Notes from Pakistan: The mountains, and the water, offer echoes of home | MyWindsorNow.com

Notes from Pakistan: The mountains, and the water, offer echoes of home

Randy Bangert
rbangert@greeleytribune.com

Bangert

Imagine a place that is mountainous to the west, with flat, dry almost desert-like conditions to the east.

Water availability is largely dependent on snowfall in the mountains, which melts in the spring to fill reservoirs. A complicated system of ditches and canals delivers water to the more populated urban areas. A growing and thriving agriculture industry is the cornerstone of this place's economy, but strong population growth — most of it occurring in urban areas — creates a conflict between urban and ag water users.

Water availability may be one of the most important issues facing this place in the next 20-50 years.

If it sounds like Colorado, you're right.

It turns out that Pakistan and Colorado have some similarities when it comes to water.

During my tour of Islamabad this week with a group of eight American journalists, we met with Neil Buhne, the humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations in Pakistan. He said Pakistan has a looming water crisis that has risen to near the top of challenges facing the future of the country.

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Colorado's water issues are on a much smaller scale. We're talking about a population of 5.5 million in Colorado, compared to a population of 200 million in Pakistan.

But water availability and conflict over water distribution and storage are huge issues facing Pakistan. Some say water is a bigger issue than terrorism or population growth.

Buhne said Pakistan has one of the world's largest irrigation systems. But inefficiencies in the system and a distribution method that seems to waste a considerable amount of water are key.

Water storage, as in Colorado, is lacking.

Pervaiz Amir, Pakistan's director for the Pakistan Water Partnership, told the New York Times in a recent interview that the country built its last dam 46 years ago. In neighboring India, about one-third of the nation's water is stored in reservoirs. In Pakistan, it is only 9 percent.

The United Nation's Buhne added, "The public distribution system of water just doesn't work here." The quality of the water is also a major issue — something that isn't a problem in Colorado. But the overall availability of water is an issue being created by urban population growth.

According to the International Monetary Fund, Pakistan already is the third most water-stressed country in the world.

Its per capita annual water availability is 1,017 cubic meters. That's down from 5,000 cubic meters in 1950.

— Randy Bangert is the editor of The Greeley Tribune. He is taking part in a two-week international journalism exchange program with Pakistan, sponsored by the International Center for Journalists. You can follow him on Twitter during his Pakistani trip @randybangert.

Did you know?

» The world’s second-highest mountain, K2, is in Pakistan. It is 28,251 feet above sea level.

» Five of the world’s 13 highest mountains are in Pakistan.

» The Karakoram Highway (KKH) in Pakistan is the third highest paved road in the world, topping out at 15,397 feet. Mount Evans in Colorado is home to the fifth highest, and the highest in the United States, at 14,131 feet.