Event ReportsPublished on Jun 08, 2012
Experts at a discussion on Indus Water unanimously agreed that a 'blue revolution' must follow the 'green revolution' so that the human possibilities for development are not compromised in the basin.
'Blue Revolution' must follow the 'Green Revolution'
Experts at a discussion on Indus Water unanimously agreed that a ’blue revolution’ must follow the ’green revolution’ so that the human possibilities for development are not compromised in the basin. The roundtable was organised recently at Observer Research Foundation as a follow-up to discuss the findings and key recommendations of conference on "Re-imagining the Indus", organised earlier in association with the Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan. At the roundtable, there was consensus that perception management was of critical importance. Socio-economic and ecological perception of Indus were layered with complexities and were often in conflict with one another. Media, being one of the mediums of information sharing and interpretation was seen as a bridge between regional and national interests on both the sides, subject to its unbiased reporting of vital concerns. The roundtable revealed two broad schools of thought. The first focused on the limitations of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) which divided the waters of the Indus on purely technical and legal terms. It called for a more plural and inclusive view that takes into account complex interactions between the society, the economy, the river and the climate and highlighted the importance of ecological flows to sustain the river. The second school of thought maintained that the Indus Treaty was robust enough to sustain peace in the region and that much of the misunderstanding over the Treaty arises from the fact that its provisions are either not read or misunderstood. Overall there was broad agreement that the IWT as a starting point rather than end point and those comprehensive discussions on water management and sharing and water management in the Indus basin must be encouraged. All agreed that a ’blue revolution’ must follow the ’green revolution’ so that the human possibilities for development are not compromised in the basin. There was concern that definitions of complementary themes such as integrated water management and sustainable development are vague and also that the methodologies for measuring the value of water in competing uses were ambiguous. It was felt that it would be difficult to bring such theoretical concepts in the realm of practice, when the goals and ambitions are undefined. All were in broad agreement that both sides had deployed hydrological engineering feats of mammoth proportions, in isolation of its ecological and social implications in order to extract maximum potential of the river water. Over the years, this had resulted in water logging, increased salinity and land degradation on both sides. Inefficient practices of water use, poor governance and administrative lapses had added to the ecological degradation in the region. The value of Indus water increased in proportion to its utility and this had stimulated acquisitiveness of the social and political order in both the countries. Furthermore, it was noted that the rigorous efforts across the governments were not clear to those outside the government, especially to the various parties interested in energy trade and commerce. Another issue highlighted in the discussion was the preference of multilateralism over bilateralism. India had always preferred bilateral cooperative arrangements with Pakistan over the Indus waters as opposed to Pakistan’s approach that called for third party involvement. Although, there have been instances where India has approached external support for resolving disputes over water, India’s inflexibility towards a multilateral agreement was seen as a barrier to deeper cooperation that could potentially include China and Afghanistan from where some of the tributaries of the Indus originate. Variability of water on account of climate change was seen as a key issue that needs to be quantified and understood as it could become an opportunity for renewed engagement. To add to the plurality in views it was pointed out that Kashmir saw itself as a victim of the IWT. It had experienced some of the worst environmental impacts of the unrestrained use of the Indus waters. There was a view that once the water problem was solved, the Kashmir problem could also be solved. Participants also contested the hegemonic concept of upper and lower riparian in which the discourse was trapped. By design, upper riparian had come to be characterized as aggressive, offensive and lower riparian as defensive. It was felt that exaggeration on both sides of their geographical locations and advantages had fed into the securitization dialogue, undermining the greater conceptual clarity. Examples from South America where the riparian distinction was abandoned to accommodate mutually cooperative arrangements were illustrated. The interconnection between water, food and energy was also briefly discussed and the gap in knowledge in understanding the links was brought out. The group also recognized that the theatre of water management had obscured the underlying perceptions about human-water relationships. It was felt that the management responses in complex hydrological systems should be based on environmental impact and social awareness rather than the power relationships. Key recommendations The conference report on "Re-imagining the Indus" had made several recommendations to manage efficiently the waters of the river system.   •  Remove the Riparian Iron Curtain       o  Water for nation building, the driving theme for the IWT is no longer the primary issue for both countries. New challenges such as climate change and its potential impact on river flows can only be addressed though a more cooperative and transparent arrangement between the two countries that include social, ecological and economic perspectives.   •  De-securitize the discourse       o  The core issue needs to be reframed from one of absolute scarcity that poses an existential threat to one of relative scarcity that can be addressed trough better water management practices   •  Democratize peace making       o  Water sharing can be facilitated by decentralizing the peace making process. Interaction between farmers, academics, analysts and journalists will introduce a more objective perspective of the challenges in the Indus basin.   •  Avoid the ’water-security’ trap       o  If water continued to be securitized, it will automatically lead to water nationalism and fights over water to grow water hungry crops for food security and to generate energy will continue   •  Re-imagine the borders       o  Borders must become bridges so that close cultural and economic ties between the two Punjabs can be leveraged for better water management and security in the region. greater security in the region. HIGHLIGHTS OF CONCLUSION FROM THE PROJECT ’RE-IMAGINING THE INDUS’ Three overriding themes were addressed within the capacity of the project. The first explored the ’reality’ of water use practices in the Indus Basin from pre-colonial to post-partition periods. The second dealt with the ’rhetoric’ of the water dialogue through a short media content analysis and finally, third studied the gap between the ’reality’ and the ’rhetoric’ and identified drivers of conflict in the basin. Broadly, the project highlighted the need for de-securitising’ the discourse on water in the Indus basin so that human and economic development in the region is guided by socio-ecological aspects rather than national security aspects. The report argued that the negative political and emotional overtone that the word ’security’ carried had invariably put the riparian countries into adversarial relationships. The report was concerned that the framing of the issue as one of ’water security’ had led to water nationalism which in turn had patronized a fight over water to grow water-hungry crops for food security and dams for energy security. The report concluded that institutional development for water sharing and management, generation of reliable hydrological data and the facilitation of efficient water use practices will be compromised under the securitized framework. The media content analysis of the study revealed that the media lagged behind reality and that there was scope to raise the level of debate without increasing the pitch. WAY FORWARD It was evident from the discussions that the decisions of both countries continue to be made under imperfect knowledge and both were adopting the precautionary principle to formulate strategies for the worst-case scenarios further complimenting the insecurities. There was overwhelming consensus that knowledge rather than power should drive the discourse in the future. Possible Next Steps:   •  A bibliography of the studies, reports and research work done on Indus to be made publicly available on both sides of the border. A compendium of all the research work done in India and Pakistan to aid in reducing gaps in the knowledge and also act as a facilitator for further research and information sharing.   •  Data monitoring on a regional basis, creation of datasets and timely sharing of data to be treated as the upmost priority as many of the conflicts that arise in the Indus basin were due to the lack of reliability of the data available and due to time lag in sharing the information.   •  Exploring the possibility of creating socially acceptable ways of describing water entitlement based on the Murray Darling basin in Australia where water entitlement between provinces restored the health of the river and maximized efficiency dividends for all provinces.   •  Water dialogues that go beyond engineering solutions so that sociological, ecological, economic and political aspects are accommodated.   •  Study of the linkages between energy, water and food security issue from the lens of optimal utilization of the water resources. (This report is prepared by Sonali Mittra, Junior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation)
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