Water and data flow for free
Pakistan is not very rich in natural resources and endowments, but very poor in the management of all that it has and even poorer in the recognition of the potential of these resources and their (mis) use by others. others.
Fresh water and data are two prime examples in this case.
Let’s start with fresh water. A country that once had an abundant supply of fresh water, mostly through river systems, is rapidly losing it due to three “I’s”; i.e. India (for manipulating the Indus Water Treaty), indecision (on dams and reservoirs) and inaction (to mitigate and adapt to climate change) .
The country could face an “absolute scarcity” of water very soon – some projections are for the year 2025.
Per capita freshwater availability in Pakistan has increased from 1,165 cubic meters per person in 1965 to 265 cubic meters per person in 2017 (the latest verifiable data), and would certainly have declined further by now.
Pakistan is the world’s fourth largest consumer of freshwater, while the agricultural sector is the largest consumer.
For the agricultural sector, while the country has a reasonable irrigation system, on-farm water management is still underdeveloped and contributes the most to freshwater loss.
Despite spending billions over the years, water management has not improved enough, possibly due to the fact that farmers do not care about the “price” of available water.
Is it really priced, let alone based on economic value? In addition, is the water supplied to consumers, particularly urban consumers, correctly priced? Isn’t it time to think about it?
Yes, this could be one of the most difficult policy decisions and have many social and rural implications for livelihoods. However, this price of water could be compensated by subsidizing farmers by diverting other inefficient subsidies.
The idea is not to weigh on farmers or consumers of agricultural products, but rather to institutionalize the real value of fresh water and to induce its efficient use, especially in agriculture, through adequate pricing.
When it comes to data, this is another resource that accumulates quickly but is exploited by others even faster – (see the article “Using Big Data is a Missed Opportunity in Pakistan “).
The big tech giants, none of whom are Pakistani, enjoy free access to the mines of data generated every day in Pakistan.
Data protection is a term that is often heard in decision-making circles, but unfortunately it is limited only to data privacy and not to the ownership and use of data.
Someone has to recognize that every bit of data generated in Pakistan must be owned by the country and any income associated with that data must be shared accordingly.
From another perspective, even if the data market is free, are we using this data, especially Big Data, for better governance through informed decision-making? Not yet heard of, despite the slogans of “Digital Pakistan”.
There should be a strategic decision and a set of political tools to recognize, own, value and use data in Pakistan.
Yes, this can also be a politically difficult decision, as apparently the business environment for ICT operators / companies would become difficult.
Not exactly! The idea is not to prevent them from using this data, but only to recognize the ownership to which it belongs and to adopt fair use and benefit-sharing approaches.
“Data is the new oil” is a cliché, but only if the data is in your hands, it is “burned” faster than oil.
Water price and data value, before it’s too late.
The writer is an international economist
Posted in The Express Tribune, September 20e, 2021.