Wars

Southasia - - Cover story water politics -

are the cause of the acute water scarcity the coun­try cur­rently faces.

Pak­istan’s stance is not en­tirely base­less ei­ther. What has been called In­dia’s ‘mad rush’ for hy­dro projects on west­ern rivers has led to great in­se­cu­rity in Pak­istan re­gard­ing water di­ver­sion from its rivers, mak­ing Pak­istan and its agro-based econ­omy vul­ner­a­ble to In­dian de­ci­sions. Hy­dro projects such as Salal, Dul Hasti, and Bagli­har on the Chenab River have given birth to con­sid­er­able con­tro­versy and bit­ter­ness be­tween the two neigh­bors. Jhelum, mean­while, has seen the in­ter­rup­tion of its water flows from 13 hy­del projects, while quite a few small, medium and mega projects are in the pipe­line. As for the mighty In­dus River, nine projects have al­ready been iden­ti­fied by In­dia, while two ma­jor ones, Chutak and Ni­moo Bazgo, are un­der con­struc­tion.

Need­less to say, In­dia’s hy­dro projects have tested the pa­tience of Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties, who have ac­cused In­dia of non-com­pli­ance with the In­dus Water Treaty vis-à-vis the tech­ni­cal de­sign and stor­age ca­pac­ity of the projects and in­ter­pre­ta­tion of var­i­ous clauses of the treaty. Un­sur­pris­ingly, In­dia has de­fended its stance, claim­ing that the projects built on west­ern rivers are run-of-the-river projects, which use the flow of water in its nat­u­ral course, with­out any stor­age or pondage. How­ever, the cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of all the projects could lead to enough water be­ing stored by In­dia to af­fect Pak­istan’s water avail­abil­ity dur­ing the cru­cial grow­ing sea­son.

Clearly, In­dia’s hy­del projects frenzy will put im­mense pres­sure on the al­ready-strained re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries. That the mat­ter was taken to the In­ter­na­tional Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion in 2011 for the Kis­hanganga project, the first time in the his­tory of the IWT, shows the grav­ity of the is­sue.

Though Pak­istan’s griev­ances against In­dia are jus­ti­fied, with con­flict res­o­lu­tion be­tween the two coun­tries seem­ing like the most ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion, there are some mea­sures that can be taken at home to al­le­vi­ate the prob­lem. Bet­ter water man­age­ment, de­vel­op­ing more pro­duc­tive agri­cul­tural prac­tices, pump­ing up in­fras­truc­tural sup­port and work­ing to­wards more ef­fi­cient water stor­age will go a long way in re­duc­ing water scarcity for Pak­istan.

A sim­i­lar fi­asco over water has been breed­ing on the other side for In­dia with Bangladesh, a lower ri­par­ian coun­try. Just as in the case of Pak­istan, In­dia is al­leged to have con­structed var­i­ous dams on rivers such as Teesta, Gumti, Khowai, Dharla, Dud­ku­mar, Monu, etc., di­vert­ing water flow­ing into Bangladesh.

Just three years af­ter the sign­ing of the Indo-Bangladesh Joint River Com­mis­sion (JRC), In­dia con­structed the Farakka bar­rage in 1975 to aid in the nav­i­ga­bil­ity of the Cal­cutta Port. Sub­se­quent to that, fresh water sup­ply in the Ganges de­creased con­sid­er­ably, leav­ing many un­de­sir­able eco­log­i­cal and eco­nom­i­cal ef­fects. A 30-year water treaty was again signed be­tween the coun­tries in 1996, rec­og­niz­ing Bangladesh’s rights as a lower ri­par­ian coun­try. How­ever, water di­ver­sion from In­dia con­tin­ued to cre­ate prob­lems.

In the case of Bangladesh, greater re­gional co­op­er­a­tion, per­haps with the help of re­gional bod­ies such as SAARC, the is­sue can be breached and a re­gional res­o­lu­tion can be achieved. On a more in­ter­nal level, Bangladesh ought to en­sure bet­ter im­ple­men­ta­tion of laws against pol­lut­ing pre­cious fresh water from the rivers, in­tro­duce mea­sures for har­vest­ing rain­wa­ter, as well as re­cy­cling used water, and in­crease aware­ness and im­ple­men­ta­tion of water con­ser­va­tion.

While it is veryy easyy to blame an­oth­erother coun­try for the wa­te­wa­ter woes being­ing faced, some steps have to be taken by the home coun­try as wwell.

Hav­ing said that, rec­og­niz­in­greco the po­tency of water-re­lated con­flicts is also very im­por­tant. In 1995,19 Dr. Is­mail­mail Ser­ageldin, then ViceVic Pres­i­dent of the World Bank com­mented,comm “The wars of the next cen­tury willw be over water.”

While Dr. Ser­ageldin’ Ser­ageldin’s com­ment may seem like a far-fetched thought right now, the Indo-Pak and In­doBangladesh dis­putes are a stark re­minder that water wars are very much a pos­si­bil­ity. In the case of In­dia and Pak­istan, though the pos­si­bil­ity of a water war can­not be en­ter­tained with cer­tainty, one can def­i­nitely say that it does pre­vent the thaw­ing of the his­tor­i­cal an­i­mos­ity that the two coun­tries have been bat­tling for long. Si­jal Fawad is a Re­search An­a­lyst at the Busi­ness Recorder and is an ex­ter­nal stu­dent of eco­nom­ics and fi­nance at SOAS, Univer­sity of Lon­don.

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