Monday, March 7, 2011

India/Pakistan: Avoiding water wars

Avoiding water wars
Pakistan Observer, March 7, 2011
Mohammad Jamil

The US Senate report released the other day warned that the Indus Water
Treaty may fail to avert water wars between India and Pakistan,
acknowledging that dams India is building in occupied Kashmir will limit
supply of water to Pakistan at crucial moments. "This report highlights
how water security is vital in achieving our foreign policy and national
security goals and provides recommendations to foster regional
cooperation and long-term stability," said Senator John Kerry, chairman
of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, while releasing the
report. India is constructing 33 dams that are at various stages of
completions, and cumulative effect of storing water would limit the
supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season, the report
added. Currently, the most controversial dam project is the proposed
330-megawatt dam on the Kishenganga River, a tributary of the Indus. The
US Senate Foreign Relations Committee should have come out with the
solution to the problem instead of giving an impression that Indus Water
Treaty has become redundant. In fact, it is the responsibility of the
international community to urge India to honour its commitment under the
treaty. And this is the only way to avoid war.

With the climate change and as a consequence shrinking water
availability across the Middle East, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa,
violent conflict between states is increasingly likely. This matter was
on the agenda of annul World Water Week forum in Stockholm held in 2006,
but it could not answer the question raised in the meeting whether we
are heading for an era of "hydrological warfare" in which rivers, lakes
and aquifers become national security assets to be fought over, or
controlled through proxy armies and client states? Or can water act as a
force for peace and cooperation? It has been estimated by the experts
that by 2025, more than two billion people are expected to live in
countries that find it difficult or impossible to mobilize the water
resources needed to meet the needs of agriculture, industry and
households. Population growth, urbanization and the rapid development of
manufacturing industries are relentlessly increasing demand for finite
water resources. Symptoms of the resulting water stress are increasingly
visible. In northern China, rivers now run dry in their lower reaches
for much of the year. In parts of Pakistan and India, groundwater levels
are falling so rapidly that from 10 percent to 20 percent of
agricultural production is under threat.

In the past, there have been wars between the countries over religions,
usurpation of territories and control of resources including oil, but in
view of acute shortages of water in Africa, Middle East, Asia and
elsewhere, the future wars could be fought over water.

In addition to Kashmir dispute, the Indus River Basin has been an area
of conflict between India and Pakistan for about four decades. Spanning
1,800 miles, the river and its tributaries together make up one of the
largest irrigation canals in the world. Dams and canals built in order
to provide hydropower and irrigation have dried up stretches of the
Indus River. The division of the river basin water has created friction
among the countries of South Asia, and among their states and provinces.
Accusations of overdrawing of share of water made by each province have
resulted in the lack of water supplies to coastal regions of Pakistan.
India and Bangladesh have also dispute over Ganges River water and India
is resorting to water theft there as well. Nepal and Bangladesh are also
victims of India's water thievery. India had dispute with Bangladesh
over Farrakha Barrage, with Nepal over Mahakali River and with Pakistan
over 1960 Indus Water Treaty.

India is busy building dams on all rivers flowing into Pakistan from
occupied Kashmir to regain control of water of western rivers in
violation of Indus Water Treaty. This is being done under well
thought-out strategy to render Pakistan's link-canal system redundant,
destroy agriculture of Pakistan which is its mainstay, and turn Pakistan
into a desert. India has plans to construct 62 dams/hydro-electric units
on Rivers Chenab and Jhelum; thus enabling it to render these rivers dry
by 2014. Using its clout in Afghanistan, India has succeeded in
convincing Karzai regime to build a dam on River Kabul and set up Kama
Hydroelectric Project using 0.5MAF of Pakistan water. It has offered
technical assistance for the proposed project, which will have serious
repercussions on the water flow in River Indus. Pakistan, indeed, needs
large reservoirs to meet the growing food requirements of
ever-increasing population. Today, agricultural sector contributes 24
per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP); two-third of population
living in rural areas depends on it; absorbs more than 50 per cent of
the labour force and provides the base for 75 per cent of exports in the
form of raw materials and value-added products.

There is realization in all the provinces that water shortages can lead
to food shortages and also rifts between the provinces. But the issue
had been politicized for the last thirty years and genuine efforts were
not made by the governments and leaders to resolve the contradictions by
showing sense of accommodation and understanding of one another's
problems. However, consensus has been reached on Bhasha Dam, though
belatedly; and now every effort should be made to expedite construction
of this project. One does not have to be an agricultural scientist to
know that water is indispensable to agriculture. It is a critical input
into agriculture of a country especially when it is situated in an arid
or semi-arid zone. Loss of storage capacity due to sedimentation in
Tarbela and Mangla Dams is causing serious drop even for existing
agricultural production. Food shortages and energy shortfall has already
blighted Pakistan with the result that industry in all the provinces has
also been adversely impacted. The present government and opposition
parties seem to be too preoccupied with their power-sharing or
power-grabbing plans, and do not have time to effectively pursue the
matter with India or take up the matter of India's violations of IWT
with International Court of Justice.

Pakistan is facing acute shortage of water due to India's river water
diversion plan, which has adversely impacted the farmers and made it
difficult for them to keep their body and soul together. Last year,
Pakistan Muttahida Kisan Mahaz (MKM) has criticised the government's
silence over Chenab River water 'piracy' by India. The Mahaz president
said: "Under the Indus Water Basin Treaty, India is required to release
16,000 cusec Chenab water to Pakistan whereas water flow at Head Marala
has been reduced to only 5,000 cusec as a result of construction of
Baglihar Dam Occupied Kashmir. Drastic fall in Chenab water flow had
resulted in closure of Marala Ravi Link, Upper Chenab and BRB canals
which met 75 per cent canal water requirement of Punjab". The closure of
three canals had created an acute shortage of water for Rabi crop, and
wheat production had shown a decline last year in Punjab. According to
the treaty, India could not use Chenab water, as it could affect the
quantity or flow of the river. And it goes without saying that by making
the reservoir, the flow of water will definitely be affected. Let the US
Foreign Relations Committee hold another session to address the concerns
of riparian states like Pakistan.

—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.

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