WASHINGTON, Feb 22: The Indus Water Treaty may fail to avert water wars between India and Pakistan, warns a US Senate report released on Tuesday, 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.
“Studies show that no single dam along the waters controlled by the Indus Waters Treaty will affect Pakistan's access to water, (but) 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,” the report warns.
The report — “Avoiding Water Wars” in South and Central Asia — notes that the IWT has maintained stability in the region over water for decades.
But “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,” the report adds.
“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.”
The IWT is a prescriptive agreement that has recently been criticised for its inflexibility to adjust to changes in water levels. Experts are now questioning whether the IWT can adapt to these changes, especially when new demands for the use of the river flows from irrigation and hydroelectric power are fuelling tensions between India and Pakistan.
“A breakdown in the treaty's utility in resolving water conflicts could have serious ramifications for regional stability,” the report warns.
The report notes that proposals to expand irrigated land in India and Pakistan have already exacerbated tensions between the 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 South Asia,” the report says.
According to the report, the drive to meet energy demand through hydropower development is also occurring in India and Pakistan.
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 multi-purpose dams.
India has 33 projects at various stages of completion on the rivers that affect the 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.
In the difficult 60-plus year bilateral relationship, water has not yet been used in this way. But “any perceived reduction in water flows magnifies this distrust, whether caused by India's activities in the Indus Basin or climate change”.
The US Senate report also refers to a 2009 Purdue University study, which predicted an eastern shift in monsoon circulation caused by the changing climate, which today causes more rainfall over the Indian Ocean, Bangladesh and Burma and less rainfall over India, Nepal and Pakistan. This shift raises serious concerns for the countries expecting decreased rainfall. 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.