion of agricultural engineers will prove pivotal in navigating the looming water scarcity in the country and bringing the agricultural sector in line with less water-intensive techniques. Moreover, research has also suggested that switching to modern techniques would free up at least 60pc of our water resources for human consumption.
Hence, the inclusion of agricultural engineers in the irrigation sector is the need of the hour and the authorities should amend the rules of service for the departments concerned and re-advertise open positions. Taking this step would be for the larger benefit of the entire nation as abundant water resources would also ensure economic and social stability in the country.
Muhammad Anees Kamran
Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2022