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Water crisis in South Asia

July 16, 2012

THIS is with reference to the letter ‘India’s water war’ (July 5). The ongoing various dams and hydropower projects of India, which are in violation of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, reflect that water crisis in South Asia has been assuming serious shape that needs urgent attention.

If this issue remains unnoticed and unaddressed at the policy level, it could lead to a big debacle in future in South Asia.

This region is confronted with various issues related to water. All those need timely resolution in effective and sustainable way.

As International Rivers Network has indicated in a report, South Asian basins hydrologically depend on China. The main river systems, the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra are all connected to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. The headwaters of all these rivers, except the main Ganga River, rise within a few hundred kilometres of each other, in the south western region of the Tibetan plateau.

China has various ongoing designs of dam construction and hydropower plants. In November 2010, China officially confirmed the construction of the 510MW Zangmu hydropower project at Gyaca County in the Shannan Prefecture of TAR. Reportedly, five other dams are under consideration on the river and its tributaries.

Moreover, there are reports of south-north river diversion projects to feed the water scarce northern region of China.

Secondly, it is an appalling fact that both India and China have plans to establish inter-basin water diversions to meet their water and energy needs.

Such hydrological dependence of South Asian countries on China and India, which have plans of damming water in the backdrop of the economically and demographically imbalanced status of the region, marked with lack of potential multilateral treaties and denial from international mechanisms, could most possibly create the inter-sate conflicts that may lead to regional wars.

Even the existing bilateral treaties doesn’t seem to carry the potential to stop the race of constructing dams by upstream countries created out of need of water and energy and the fear of dwindling water sources of in future.

All this put together is an alarm call to South Asian countries to bring multilateral arrangements under the guidance of internationally-accepted norms of inter-basin water sharing. Moreover, they should ratify the UNCIW as the probability of potential conflicts and resultant wars in future in the region could be averted.

Saarc could be the platform for developing multilateral arrangements dealing with co-basin sharing.

JAMIL JUNEJO Hyderabad