The future of food and water systems in Pakistan and Central Asia? global issues


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A farmer works in a rice field in Pakistan. Credit: Fasih Shams / IWMI
  • Opinion Written by Clara Colton Simes (Colombo, Sri Lanka)
  • Interpress service
  • Clara Colton Sims, Princeton Fellow in Asia, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Sri Lanka. In an interview with Dr. Mohsin Hafeez, Country Representative – Pakistan, Regional Representative – Central Asia

Human actions are at the root of much water scarcity, but these international dialogues are an opportunity for humans to do so be part of the solution By working to reconcile our disadvantages by changing the way we approach diets.

Pakistan ranks 88 out of 107 countries in the world Global Hunger Index And the harsh weather, intensified by climate change, made farming a difficult adventure there. A lot of Pakistani food is now imported from abroad.

Dr. Hafeez’s work focuses on improving the resilience and efficiency of Pakistan’s water systems. This includes innovating water capture and storage systems in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, working to provide nature-based solutions such as recharging groundwater with rain runoff.

By holding the Regional Dialogue in April and organizing four Regional Dialogues in that time since, Dr. Hafeez provided the collaborative platforms needed to access sustainably managed water sources in his region. Only through intersectoral dialogue and action will Pakistan be able to achieve sustainable management of food systems.

“There is an urgent need to enhance cross-sectoral collaboration through evidence-based information to ensure water and food security, energy and environmental sustainability to transform the food system in Pakistan,” said Dr. Hafeez.

The before the summit Hosted in Italy another opportunity to bring together different stakeholders in food systems in the run-up to UNFSS. In the IWMI blog, we’ll explore what country managers in Uzbekistan and Pakistan hope to achieve through the UNFSS process.

Q&A with Dr. Hafeez:

How are water and food systems linked?

Water supply systems are the first and essential in food systems. In Pakistan, more than 90-95% of our total water resources are used for crop irrigation. It is a water regime closely related to diet.

When there is a shortage of water, we see a direct impact on food production because this is an arid environment, and farmers cannot do agriculture without using water artificially.

What are the most pressing challenges facing the food and water systems in your area?

Pakistan is a food insecure country. We don’t even have food to eat, let alone nutritious options. About 45% of children have stunted growth. People do not have enough food to meet their calorie needs. We import all other major crops in the last 4 to 5 years from abroad.

The diet is based on water. When we don’t have enough water, farmers can’t grow anything, which affects everyone’s life and livelihood.

If you’re even talking about the connections between the water system and the food system: current water storage systems are only able to handle a 30-day water supply.

Then there is also the issue of water quality. There is a lot of sewage and effluents that mix directly into the water supply system including canals and water systems. This also affects the food system, so what we grow may not have the same nutritional value.

Why is water storage necessary in Pakistan?

80% of the annual rainfall occurs during the monsoon season, which ranges from 60 to 90 days between July and September. In the remaining nine months we get only 16-20% of the water supply.

The water systems here are not flexible, so the water storage capacity is very low. And when we experience extreme climate shocks like drought, this puts stress on our water and food systems. Either we face three months of flooding, or nine months without enough water.

What would a water-secure world look like for Pakistan and what would have to happen to make it happen?

We need to make water systems more efficient, and this will only happen if we improve the efficiency of the irrigation system, which will make water more available to other sectors. We also need to make water systems more resilient.

There has been a lot of focus on building large dams, but they require a lot of capital resources. I think we should also focus on improving water resilience through nature-based solutions such as rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge at the local level.

We need local nature-based solutions and the government of Pakistan is planning to introduce 3,000 small ponds across Pakistan so that farmers have more water.

A comprehensive approach and a reliable database on water resources and use across Pakistan is fundamental to achieving food, water and energy security. We are the fifth climate-vulnerable country in the world, and there is an urgent need to enhance cross-sectoral collaboration through evidence-based information.

We also need a groundwater management policy. Although we have a national water policy and regional water regulations, we do not have a comprehensive groundwater plan. Ministries, such as those involved in climate change policy and food security, must stop working in silos and cooperate.

The regional dialogue we held did just that. She brought the ministries together and had them talk about how they can help each other in the Water, Food and Energy (WEF) relationship.

How did you manage to give a voice during the dialogue to historically underrepresented groups such as smallholder farmers, women and children, and rural communities?

We invited people from various government and private sectors and farmers. But as they are held in English, we were challenged by the language barrier. Many rural farmers do not speak English. So, we invited some and did what we could to help them with the translators.

Another challenge is that this dialogue was conducted by default, and many smallholder farmers did not have access to this. Therefore, only two or three cultivators participated.

But we’ve had many government agencies directly involved in the farmer community. They were able to represent the farmers, and a group called the Farmers’ Union was also able to attend.

How do events such as the Regional Dialogues and then the larger UNFSS affect the water systems in your area? And what do you want to see the result of UNFSS?

When people talk about food systems, they are talking about production, the food value chain, and consumption. They often ignore the importance of water. This is really the first time in 10 years when we are talking comprehensively about food in a way that includes every aspect of the system.

In a recent regional dialogue, which is part of the member states’ dialogue, we’ve had people working in the areas of nutrition, agriculture, the value supply chain, traditional agriculture, water and politics. It provided a platform where people worked together and thought beyond their specialty: identifying real problems and how they could be improved in the future together.

Pakistan has joined the UNFSS coalition of developing countries facing food insecurity. The Pakistani government stresses the need to build resilient communities and improve access to food. There will be actions and pledges to be made to increase investment in areas of food systems that have usually been overlooked.

What upcoming IWMI projects do you think will influence the kind of diet transformation that UNFSS wants?

The International Water Management Institute and the International Food Policy Research Institute are designing the CGIAR initiative to scale up the integrated management of water, energy, food, land, biodiversity and forests for inclusive and sustainable development in transboundary river basins in the context of climate change.

The NEXUS Gains initiative will be a game changer, but also many other IWMI projects that will be instrumental in interconnected thinking about improving food security and water systems.

As IWMI and other CGIAR centers work together, we will be able to effect change in a more systematic and holistic way that will change the mindset about food systems and ultimately improve the resilience of water supply systems.

What makes you feel hopeful about the future of food and water systems in Pakistan and Central Asia?

The current government of Pakistan says that food security is one of its top priorities. They have launched several social initiatives in this area, including a resource program where they feed vulnerable communities, focusing on gender and stunted children.

The government also emphasized the need to understand the challenges in the agriculture sector, and to link from the primary production system to the value supply chain, because as I mentioned there are 22% of losses at the system level.

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© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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