THE most recent round of discussions on a national water policy has produced a mix of views old and new.
The old part came from the provincial government representatives, such as the one from Punjab that believed there is no need to build a consensus around the construction of mega dams, particularly Kalabagh, and the government should move ahead regardless of what the other provinces think.
This sort of mindset would be best avoided when finalising the water policy before submission to the prime minister. The new part came from the Ministry of Water and Power, which wants to make water pricing a central pillar of the new policy.
The argument here is that water is a scarce resource, and its utilisation will move towards efficiency only when its consumers see the true cost of their water requirements being met.
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The suggestion is aimed only at irrigation water, as the idea is that drinking water is a fundamental right and cannot be left to market principles.
This is truly new thinking, going where previous water policies have failed to tread, and it ought to be encouraged and should become a central pillar of the policy before it is submitted to the prime minister.
Ever since the first national water policy of 2006, the emphasis in the water sector has been on mega construction projects, with some words thrown in about area water.
But the magnitude of financial requirements of future water-sector investments presents us with a stark choice: who should pay for these investments, which can run into tens of billions of dollars?
Part of the answer is donor agencies since Pakistan does not have the resources. But the remainder must be mobilised domestically, and here the choice is between asking taxpayers or users of the water resources to foot the bill.
The new policy, it seems, is trying to give users a greater role in carrying the burden of water-sector investments, in return for a downward devolution of distribution-related entitlements.
This vision deserves to be written into policy and implemented. The water sector is notorious for its resistance to reform, far behind other sectors like power and telecoms, due to the powerful vested interest of large landlords.
It is high time that pricing reform came to the water sector, and the water and power ministry has done the right thing to make it a central plank of the new policy.
Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2015