As Pakistan faces worsening water scarcity - and trouble sourcing international cash for hydropower dams it says it needs - it has turned to an unlikely source of cash: A fundraising campaign backed by the country’s top court judges.
Last year Mian Saqib Nisar - then the country’s chief Supreme Court judge - donated $7,400 of his own money to start the drive, calling water shortages a major national threat, Reuters reported.
The drive aims to raise as much as $14 billion for two major dams.
Nisar retired in January from the court, but the current panel of top judges has taken over the push.
Some politicians from government opposition parties have dismissed the effort, calling it inappropriate and doomed to fail.
“Building dams is not the responsibility of the court,” said Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of Pakistan People's Party.
But efforts to solicit donations from as far away as the United States and Britain, largely from expatriate Pakistanis, have raised $70 million as of mid-February toward the “Chief Justice Dam Fund”, according to the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s website.
The country’s green-leaning Prime Minister Imran Khan backs the effort.
“Water scarcity has been Pakistan’s number one issue and the country may face shortages by 2025 if dams are not built,” Khan warned in a state television address last September. He has urged Pakistanis living overseas to donate generously to the effort.
Nisar has said he took up Pakistan’s water worries as a personal campaign after Syed Mehar Ali, commissioner of the country’s Indus water treaty, testified in a court hearing last July about worsening water scarcity risks in the country.
Ali told the court that the country’s three western rivers - the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab - carry nearly 173 billion cubic meters of water but the country has water storage capacity for less than 17.3 billion cubic meters.