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‘We’re good at raising alarm, but it’s time to take action’

Our Correspondent
Tuesday, Nov 28, 2023

The 6th Karachi International Water Conference, organised by the Hisaar Foundation in association and collaboration with Infra Zamin and other partners, has opened successfully. It commenced with an opening address by Hisaar Foundation Chairperson Simi Kamal.

This was followed by an Opening Plenary: Water Matters in Climate Change, an impactful parliamentary-style debate spearheaded by Simi Kamal and framed by a keynote address by Dr Adil Najam, featuring renowned personalities, including Dr Igna Mata Jacob.

Framing the Water and Climate Change Discourse was led by WWF International President and Boston University Dean Emeritus Dr Adil Najam, who said in his keynote address that during most of his life and academic career he and people like him have focused on trying to figure out the problem.

“We have actually been good at scaring people and raising alarm. I don’t say that in a bad way because things are scary and because alarm needs to raised. But at some point you then ask yourself what is the way forward. It is not time simply for debate but time for action,” he stressed.

“We should not try to figure out one thing that is going to solve everything. There is not one thing that is going to solve everything. There are combination of solutions that work with combination of solutions.”

Dr Adil Najam said that the idea of living Indus is to conceive a whole set of good things without trying to figure out which is better than the other and in which context, and which can be done by a whole set of actors, including government, civil society and municipal authorities.

“Can we make the idea of living Indus barometer of what we are doing for climate change? If glaciers are out of sync, the barometer is out of sync. If mangroves are out of sync, I cannot think of living Indus without living mangroves or living glaciers.”

He said that when we think about living Indus, we think about irrigations canal only. “Living Indus is not about water. It’s about its nature, forests, birds, lakes, and Indus above the ground and under the ground,” he added.

“We have to start thinking about nature in a different way, and thinking ourselves as part of nature. That is the most difficult thing to do because we have been trained, our institutions and our systems have been trained not as part of nature but as custodians of nature.”

In her welcome address, Simi Kamal stressed the need for a transformative framework to address the intersection of water-poverty access and use, all of it impacted by climate change. She said that the current market economy is a very heavily capitalist market economy, and it does not serve the poor, given that in many places water rights are tied with land ownership and with other forms of ownership.

She called for developing a long-term vision of water requirements, including storages, to build capacity. She also stressed the need for maintaining the integrity of the Indus basin, regulating groundwater use, recognising non-irrigated areas and rationalising value of water. She also called for building a national investment base for water and zone to improve crop and water productivity.

After a tea break the second session opened by addressing the intersection of water and finance, delving into Why Water Matters for Finance: Investing in the Water Economy.

Keynote speakers, including Boo Hock Khoo, and a panel comprising Emilio Cattaneo, Maheen Rahman, Amir Shehzad, Kazim Saeed, Francois Onimus and Adnan Asdar emphasised the importance of investing in Pakistan’s water economy.

Post-lunch, in the third session, three discussions took place simultaneously in three different rooms. For Whom Does Water Matter: Justice Denied shed light on establishing water justice in an environment with skewed land rights.

Chaired by Rabiya Javeri Agha, with a keynote presentation by Dr Barbara Schreiner, the session’s panellists included Muhammad Arfan, Rabel Akhund, Nazeer Ahmed Memon Essani, Shahab Usto and Fiza Qureshi.

The session on Water Matters in Health & Nutrition: Links That are not Obvious explored the hidden links between water quality and human health. Keynote speakers Dr Ghazala Mansuri and Dr Kulsum Ahmed were joined by panellists Dr Zulfiqar Umrani, Sheikh Ali Hussain and Dr Huma Baqai.

The third session emphasised nature-based solutions in Watershed Management Matters: Nature Based Solutions from Source to Sea, featuring panellists from the ICIMOD, the IWMI, the Hisaar Foundation and the PHWI, moderated by Afia Salam and Dr Humaira Jahanzeb.

The closing sessions for the day included Women Matter in Water: Examples of Action, with panellists Zahra Ali, Mahnaz Rahman, Dr Lubna Ghazal and Nayab Raza. Simultaneously, sessions took place on Water Quality Matters: Circular Economy, and on Water Disasters Matter.