Saturday, 21 May 2011

India and Pakistan Troubled water

India and Pakistan Troubled water
By S.P. Lamba
Pakistan and India held secretary-level talks on water disputes, particularly the Wullar barrage project from May 11-14 in Islamabad. The Indian delegation was headed by secretary water resources Dhruv Vijai Singh,and Javed Iqbal, water and power secretary represented Pakistan. Pakistan has firmed up its case to challenge another project being built by India on the Indus in violation of the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, and alleged diversion of Jhelum river into the Wullar barrage and construction of a 439-foot long and 12-metre wide navigational lock at the barrage. Pakistan took up the issue of India building 45MW Nimoo-Bazgo hydroelectric plant on the main Indus River.

The two countries have so far held 13 rounds of secretary-level talks, including four under the composite dialogue, on the issue lying unresolved for more than 26- years. Between 1987 and 1998, the two sides held nine rounds of talks but made no progress, except agreeing to discuss legal and technical aspects.
India started constructing the Wullar barrage in 1985 but had to suspend work in 1987 after objections by Pakistan which moved to seek international court of arbitration or the neutral expert.

The Indus River Basin hosts a major network of rivers flowing between India and Pakistan. It is comprised of six shared rivers: Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej. The Indus is one of the world's longest rivers (1,800 miles long), originating in the Tibetan Himalayas, flowing west through Kashmir, then through Pakistan until eventually reaching the Arabian Sea.

The upper portion of the Indus is fed by snow and glacial melt waters and converges in the Punjab region of Pakistan with the five other rivers in the system. Of all the rivers flowing into Pakistan, the Indus is the most essential because of its importance to the agricultural sector. Pakistan's agriculture relies on the world's largest contiguous irrigation system fed by the Indus waters; in fact, water withdrawals for agricultural irrigation represent almost 97 percent of all withdrawals in Pakistan. This irrigation network covers an estimated 83 percent of cultivated land in the country and contributes to nearly a quarter of its gross domestic product. Unfortunately, Pakistan has almost fully exploited the surface and groundwater that is crucial for its irrigation, so improvements in management and efficiency are vital.

Although the headwaters for the Indus originate in China, from a long-term planning perspective, it is India's water management of the Indus that merits scrutiny. With a population already exceeding 1.30 billion people and forecasts indicating continued growth to over 1.50 billion by 2035, India's demand for water is rising at unprecedented rates. However, water management in India is extremely decentralized and virtually unregulated. Multiple government ministries have established water-use guidelines at the national level, but, they have little effect. Water management is constitutionally delegated to India's constituent states, which have limited capacity to coordinate among themselves. This has led rapidly to diminishing available surface and groundwater.

Waters flowing between India and Pakistan, unlike those in Central Asia, are managed within the framework of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), a long-standing agreement negotiated by the governments of India and Pakistan and the World Bank. Signed in 1960, the IWT is considered the world's most successful water treaty, having remained relatively intact for 50 - years and having withstood four Indo-Pakistani wars.
The treaty gives control of the ''western rivers'' (Indus, Jelum, and Chenab) to Pakistan and gives India the ''eastern rivers'' (Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi) up to the Pakistani border. The treaty quantifies the amount of water both countries will receive from these rivers and serves an important function by managing the use of the rivers for hydroelectric power projects. It lays out guidelines for hydropower on the eastern rivers, allows Pakistan to object to projects, and specifies mechanisms for conflict resolution.

While the IWT has maintained stability in the region over water, experts question the treaty's long-term effectiveness in light of chronic tensions between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region, where a significant portion of the Indus River's headwaters originate. In addition, others question whether the IWT can address India's growing use of the shared waters and Pakistan's increasing demand for these waters for agricultural purposes.

Proposals to expand irrigated land in India and Pakistan have exacerbated tensions between these neighbours. Water mismanagement and increased inefficiencies in the existing irrigation systems, requiring more water for less agricultural returns, compound the problem. As the existing agriculture system becomes more water-intensive and, in some areas, more inefficient, water may prove to be a source of instability in the sub-continent.

The growing frictions in the region is hydropower development. Lacking a coordinated management system, each nation is trying to meet its own energy needs without consideration of its neighbours. As many experts note, trans-boundary water conflicts arise not over natural supplies but over human interventions to manage them. Dams, irrigation diversions, and other infrastructure alter hydrological relations, affecting the quantity, quality, and timing of downriver flows, but also relations between upstream and downstream riparians.

The drive to meet energy demand through hydropower development is also occurring in India and Pakistan, two countries that lack sufficient access to energy. This is particularly true with respect to India, which faces a rapidly expanding population, growing economy, and soaring energy needs. To meet growing demand and cope with increasing electricity shortages, the Government has developed plans to expand power generation through the construction of multipurpose dams. India has 33 projects at various stages of completion on the rivers that affect this region. The number of dams under construction and their management is a source of significant bilateral tension.

Currently, the most controversial dam project is the proposed 330-megawatt dam on the Kishenganga River, a tributary of the Indus. While studies show that no single dam along the waters controlled by the Indus Waters Treaty will affect Pakistan's access to water, the cumulative effect of these projects could give India the ability to store enough water to limit the supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season. In the difficult 60-plus year bilateral relationship, water has not yet been used in this way. However, staff met with some experts that argue the treaty's long-term stability is threatened by a lack of trust between these two countries. Any perceived reduction in water flows magnifies this distrust, whether caused by India's activities in the Indus Basin or climate change.
Current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections of rising temperatures and sea levels and increased intensity of droughts and storms suggest that substantial displacements will take place within the next 30-50 years, particularly in coastal zones. As our planet's climate becomes increasingly unstable, our relationship with water is changing in dangerous and potentially catastrophic ways. Glacier melt water is estimated to comprise 30 per cent or more of the Indus River's flow, with snow and ice providing up to two-thirds more. This shift raises serious concerns for the countries expecting decreased rainfall. For example, summer monsoon rainfall provides 90 per cent of India's total water supply. As the effects of climate change become more pronounced, agrarian populations in India and Pakistan dependent on monsoons and glacial melt for irrigation will be profoundly affected.
The national security implications of this looming water shortage- exacerbated and directly caused by agriculture demands, hydroelectric power generation, and climate instability-will be felt all over the world. The defense and intelligence specialists focused on the region have recognized the threat of conflict stemming from ineffective water management within these countries. General Anthony Zinni (Ret.), former commander of U.S. Central Command, recently said, ''(we) have seen fuel wars; we're about to see water wars.'' It is imperative that the foreign policy community heed the warnings from top defense and intelligence experts. (INAV)

(The writer is former chairman of Central Water & Power Commission)

1 comment:

Arslan Rana said...

i like your article its interesting and wonderful as well as good collection.