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Pakistan -India flags 670 x 350- File Photo
The image shows the national flags of India and Pakistan. — File Photo.

WASHINGTON: India and Pakistan will both benefit if they work together to peacefully share and conserve the vitally important waters of the Indus River Basin, says a US report.

Researchers from the Washington-based Stimson Centre and similar institutions in India and Pakistan warned that water shortages could hit the subcontinent in a few years because growing populations and increasing development are placing rising pressure on the Indus Basin.

“Water removals from the Indus are outpacing natural rates of renewal,” the researchers found.

The study points out that both India and Pakistan have inadequate sewage treatment facilities, and as a result increasing water pollution burdens the Indus Basin. In addition to untreated human waste, the Indus system is polluted by agriculture, industry, mining, and other activities that fill the river basin and its aquifers with synthetic chemicals, fertilisers, pesticides, toxic metals, and microbial pathogens that can spread disease and disrupt natural ecosystems.

Water-borne diseases account for a third of all deaths in Pakistan — including an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 children each year. Inadequate sanitation is responsible for 10 per cent of all deaths in India and causes more than 30 per cent of deaths among children under five. Diarrhoea alone killed 395,000 Indian children in 2006.

The study was produced by water experts from groups that formed the Indus Basin Working Group. Besides the Stimson Centre, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Pakistan and the Observer Research Foundation in India contributed to the study.

“Indian-Pakistani cooperation will result in more effective management of the basin’s water resources than confrontation between the two nations,” said David Michel, director of Stimson’s Environmental Security Programme and the lead Stimson researcher on the report. The report is titled “Connecting the Drops: An Indus Basin Roadmap for Cross-Border Water Research, Data Sharing, and Policy Coordination.”

“Almost all of the basin’s renewable water resources are already allocated for various uses — with little or no spare capacity. Scientific and policy collaboration across national and disciplinary boundaries will be essential,” the researchers said.

The Indus River is one of the most important water systems in the world. It supplies the needs of about 300 million people and nourishes the breadbaskets of the subcontinent, watering fields in India and Pakistan that constitute the most intensely irrigated area on Earth.