Connecting the Drops: An Indus Basin Roadmap for Cross-Border Water Research, Data Sharing, Policy Coordination
Indus Basin Working Group
Stimson Center, SDPI, ORF
26 February 2013
The 67-page report is a well-documented analysis of the emerging challenges pertaining to the Indus Water Basin. Among the several recommendations highlighted in the report, the immediate focus is to prioritise investments and institutionalise regular upkeep of the canal infrastructure. The report laid significant emphasis on developing a digitalised online system of the Indus Basin to foster developing a regional network and intensified hydrological modelling capacities. Further prominence was laid on the need to conduct a joint research study evaluating the cumulative environmental impact of multiple dam constructions on an individual watercourse, and develop the technical know-how on the relationship between dam cascades, river basin hydrology, and climate change. It also impressed on the need to increase the knowledge base on monsoon variability trends to improve outcomes for rainfall-dependent agriculture, along with the use of multi-media tools to raise public awareness of climate change within India and Pakistan. Typifying the treaty itself, it also depends on the inflows of the Indus Water Basin, which in a larger perspective, affects climate change that further affects the river system.
The report blames the lax implementation by India and Pakistan for its ineffectiveness stating that "both the countries are lax in their implementation (of the Indus Water Treaty). However, it fails to garner political laxity vis-à-vis its technical responses, and hinders to offer substantial politico remedies in adhering to the treaty. It also does not provide ground artefacts that should bind both the actors in times of observing strict adherence to the treaty. Alternately, the report should have featured the need for a change in the mind-sets of those who govern the management of the watercourse between both countries. Since the cryosphere (snow and glaciers) of the upper Indus Water Basin is rapidly altering, amounting to a rise in the surface air temperatures by 1.80 degrees celsius over the past five decades, this is doubling the global average temperature of the region.
Understanding the dichotomy of the region, in terms of a change in the geo-strategic structures, urges for an imperative need which was found missing in the report. As warming temperatures and changing solid precipitation patterns are altering the duration, timing, and extent of seasonal snow-covered areas, measures to encapsulate a dialogue of trust between India and Pakistan are the need of the hour. Although the report did signify an institutionalised modest exchange of hydrological data between both countries for future exchanges of water supplies, and, more so, “to mitigate Pakistan’s legitimate sensitivities”, it failed to reduce the trust-deficit between both the countries. It is of critical necessity for contributing to a shift in the timing of peak melt runoff, resulting in low river flows during the dry summer season when the demand for water in the lower riparian basins is at its peak. Additionally, the monitored glaciers depict a 17 percent loss in the Suru basin, 15 percent in Zanskar, 6 percent in Nubra, 16 percent in Spiti, 20 percent in Chandra, and 30 percent in Bhaga.
The report enlists equipping third-party scientific agencies with satellite-based remote-sensing capacities to disseminate non-politicised, reliable, and timely hydrological data documenting glacial melt trends to water policymakers and the general public in both countries for greater transparency. However, it does not envisage capacities for dealing with disclaiming valedictions to third-party responses, marked as a popular trend even before the creation of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) in 1960. The other missing links that the report could have thrown light upon is the establishing of a trade-off between environmental recommendations vis-à-vis developmental recommendations. More so, the report consistently addresses an effort towards establishing joint partnership and cross-border dialogue in terms of the various policy and research recommendations highlighted under Agriculture, Food Security, Energy, Economic Development, Climate Change, Environmental Pressures, Glaciology, Institutions, Governance, and Diplomacy. However, it offers insignificant insight as the same has been identified in the Indus Water Treaty.
It could have also elaborated on issues related to governance rights, and the perennial influence it fosters over the watercourse. The Pakistani Army has a direct influence on mostly all issues related to Pakistan. It manages the rhetoric around water through proxies and allies, as it has its own vested interest in the resource. It controls a significant portion of the watercourse (i.e., 11.5 m/hec which amounts to 12 percent of its total share). The concept of hydro-connectivity and inter-dependence over the politico-technical discourse of the IWT, and factors connecting the catchment with the delta, are other aspects that are found inadequately dealt with in the report.