Arid Fu­ture

In­dia must act re­spon­si­bly and con­sider so­lu­tions for its wa­ter woes that are less dam­ag­ing to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Asna Ali

In­dia must con­sider so­lu­tions for its wa­ter woes that are less dam­ag­ing for the neigh­bor­ing coun­tries.

Wa­ter, an es­sen­tial com­po­nent of life and re­gen­er­a­tion, is be­com­ing a source of strife the world over. As the pop­u­la­tion of the world grows - un­con­trol­lably in some places - so do the de­mands for clean drink­ing wa­ter. The coun­tries blessed with enough re­sources – and, more im­por­tantly, fore­sight – have man­aged to plan their fu­ture wa­ter needs and are act­ing ac­cord­ing to plans. Oth­ers have only re­cently wo­ken up to the re­al­ity of pro­vid­ing wa­ter for mil­lions of peo­ple as well as for in­dus­trial and agri­cul­tural use in the face of de­creas­ing sources of fresh wa­ter.

In­dia, with its gi­gan­tic pop­u­la­tion and de­pen­dence on mon­soon rains for wa­ter sup­ply, is one of the coun­tries try­ing to come up with new ways to meet the grow­ing de­mand for wa­ter.

The in­cum­bent In­dian gov­ern­ment has un­earthed a pro­posal - that was shelved years ago - to build bar­rages and links be­tween rivers to reg­u­late wa­ter sup­ply and re­duce the dis­as­trous ef­fects of floods and droughts that are a fre­quent oc­cur­rence in the coun­try. The project was not taken up by pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments be­cause of its po­ten­tially dis­as­trous con­se­quences for the en­vi­ron­ment.

The plan in­cludes the con­struc­tion of 16 ad­di­tional bar­rages on the Ganges River. Among other prob­lems the project could cause is the pro­foundly neg­a­tive ef­fect it will have on the wa­ter treaty signed be­tween In­dia and Bangladesh to share the wa­ters of the Ganges. The agree­ment ad­dresses only sur­face level is­sues and is said to fa­vor In­dia’s in­ter­ests more than those of Bangladesh. How­ever, the build­ing of ad­di­tional bar­rages would di­vert wa­ter from the Ganges in a man­ner not agreed upon be­tween the two coun­tries.

The sub­con­ti­nent, with its com­pli­cated his­tory and in­ter­con­nected ge­o­graph­i­cal fea­tures, forces neigh­bor­ing coun­tries to work to­gether and share nat­u­ral re­sources in a man­ner that is, to put it mildly, in­con­ve­nient. In­dia has wa­ter treaties with Pak­istan and Bangladesh and both the smaller neigh­bors have of­ten com­plained re­gard­ing In­dia’s cal­lous dis­re­gard for their needs in or­der to meet its own.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists in In­dia and Bangladesh have raised con­cerns over the project that would see bar­rages built at ev­ery 100km along the length of the Ganges from Al­la­habad to Hal­dia. This will re­duce the flow of wa­ter to Bangladesh to ap­pallingly low lev­els. The ‘Water­way Project’, as it is com­ing to be known, has been re­sound­ingly crit­i­cized by var­i­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions which have la­beled it as the last nail in the cof­fin of the Ganges.

Bangladesh has had a per­sis­tent wa­ter cri­sis for many years. A pop­u­lous coun­try, it faces se­ri­ous chal­lenges in sup­ply­ing clean drink­ing wa­ter to both its ur­ban and ru­ral pop­u­la­tion as well as suf­fi­cient quan­ti­ties of wa­ter for agri­cul­ture. Up to 92 per­cent of the coun­try’s wa­ter sup­ply comes from rivers orig­i­nat­ing in China and In­dia. The rest is ac­counted for by rain­fall. The ru­ral pop­u­la­tion is highly de­pen­dent on ground­wa­ter and of­ten re­lies on tube wells.

How­ever, the re­duc­tion in wa­ter sup­ply from rivers has re­sulted in the short­age of sur­face as well as ground­wa­ter. Fur­ther­more, the wa­ter that the Bangladeshis have ac­cess to is not al­ways clean. In­dus­trial growth and ur­ban­iza­tion has con­trib­uted to the con­tam­i­na­tion of wa­ter re­sources lead­ing to dis­eases as well as ad­di­tional costs of health­care and wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion. Wa­ter short­age is also hav­ing neg­a­tive con­se­quences on the coun­try’s en­vi­ron­ment. Ground­wa­ter lev­els are con­sis­tently de­clin­ing. In coastal ar­eas, salin­ity caused by the in­ward flow of sea­wa­ter is putting the dis­as­ter prone com­mu­ni­ties un­der

Bar­rages built at ev­ery 100km along the length of the Ganges from Al­la­habad to Hal­dia will re­duce the flow of wa­ter to Bangladesh to ap­pallingly low lev­els.

fur­ther threat.

The wa­ter short­age also has dire so­cial im­pli­ca­tions. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, women in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties suf­fer in par­tic­u­lar as they are forced to travel great dis­tances to reach wells which may or may not con­tain clean drink­ing wa­ter.

In a coun­try faced with an acute short­age of wa­ter, the con­se­quences of a fur­ther re­duc­tion in wa­ter sup­ply will in­deed be se­ri­ous. The agri­cul­ture in­dus­try in par­tic­u­lar and the econ­omy in gen­eral would suf­fer greatly as would the pop­u­la­tion in both ru­ral and ur­ban ar­eas. Bangladesh sim­ply can­not af­ford a fur­ther re­duc­tion in its wa­ter sup­ply. How­ever, with­out any com­pre­hen­sive agree­ment in place with In­dia over the dis­tri­bu­tion of wa­ter, the coun­try is left vul­ner­a­ble.

With plans for the con­struc­tion of bar­rages well un­der­way, it is im­per­a­tive for con­cerned groups in In­dia and Bangladesh to stand up and be heard. The gov­ern­ments of both coun­tries need to come up with a bet­ter wa­ter shar­ing treaty than the one signed in 1996 since it has left Bangladesh with se­ri­ous con­cerns about the way wa­ter is dis­trib­uted. As the lower ri­par­ian, it is at the mercy of In­dia when it comes to wa­ter dis­tri­bu­tion, a sit­u­a­tion that is of­ten pointed out by op­po­si­tion groups in Bangladesh.

No mat­ter how much the coun­tries of the sub­con­ti­nent may wish that their fates and re­sources were not so in­tri­cately joined to­gether, it hap­pens to be so and will re­main so. Ge­o­graph­i­cal fea­tures are not de­pen­dent on man­made bound­aries, which means rivers will take the di­rec­tions they must. South Asian na­tions have un­der­gone rapid pop­u­la­tion growth and ur­ban­iza­tion at their own peril. In hind­sight, the dis­re­gard for limited re­sources and the in­abil­ity to fully co­op­er­ate in th­ese mat­ters is a huge mis­take that will con­tinue to haunt all those in­volved if timely steps are not taken to rec­tify the sit­u­a­tion.

South Asia is one of the re­gions of the world that is most likely to be af­fected by cli­mate change. Its ef­fects are al­ready be­ing felt through chang­ing weather pat­terns and fre­quent oc­cur­rence of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. The next stage of this process is pro­longed droughts. In such con­di­tions, if any one coun­try has to­tal con­trol over wa­ter, the lower ri­par­ian coun­tries will suf­fer. Per­haps that is why it is said that a third world war will be fought over wa­ter.

As an emerg­ing re­gional power, In­dia must act re­spon­si­bly and con­sider so­lu­tions for its wa­ter woes that are less dam­ag­ing for the en­vi­ron­ment as well as its neigh­bors. As for Bangladesh, un­less the coun­try de­cides to act now and care­fully plans the fu­ture wa­ter dis­tri­bu­tion and shar­ing projects, it is look­ing at a bleak, dry fu­ture. The writer is a business grad­u­ate. She has in­ter­est in po­lit­i­cal and so­cial is­sues.

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