India's moves to control the rivers can spell doom: Dawn columnists

Hindu devotees gather to take a holy dip in the river Ganga on the occasion of the annual Hindu festival of 'Karthik Purnima' or full moon night, in Allahabad on Nov 14, 2016.
Hindu devotees gather to take a holy dip in the river Ganga on the occasion of the annual Hindu festival of 'Karthik Purnima' or full moon night, in Allahabad on Nov 14, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Conflict is not unknown when it comes to the question of ownership of water sources.

There are many examples, for instance, the major cause of the Six-Day War fought between Israel and neighbouring Arab states resulted from a struggle over water.

The threat of future conflict is only growing as we head towards an era of 'hydrological warfare' in which rivers, lakes and aquifers will be securitised.

Many countries in the Middle East, Africa, Central and South Asia, eg Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Kenya, Egypt and India, are already feeling the direct consequences of water scarcity.

South Asia has four major water basins: the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Meghna and the Indus. Water is a contentious issue between India, and Nepal and Bhutan.

As the use of the Ganges and Brahmaputra is disputed by India, Bangladesh and China, India wants a diversion of the river, but Bangladesh warns that any such action will undermine the livelihoods of millions of farmers. Meanwhile, the Indus basin has become a source of conflict between India and Pakistan.

Recently, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gearing up for the Punjab polls next year, once again referred to the Indus Waters Treaty, saying that the water that 'belongs' to India cannot be allowed to flow into Pakistan.

Though several analysts believe that any revision of the treaty can be dangerous and even lead to bloodshed, a considerable segment in India appears to favour withdrawing from the water pact which has withstood three wars.

Similarly, taking the cover of two attacks, one in Pathankot, the other in Uri in India-held Kashmir, it seems that Modi's administration is working towards revising the Indus Waters Treaty in order to protect multibillion dollar investments related to better water management and the tech industry in India.

In 2010, the then Indian water resources ministry secretary UN Panjiar spoke about the new business opportunities in the water sector in India, including storage, agriculture, industry, home consumption, and hydropower and desalination projects.

Approximately, US$22 billion (S$31.3 billion) was invested between 2002 to 2007, and more than US$50 billion between 2007 to 2012.

Several American banks and domestic companies will reportedly be investing billions in huge water infrastructure projects, including India's Smart Cities Mission, which will see major new technology for its residents.

The OECD reported that 47 per cent of the world's population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030.

Global water consumption has tripled over the last 50 years.

There are countless reasons for the scarcity of water and droughts all over the world including climate change, consumer mismanagement of water, pollution and diverting and drilling limited supplies of fresh water.

The attempt to control water reminds us of the ways of the international oil cartel and nuclear cartel. William Sarni and Tamin Pechet in their book Water Tech: A Guide to Investment, Innovation and Business Opportunities in the Water Sector discuss the emergence of the water cartel and the alliance for water stewardship.

Reports indicate that the water cartel's strength is growing.

One evidence of this is the existence of a group of over 500 multinational companies and NGOs, that while introducing 700 innovative water technologies for industrial and agriculture use as well as home consumption, are attempting to control water resources (and prices) in the developing world.

India appears to be adopting a similarly disturbing approach in its efforts to secure water for its population by linking water ways and deviating flows.

Such moves can only spell doom for the population and fertile land of Pakistan, which as a country with an agricultural base, is hugely dependent on river systems.

India's ostensible plans to build dams on the Jhelum, Chenab and Indus are also a clear violation of the Indus Waters Treaty.

Pakistan has rights on these rivers as their flow is towards Pakistan and the treaty permits the latter country's control over them.

Prime Minister Modi's words in recent days have been disturbing in this regard, and there is a petition in the Indian Supreme Court for scrapping the treaty.

The meetings of the treaty commission have been halted and in any case India has plans to secure the waters of the disputed region of Jammu & Kashmir; it may even prepare for aggression on this front.

The options for Pakistan are on the table; it should immediately formulate long-term development plans to attract investors to secure the water infrastructure for the coming generations.

Secondly, it should call for bilateral or international diplomatic channels to settle matters in accordance with the treaty or a new one. Otherwise, the only option that may be left to us is to go to war. One cannot ignore the gravity of this especially as both rivals are nuclear-armed.