India and Pakistan Water Tensions Getting Close To Boil

Via UAE’s The National, a report on the intensifying water tensions between India and Pakistan.  As the article notes:

“…In 1960, Pakistan and India signed a treaty governing the rivers in Indian and Pakistani Punjab and how water was to be shared. India got the three eastern rivers, the Ravi, Sutlej and Beas; while Pakistan got the western ones, the Indus, Jehlum and Chenab.

There was not really a need for the treaty in the first place because there were pre-existing international agreements on the rights of the upper and lower riparian areas. However, historically, this was one treaty that was a success story. Even during wars between the two countries, representatives met and peacefully settled issues on the basis of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty.

What has happened since to create a situation that verges on disaster?

In the original treaty, India retained the right to construct hydro-electric power generating projects on the western rivers. Even though those rivers were allocated to Pakistan, the theory was that hydro-electric generation would not materially affect the flow of water. However, mindful of the fact that India could manipulate the timing of the flow of water, the original treaty restricted the amount of “live storage” – the water stored in a reservoir that can affect the river’s flow.

Crucially, spillway gates were prohibited on all of India’s projects on the western rivers, which could control the timing of the flow of water.

Then in the 1990s, India proposed the Baglihar Hydroelectric Power Project in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Baglihar dam straddled the Chenab River and Pakistan objected on the grounds that, among other things, the project violated the 1960 treaty because it included spillway gates. India’s very reasonable counter-argument was that the dam would silt up without these gates.

The World Bank, which had been a party to the original treaty, appointed a Swiss civil engineer to arbitrate the technical aspects. In 2007, the engineer released his findings. While modifying some of the project’s design, he found technically that India’s argument was sound and ruled in its favour as far as the spillway gates were concerned.

As a result, Pakistan lost its single assurance that India would not manipulate the flow of water. And, now that it had the capability, India used it. To quote a recent article by John Briscoe, a former senior adviser to the World Bank who has worked on water issues on the subcontinent for 35 years: “This vulnerability was driven home when India chose to fill Baglihar exactly at the time when it would impose maximum harm on farmers in downstream Pakistan.”

As the article War or peace on the Indus pointed out, by manipulating the flow of water earlier this year, India adversely affected Pakistan’s summer crop.

What is more, this is not the only dam under construction in Indian Kashmir or the rest of India on the western rivers of Jehlum and Chenab. Kishanganga, Sawalkot, Pakuldul, Bursar, Dal Huste, Gyspa – the list of dam projects goes on and on.

“The cumulative live storage will be large, giving India an unquestioned capacity to have major impact on the timing of flows into Pakistan,” Mr Briscoe writes. “If, God forbid, India so chose, it could use this cumulative live storage to impose major reductions on water availability in Pakistan during the critical planting season.”

Given an ideal situation, I agree with Mr Briscoe that the treaty between the two countries is still workable. But now Pakistan is entirely dependent on Indian good will.

Already the water shortage in the Chenab during the planting season this year forced Pakistani Punjab to seek to re-route the Indus River water to ensure full agricultural production. The province of Sindh disagreed and, since in the domestic division of water between the provinces of Pakistan Sindh has primacy over the waters of Indus, Punjab had to give in.

As a consequence, amid the myriad of problems Pakistan is faced with – a dysfunctional democracy, terrorism, electricity shortages, spiralling prices of fuel and consequent unprecedented price hikes – this year’s summer crop is destined to fall miserably short. On top of the already bad economic situation, this adds to the misery of the common man.

Since the safeguards on the western rivers have been re-negotiated, admittedly on sound technical reasoning, there is a strong case for Pakistan to urgently re-negotiate the entire Indus Water Treaty. At the minimum, the agreement should include international monitoring systems as safeguards against misuse of the dam modifications that are now permitted to India.

In an ideal world, we would hope India would not deliberately cause Pakistan’s agriculture any unnecessary harm. No one, however, could argue that India and Pakistan’s relations are ideal in any way.”

This entry was posted on Saturday, July 31st, 2010 at 10:05 am and is filed under India, 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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