Since its birth, Pakistan has faced grave water challenges. Chief among these has been obtaining access to the headwaters of the Indus and rivers of the Punjab, whose headwaters were, at the stroke of a British pen, committed to other countries. A second major challenge has been dealing with waterlogging and salinity in the world’s largest contiguous irrigation system. [This problem led to a long and highly productive relationship with Harvard, which started in 1963 when Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan asked U.S. President John F. Kennedy for help. A multidisciplinary Harvard team was mobilized and worked closely with Pakistani experts to devise a solution to what seemed to be an intractable issue] 

Today, Pakistan faces the “Malthusian-plus” challenge of dealing with rapidly growing water demands (for energy, agriculture and people) from a resource base that is likely to change substantially as the glaciers of the western Himalayas melt and monsoon patterns change. 

As might be expected for a country which depends on one river, Pakistan long has had outstanding water and water-related professionals. The Harvard Initiative would partner with a consortium of Pakistani researchers, with Pakistan’s premier private university, LUMS in Lahore, acting as the convening partner institution. An initial Harvard/Pakistan meeting will take place in Lahore in June 2009 and will focus on sketching areas of potential joint interest. The focus will then be on obtaining funding for young professionals – undergraduates, graduate students, post-docs and young faculty – who would address specific issues as part of an overall framework to identify risks to water resources and devise strategies for adapting to those risks. There has been a strong positive response from professional and political leaders in Pakistan to the idea of re-kindling a water partnership with Harvard, in the context of the broader Harvard South Asia Initiative.