India’s water strategy

Saman Hamid

Indus Water Treaty It is dubbed as one of the most successful treaties having stood the test of three wars between India and Pakistan. Indus Water Treaty was brokered by the World Bank in 1960. The treaty though suffers from shortfalls which have only begun to fully surface now as the population of both countries has brought water scarcity to threatening levels 330 million people in India alone face acute water shortage. In Pakistan the per capita availability of water unfortunately has fallen to 1032 cubic meter (2016) which is more than 4000 cubic meters in 65 years! According to United Nations India, China, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan, alone account for nearly half the world’s total groundwater use. And this resource is facing rapid depletion.
The global water scarcity threshold is 1000 cubic meters; Pakistan faces the threat within the next three years. As a lower riparian country and dependency on water cannot be emphasized by anything more than the fact that our agricultural sector’s contribution towards GDP is 20.9% it employs 40% of the work force. As tensions escalated on their borders since last year; post Kashmir’s intifada in July India as resorted to threaten Pakistan’s water supply. The irony of the situation is accentuated by the fact that India has built around 33 hydro projects since 1970 directly or indirectly effecting Pakistan’ water supply some 150 are planned along the Kashmir and northern rivers. Kishanganga, Ratle are the two dams currently in the news, being challenged in the International Court of Arbitration by Pakistan.
Kishanganga is $869 Million investment, 330MW that directly affects the Neelum-Jhelum power project commenced since 1989. Indian side is brining the “non-consumptive” clause into the argument, ignoring the 20Pc effect on the water flow. This comes in addition to Uri-1 and Uri-II on Jhelum River. Similarly the Ratle power project is 850MW power project built on Chenab River. Earlier the Dalhasti hydropower project of 330MWs, Baglihar of 450MWs, in case of Baghliar Indians committed gross violation by not filling the dam in stipulated time frame in Marla Headworks. The cascading effects of this violation alone led to closure of Marala-Ravi Link (MRL) Canal, resulting in non-availability of irrigation water for paddy crops in Marala Command Canals area covering over 10,000,000 acres of land. This also led to less water for Mangla Dam leading to an acute shortage of water for Rabi (autumn/ winter) crops in Pakistan. With all projects under construction India clearly aims to gain access to water flow of Pakistan.
Kalabagh Dam and many other projects await execution or replacement in Pakistan’s case. Other than Mangla and Tarbela and now Neelum-Jhelum, Pakistan has been unable to come up with major projects of her own. With a “friendly” neighbourhood this is a strategy that so far identifies our general psyche towards everything; waiting for a savoir. There has of course been a fair share of controversies as well, Jamaat Ali Shah, former Indus Water Commissioner has been accused of criminal negligence while India built its major power projects. The need of hour is to recognize fact that nearly 10% of Pakistanis do not have access to safe drinking water. We are a nation that faces climate change issues that in words of Dr Qamar-uz-Zaman Ch, presently International Climate Change Specialist at Asian Development Bank is a bigger threat than terrorism. Water conservation is a concept alien to us; we needed to develop reservoirs to safeguard underwater tables. Water pollution is another major threat that threatens our lives and livelihoods; not only do we not look at our sources of pollutants but we are getting unsafe water from Indians as well.
As Kristalina Georgieva visits Pakistan and PM Nawaz Sharif issues statements questioning our status on IWT and India’s rapid progress in building dams we need to realize that this is a crisis that needs to be addressed on war footing. Not only do we need better professionals to safeguard our arbitration interests but we need to come up with mechanisms that educate on water conservation as well as research facilities to utilize the current resources of water, we have currently 210 Million Acre Feet (MAF) water out of which 100MAF, (47%) is wasted due to unlined canals alone. We need to stop looking for saviours from outside and cultivate responsible visionary individuals from within who can drag the nation out of the deep troves of negligence that threatens everything. At the end of the day there is desperation across border as well where water has become a point in election agenda of the elected party.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Peshawar Cantt.
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