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Issue Brief October 18, 2021

Recasting Pakistan’s water scarcity challenge

By Fazilda Nabeel

Pakistan’s water situation is at a crossroads. The country has been increasingly cited by international organizations for being on the brink of water scarcity because of its declining per capita water availability. At the same time, the architecture of water resource governance in the country is undergoing a major overhaul.

At this critical juncture, the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies organized a private, off-the-record roundtable to discuss Pakistan’s key water challenges. The Atlantic Council’s last dialogue on Pakistan’s water resources, organized almost a decade ago, focused on transboundary water cooperation between India and Pakistan through a Track II initiative.

In this latest roundtable, participants focused on water governance issues within Pakistan and proposed solutions likely to be the most attainable in the current political climate. During the discussions, water researchers and experts from both within and outside Pakistan advocated for moving away from mainstream discourse toward a more imaginative reframing of Pakistan’s water challenge. Participants worked to outline a novel approach to analyzing the country’s water challenge—an approach that is more holistic, equitable, and people-centered. The key takeaways from the discussion, expanded on in this issue brief, were that Pakistan’s water scarcity debate must be reframed, climate change is the principal water issue, cities are now at the forefront of Pakistan’s water challenge, and that water governance must be reimagined going forward.

The South Asia Center is the hub for the Atlantic Council’s analysis of the political, social, geographical, and cultural diversity of the region. ​At the intersection of South Asia and its geopolitics, SAC cultivates dialogue to shape policy and forge ties between the region and the global community.

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Image: Women with empty canisters wait for their turn to get water from a free water distribution point in Orangi Town on the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan March 19, 2021. Picture taken March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY