Improving water management and use in Pakistan’s cities could contribute to multiple economic, social and environmental benefits. For example, the economic costs of Indus Delta degradation are estimated to be around USD 2 billion per year (not accounting for pollution and other environmental degradation). Improving upstream urban water management and use could significantly enhance the economic return from this essential resource.

To accelerate action toward improved outcomes from urban water management, a team of Australian and international water experts undertook a 20-month project to assist Pakistan in developing implementable urban water security roadmaps for Karachi and Lahore (cognisant of barriers to action). The objective of the roadmaps was to assist provincial government departments and utilities in Karachi and Lahore to pursue and effectively implement practical, high priority actions for improving urban water security – in turn, improving water security at the broader Indus basin scale too.

This project was an activity under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Pakistan, through its Ministry of Water Resources, and Australia, through its Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to support Pakistan’s transition towards integrated water resource management. Pakistan identified urban water as a priority area given Australia’s experience in managing scarce water resources and success in urban water reform. The Australian Water Partnership (AWP) commissioned an Aither-led consortium of Australian Partners to undertake this work (including eWater Ltd, EcoSeal Developments, WaterFutures, and the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of Technology Sydney).

Australian and Pakistani partners collaborated to prepare the roadmaps for action, leveraging the depth and breadth of Pakistani experience and the Australian team’s water reform expertise and understanding of global best practices. From early in the project it was clear that in both Karachi and Lahore, substantial and important efforts have already been undertaken by government departments, utilities, and development partners – including water policy development and significant infrastructural design and planning. Yet, political hurdles, institutional capacity limitations, and insufficient resources consistently hinder these efforts from reaching desired outcomes.

Against this backdrop, improving governance and institutional capacity was identified as the first and highest priority action area to improving water security in a changing climate (including because strong governance and institutions are required for actions in other areas to be successful). Other priority areas include data collection and management, utility planning and performance reporting, and financially sustainable provision of water and wastewater services. In each priority area, specific actions were identified to support progress over the short, medium and long term.

Through the roadmaps, decision-makers in Karachi and Lahore now have a holistic, practical and strategic guide for progressing towards a water secure future. Further information about the project, including the specific actions identified for the two cities, can be found in a recent journal article published in Water.

Aither’s work to support sustainable water futures in the Indus River Basin continues into 2022. Through a separate AWP-funded project, Aither is focusing on river basin governance in the Indus River Basin and across the larger Hindu Kush Himalaya region. For more information regarding Aither’s work in Pakistan and to improve urban water security around the globe, please contact Amy Syvrud.