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

Sep 13 2018 | 10:11:38
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.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