Water Dispute, India, Pakistan, South Asia, Kishanganga, SAARC, SCO, UN, Kashmir, Indus Water Treaty

Due to climate changes, the scarcity of water has emerged as a new challenge for the global population. April 16, 2018, was all set to be marked as ‘Day Zero’ in Cape Town, South Africa due to severe drought. Implying that, the municipal water supply was to be shut down on that day and people were to line up for collecting 25 litres of rationed water from government designated water points, on daily basis. Fortunately, owing to some rain, the date has been pushed forward to 2019 amid the rising water levels in dams. This however, should cause alarm bells elsewhere around the world, especially in Pakistan.

The water situation in Pakistan is also worsening. The irrigation department officials informed the government, in October 2016, about the record reduction of water levels observed in Chenab River at Head Marala. Later, in March 2018, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Climatic Change was informed by an NGO, working on climate change that the underground water levels across the country are falling approximately by one meter each year. This disclosure supplements the report prepared by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), of 2016, which stated that if no immediate action is taken by the government, Pakistan could run out of water by 2025. This is an alarming situation especially for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh which serve as an agriculture backbone for Pakistan. The agriculture sector of Pakistan is already facing water shortage and provinces have frequently shown their dissatisfaction over the distribution of water. In March 2018, Sindh Assembly tabled a resolution against Punjab accusing it of diverting the Sindh share of water.

This disclosure supplements the report prepared by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), of 2016, which stated that if no immediate action is taken by the government, Pakistan could run out of water by 2025.

In spite of few rains, the reservoirs located at Terbala, Mangla and Khanpur etc. are still operating at low levels. In Karachi, the electricity and water crisis has aggravated since last few years, leading to protests which have now almost become a daily routine. Even more troubling is the situation for Balochistan, where water scarcity is already taking its toll on the rural and urban population. Due to industrialization and existing sanitation issues, the provision of clean drinking water has become a serious issue in almost all the urban centres across Pakistan. However, the government has still not taken necessary steps to properly address the worsening water situation in the country.

Few decades ago, drinking water in Pakistan was as simple as turning on the tap. In the decade of 1980’s, chlorinated water was supplied by the municipal administration twice a day, which was subsequently stored in the water tanks to be used for drinking and domestic use. That has changed over the years. The water issue has compounded since last few years due to inefficient local administration, lack of civic sense and absence of proper water management schemes, which results in enormous wastage of water, especially in urban areas. Several hundred thousand gallons of water is flushed down the toilets every month in cities while thousands of gallons go to waste due to over-flow or undue care. Excessive use of water at car wash outlets, golf-courses, swimming pools and industry etc. is further aggravating the problem. The mushroom growth of housing schemes and commercial areas on fertile agricultural land, and levelling of suburban areas’ water ponds, which had served as catalyst to maintain underground water table, has worsened the issue of water shortage. But so far, no sense of urgency has been witnessed within the government departments responsible for water management and distribution.

In a startling development, on 19 May, 2018, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Kishanganga hydropower and water storage project. This project would not only increase Pakistan’s water woes but is also a violation of the Indus Water Treaty, signed between India and Pakistan in 1960. According to the treaty the control over flowing water in rivers Beas, Ravi and Sutlej was given to India, while the rights of Pakistan were established over the waters of three other rivers namely Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. Now India has established Kishanganga reservoir over river Indus in the disputed region of Kashmir. This is the first completed project of around 60 other reservoirs being built by India, at different water channels and distributaries contributing to river Indus. These water storage facilities would immensely increase the Indian capability to regulate the flow of water, especially during the flooding season and times of crisis. More so, in the longer run, these storage facilities would deprive Pakistan of the existing water resources, which is already facing a decline in the flow of rivers. River Indus makes up to 17 – 20% of the total water flowing through Pakistan and serves as the lifeline to the agriculture sector of the country. The reduction in flow of the Indus would adversely affect the agricultural growth, causing food shortages, in addition to further lowering the underground water levels in the Indus basin.

In a startling development, on 19 May, 2018, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Kishanganga hydropower and water storage project. This project would not only increase Pakistan’s water woes but is also a violation of the Indus Water Treaty, signed between India and Pakistan in 1960.

Pakistan will have to take the issue seriously, both at domestic and external fronts. Indian act of diverting water amounts to water aggression against Pakistan, which has already become a water deficient nation. The Indian project aims at squeezing the existing water resources of Pakistan thus causing drought and drastically reducing the agricultural growth. If the situation is not taken seriously by the government, and necessary remedial measures are not taken in time, the situation can reach to a point of no-return. Domestic laws will have to be enacted and strengthened for efficient water management, prevention of water wastage and developing of residential schemes on agriculture lands. Strict punitive measures will have to be adopted for the violators. While at the international front, Pakistan will have to confront the Indian water aggression more assertively. Pakistan must use regional as well as international organizational platforms like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), SAARC, World Bank and the UN to highlight the issue. The Indian leadership and the international community will have to be made clear that Pakistan would show zero tolerance for Indian water aggression, and all attempts to convert Pakistan into a barren dry land will be reciprocated appropriately. The Indian act of diverting Pakistan’s share of water resources should be considered as an act of war in South Asia, as it is becoming a matter of survival for Pakistan.

Shams uz Zaman

did his Masters degree in International Relations from the Peshawar University, and holds an M.Phil degree in Strategic and Nuclear Studies from the National Defence University Islamabad. He frequently writes in international and national research journals, magazines and newspapers.

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