Energy, Water, Food: Geopolitical Linkages & Conflicts

As reported by The Circle of Blue, a new Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based bipartisan think-tank, report states that the U.S. needs integrated international water strategy to avert global conflicts over water which could threaten geopolitical stability. As the article notes, 40 percent of the world’s population lives in watersheds shared between nations, with as many as 260 international river basins being of major social and economic importance. In the case of the longstanding Kashmir conflict, agriculture, energy, and water agendas collide: India needs more hydroelectric power to grow; and Pakistan needs more water to drive its agriculture and feed its populous. CSIS anticipates that international conflicts over these resources — energy, water and food — will be a major player in geopolitical future:

“…Conflict in Kashmir ebbs and flows, especially as India’s crucial Baglihar Dam reservoir surges with water that may not be its own. With the rising levels, come rising tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi. The 450 mega-watt dam, near the Pakistan-India border along Kashmir’s Chenab River, promises to bring hydroelectric power to northern Indian. But as the dam reaches full capacity, Islamabad is crying foul and seeking compensation for what it views as a “gross violation” of international treaty and “stolen” water.


International conflict over water isn’t new. But as water shortages continue to threaten the stability of politically fragile regions — like Kashmir — U.S. policy toward international water management grows more important.“The management of water resources can be a catalyst for cross-border cooperation or a trigger for socio-economic instability, especially as relentless demographic and environmental pressures constrain the choices available to future leaders,” Erik Peterson, senior vice president of CSIS, told Circle of Blue.

…With the world facing greater and greater demands on water resources — due to increased energy needs, population growth, and climate change — experts must work with legislators to develop a clear and integrated international U.S. water policy, policy analysts say.

…Water has always played a major role in India and Pakistan’s relations. Sharing six transnational rivers near the Kashmir region, water management has served as both a point of conflict and a point of cooperation between the two nations in the past.

At the heart of the present clash over the Baglihar Dam project, stands the Indus Waters Treaty — an agreement dating back nearly 60 years. The treaty equally divides the water resources of the nations’ six shared rivers; effectively giving three rivers to Pakistan — including the Chenab on which the Baglihar is built — and three to India. And while the treaty requires the World Bank to arbitrate, U.S. interests in the region are invariably tied to the outcome of any negotiations. U.S. efforts in the war on terror continue to depend on the stability of the Kashmir region, leading U.S. policy analysts say.

Major Recommendations:

  • Create a “Bureau of International Water Policy”, within the U.S. Department of State’s Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
  • Appoint a “Water Ambassador” to head the new office
  • Expand and incorporated existing water policy programs into the new office
  • Establish a transparent, bipartisan, “Water Policy Advisory Committee,” whose role would be to advise U.S. international water issues
  • Found a “Water Advisory Council” to communicate suggestions from NGOs, corporations, academia and scientific entities about water challenges
  • Generate a standing fund for water-related issues — utilizing both public and private sources

It remains unclear when and if Pakistan will bring its newest grievance to the World Bank. If the country pursues bank arbitration, it will mark the Bank’s second ruling over the Baglihar project. In a previous dispute, the Bank agreed with some of Pakistan’s earliest objections and called for minor changes to the initial dam design — reducing the dam’s capacity and size.

Regardless of the present situation, past threats by India to cut-off water to Pakistan in order to curb terrorist activities have left Islamabad wary of any projects redirecting water. Some within the Pakistani government view the newest diversions as part of a greater plan by India to generate a food shortage in Pakistan.

Foreign Secretary Shivshanker Menon of India disagrees with that sentiment, telling the press in New Delhi that the reduction of flow in the Chenab is the result of a “lean year,” and has little to do with the Baglihar project. “There was reduction because the flow was very little this year. We have also explained [this] to the Pakistan High Commission,” he told the press. Nonetheless, Pakistan contends that the flow has been redirected to fill the dams reservoir — jeopardizing crop harvests throughout the nation…”

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008 at 3:23 am and is filed under India, Indus, Pakistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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