A Loom­ing Cri­sis

While the U.S. is rapidly em­bark­ing on cor­rec­tive mea­sures for water se­cu­rity, South Asia seems al­most obliv­i­ous to the loom­ing threat.

Southasia - - Cover story - By Huza­ima Bukhari & Dr. Ikra­mul Haq

South Asia faces a loom­ing cri­sis of de­plet­ing water re­sources, re­sult­ing partly from mis­man­age­ment and partly from en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion. The is­sue of water scarcity is not con­fined only to the South Asian re­gion but rather plagues the en­tire world. The mat­ter is so sen­si­tive that the U.S. Se­nate Com­mit­tee on For­eign Re­la­tions in a report, signed by twenty Sen­a­tors across party lines, has stressed the need to bet­ter un­der­stand “where pre­cisely water fits into Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy.” On the other hand, the coun­tries in South Asia, though alive to the threat, have not yet taken any con­crete mea­sures to avoid what ex­perts call ‘Water Wars’ in the re­gion.

The in­tri­cate prob­lem of en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion is en­dan­ger­ing the nat­u­ral water sup­port sys­tem - the most fun­da­men­tal as­pect of hu­man se­cu­rity. Water scarcity is gen­er­ally de­fined as the non-avail­abil­ity of re­quired amounts of water at the right time and right place for hu­man and en­vi­ron­men­tal use. Ac­cord­ing to var­i­ous tools used - one of which is the Falken­mark in­di­ca­tor - South Asia cur­rently faces a se­ri­ous threat of water scarcity that can lead to no ac­cess to potable water in ru­ral ar­eas where more than 50% of the pop­u­la­tion lives. Less water for agri­cul­ture means short­age of food pro­duc­tion as well as acute short­age of elec­tric­ity, as there is con­sid­er­able re­liance in the re­gion on hy­dro-based re­sources. Water de­ple­tion poses even greater threats to the ecosys­tem, of which air, water and soil are es­sen­tial el­e­ments and an im­bal­ance of any of th­ese can dam­age hu­man sur­vival.

Fur­ther­more, a cal­lous hu­man at­ti­tude is re­spon­si­ble for con­tin­u­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion. Higher in­dus­trial emis­sions of car­bon diox­ide, car­bon monox­ide and sul­phur diox­ide pol­lute the at­mos­phere, mak­ing the earth warmer and grad­u­ally dam­ag­ing its ozone layer through green­house gas emis­sions. The never-end­ing de­for­esta­tion, de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and scarcity of water re­sources fur­ther con­trib­ute to en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion.

We live on a planet where 99% of water re­sources are ei­ther sa­line or frozen, thus hu­man life is de­pen­dent upon the re­main­ing one per­cent of water for its sur­vival. Trag­i­cally, even this one per­cent of us­able water is be­com­ing scarce. The sit­u­a­tion is wors­en­ing in South Asia where pop­u­la­tions are in­creas­ing and tem­per­a­tures are ris­ing. In the next few years, South Asia will con­sti­tute the most pop­u­lous re­gion on earth, with av­er­age tem­per­a­tures ris­ing to four to six de­grees Cel­sius.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study ti­tled ‘Water Scarcity in South Asia’, “South Asian coun­tries share a huge trea­sure of water re­sources, which, if they be­come phys­i­cally scarce, may lead to con­flicts in the re­gion. For in­stance, In­dia and Pak­istan share the wa­ters of the In­dus basin sys­tem. In­dia, Bangladesh and Nepal share water from the Ganga River basin. The In­dus Basin, which has sus­tained civ­i­liza­tions across mil­len­nia, presents new chal­lenges to the peo­ple and states of the re­gion. The way th­ese chal­lenges are ad­dressed will shape the eco­nomic fu­ture of the peo­ple who share the In­dus wa­ters.”

Three trends have been iden­ti­fied by Dr. Ak­mal Hus­sain: “first, the per capita an­nual water avail­abil­ity in the In­dus Basin has de­clined from 5,121 cu­bic me­ters in 1962 to 1,396 cu­bic me­ters in 2011. The to­tal an­nual river flow of the In­dus Basin has de­clined from 119 mil­lion acre feet (MAF) in 1960 to 113 MAF in 1997. The rate of de­cline ac­cel­er­ated in be­tween 1998 and 2011 with the an­nual flow of rivers in the In­dus Basin fall­ing to 102 MAF by 2011. In the case of Chenab, the av­er­age an­nual flow has de­clined by 12 per cent be­tween 1960 and 2011, while in the river Jhelum it has de­clined by 17 per cent. The de­cline in river flows could quite pos­si­bly be due to the lower pre­cip­i­ta­tion in Jammu and Kash­mir and Hi­machal Pradesh, which con­sti­tute the wa­ter­shed re­gion of th­ese two rivers. In any case, the de­clin­ing river flows and in­creased sea­sonal fluc­tu­a­tions in th­ese flows cre­ate the im­per­a­tive for Pak­istan to im­prove its water man­age­ment and in­crease water use ef­fi­ciency. Col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts by In­dia and Pak­istan for af­foresta­tion and man­age­ment of the wa­ter­sheds could slow down the in­creased sed­i­men­ta­tion of rivers, which re­duces the life of dams down­river. Re­for­esta­tion in the wa­ter­shed could also pre­vent dev­as­tat­ing flash floods down­stream dur­ing heavy down­pours in the

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