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Looking beyond water quality data into decision-making contexts for the Ravi and Sutlej rivers in Pakistan

Posted by: Clare Brandon

April 24, 2018

The poor state of water quality in the Ravi and Sutlej rivers in Pakistan is well documented and has been accompanied by well-considered recommendations and urgent pleas for action. The Ravi and Sutlej rivers carry a mix of industrial, agricultural and urban pollutants that impose health, economic and environmental costs to a region where the population is growing rapidly.

Ravi and Sutlej Rivers water quality report
Ravi and Sutlej Rivers water quality report

The CSIRO Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio (SDIP) Indus team worked closely with Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) to design and conduct water quality monitoring for a year (August 2015 to July 2016) in the Ravi and Sutlej rivers in Pakistan. The results were presented as a report featuring a series of graphs identifying the most polluted locations and likely sources of that pollution. We found water quality trends are not improving, prompting our project team to ask: ‘what more is needed for action to be taken to improve water quality?’

In an effort to look at the wider system influences on water quality, the SDIP Indus water quality data was also used to identify the biophysical and social drivers of water quality change. These wider system influences on water quality management cannot be underestimated and our work pointed to opportunities for better cross-sectoral collaboration to open up new options and pathways for improving water quality.

A primary reason to improve river basin planning is to improve water, food and energy security while protecting the environment. Water quality considerations are important because currently a high proportion of the population of Pakistan does not have access to safe water. Poor water quality puts lives and livelihoods at risk; the United Nations World Water Assessment Programme (2016) concluded that across all countries, ‘investing in water is investing in jobs’ and ‘water investments are a necessary enabling condition for economic growth, jobs and reducing inequalities’.

This SDIP work is part of a portfolio of investments supported by the Australian Government addressing the regional challenges of water, food and energy security in South Asia.

The SDIP2 aims to improve the integrated management of water, energy and food in the Himalayan river basins, addressing climate risk and the interests of women and girls. It seeks to:

  • strengthen practices for regional cooperation
  • generate and use critical new knowledge to enhance regional cooperation
  • improve regional enabling environment for private sector engagement.

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