Water Conflicts in South Asia
Keynote Address: Mr BG Verghese
Senior journalist and member of various commissions including the ‘Task Force on Interlinking of Rivers’ and the ‘National Commission for Integrated Water Resource Development’
Panelist: Prof P R Chari
Visiting Professor, IPCS
Chair: Maj Gen Dipankar Banerjee
Maj Gen Dipankar Banerjee
The increasing emphasis on non-traditional security challenges, in recent times, is a positive development and marks a fundamental shift in security and strategic studies, which have largely focused on conventional security threats. The time is ripe for the inauguration of a programme on non-traditional security focusing essentially on water conflicts in South Asia.
Non-traditional security threats: An introduction
P R Chari
There is an interconnectedness between traditional and non-traditional security as far as water is concerned. Water can be a source of conflict in the conventional sense, while its scarcity could also endanger the security of entire communities. Moreover, issues of water security can have both inter-State and intra-State dimensions.
On the question of the extension of the Indus Water Treaty or a revised version of it, the usual refrain is that the idea is good, but the time is not right. Hence, as part of our study we should work towards making the moment opportune by focusing on connectivity and avenues for improving bilateral relations between India and Pakistan. It has been observed over the past two decades that traditional security has been equated with military, and military has often been equated with the State. Likewise, non-traditional security has been equated with non-military and non-State-related security threats. However, the differences between traditional and non-traditional security have blurred over the years.
As part of the study, it is essential to recognize the interconnectedness and cyclic nature of security threats itself. If one is to study non-traditional security from the point of view of water security and scarcity, then the exercise requires a holistic assessment of the problem before a holistic solution can be put forward. In short, a multi-disciplinary approach to non-traditional security threats is essential.
B G Verghese
There is a paradigmatic shift in the way non-traditional security threats are viewed today. Water issues have undergone significant changes in the last few years.
It is predicted that in another 30 to 40 years, India would predominantly be an urban society with a steady increase in the demand for water. In the absence of proper mechanisms, this would result in absolute chaos. It is further predicted that there would be more casualties due to lack of proper sanitation and hygiene than from war or insurgencies. There is an increase in the conflicts being waged - inter-State, between rural and urban areas, between the industrial and the agricultural sector - with little or no reflection on the roots of these conflicts.
In the absence of data banks and due to documents related to water being classified, one is unable to analyze the problem effectively. The lack of sharing and measuring of data results in a lack of accountability, creating distrust and preventing further data-sharing. This vicious cycle is evident in the India-Nepal, India-Bangladesh and India-Pakistan water relations, and between Indian states to a certain extent.
The concept of non-traditional security cannot simply be extrapolative. The efficient management of water will involve overcoming structural problems. The parameters in use for non-traditional security issues are different. For instance, climate change does not only mean the melting of glaciers and the non-availability of water..
The Ganga Basin is shared between India and its two neighbours, Bangladesh and Nepal. Nepal has limited requirements for water from an agricultural point of view, although their demand for energy is high. This asymmetry between India and Nepal has created difficulties between the two countries. With the resolution of the political crisis in Nepal, it is hoped that things would move forward on the issues of Kosi, Mahakalai and others.
The entire Ganges system is moving geo-morphologically eastwards. One witnesses the gradual dying of the western and middle parts of the Ganges delta, but the eastern part continues to be dynamic. This has created an element of distrust in Bangladesh. A joint management of the waters of the Ganges is needed to resolve bilateral problems.
The Indus Waters Treaty is facing severe criticism. Article seven of the treaty deals with future cooperation to be undertaken in the form of joint observation and measurements, and also of engineering works. It is important to renegotiate the treaty without disturbing its essential clauses. India may find it difficult to build and utilise its entitlements in the western rivers in Jammu and Kashmir owing to Pakistani objections. Future cooperation will have great merit and the Indian Prime Minister has hinted at its role as part of the larger formula of making boundaries irrelevant.
There is a fear that China will divert waters. However, no such diversion has taken place so far. Cooperation with China is needed on water issues over data-sharing and disbursement. India should suggest a joint study to be undertaken with China on developing the potential of the U-belt of the Brahmaputra, which could generate 48,000 to 54,000 mega watts of power.
China, India, Pakistan and all other countries in the region need to come together and deal with water issues and seek cooperation from each other in undertaking these tasks.
Drafted by Zainab Akhter, Research Intern, IPCS