Event ReportsPublished on Mar 08, 2013
The Indian subcontinent could be hit by water shortages in few years as increasing populations and growing development demands are placing tremendous pressure on the Indus Basin, according a recently released report, on Indus Basin
Indian subcontinent staring at water shortages, says new study
The Indian subcontinent could be hit by water shortages in few years as increasing populations and growing development demands are placing tremendous pressure on the Indus Basin, according a recently released report, titled Connecting the Drops: An Indus Basin Roadmap for Cross-Border Water Research, Data Sharing and Policy Coordination. The researchers, involved with the report, produced by the Stimson Centre, USA, Observer Research Foundation and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Pakistan, found that water removals from the Indus are outpacing natural rates of renewal. According to the report, prepared by the Indus Basin Working Group, scientific and policy collaboration across national and disciplinary boundaries will be essential as almost all of the basin’s renewable water resources are already allocated for various uses, with little or no spare capacity. The report was released in India on 8 March 2013 by Mr. A. K. Bajaj, former Chairman of the Central Water Commission, at a function at Observer Research Foundation. The report recommends that India and Pakistan will both benefit if they work together to peacefully share and conserve the waters of the Indus River Basin The report is based on the deliberations organised by the Stimson Centre, in partnership with Observer Research Foundation and the SDPI. The Indus Basin working Group comprised more than 24 members -- hydrologists, glaciologists, economists, agronomists and former diplomats -- to examine and analyse the emerging social, environmental, demographic and economic pressures on water resources in the Indus Basin. Handing over a copy of the report to Mr. Bajaj, Mr. David Michel, Director of the Stimson’s Environmental Security Program and the lead Stimson researcher on the report, said "Indian-Pakistani cooperation will result in more effective management of the basin’s water resources than confrontation between the two nations." The 70-page report gives a long list of detailed recommendations designed to:
  1.   Improve agricultural water-use efficiency and enhance food security in the Indus Basin. 
  2.   Encourage low-impact economic development in the basin, increase water-use efficiency among non-agricultural industries and improve cross-border communication concerning hydroelectric development. 
  3.   Develop a comprehensive knowledge base about emerging climate change impacts and mounting environmental pressures on the basin’s hydrological health, and create a cooperative framework for safeguarding the region’s ecological health. 
  4.   Deepen knowledge of glacial melt trends to better understand their implications for water stakeholders in the basin. 
  5.   Fully utilize and effectively empower the institutional arenas and governance mechanisms that shape water policymaking within and between India and Pakistan. 
  6.   Foster cooperation by India and Pakistan to overcome overlapping socio-economic, environmental, and political pressures as they endeavour to fulfil their countries’ future water needs and peacefully manage the Indus River Basin.
The Indus River is one of the most important water systems in the world. It supplies to the needs of about 300 million people and nourishes the breadbaskets of the subcontinent, watering fields in India and Pakistan. The waters of the Indus are vital to farming, which employs 40 percent of Pakistan’s labour force and generates 22 percent of its gross domestic product. In India, agriculture comprises 17 percent of the gross domestic product and employs 55 percent of the economically active population. Both India and Pakistan have inadequate sewage treatment facilities, and as a result, increasing water pollution burdens the Indus Basin. In addition to untreated human waste, the Indus system is polluted by agriculture, industry, mining, and other activities that fill the river basin and its aquifers with synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, toxic metals, and microbial pathogens that can spread disease and disrupt natural ecosystems. Water-borne diseases account for a third of all deaths in Pakistan - including an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 children each year. Inadequate sanitation is responsible for 10 percent of all deaths in India and causes more than 30 percent of deaths among children under age 5. Diarrhoea alone killed 395,000 Indian children in 2006. A growing number of studies foresee increasing water shortages in the Indus Basin because of population growth. The United Nations projects that India’s population will increase by almost a quarter in the next 20 years, topping 1.5 billion in 2030 and approaching 1.7 billion by 2050. Pakistan’s population is forecast to grow from 174 million in 2010 to 234 million in 2030 and nearly 275 million in 2050. The spectre of global climate change compounds the water resource challenges confronting the region. Continuing global warming may shift the seasonal timing or the geographical distribution of the precipitation that replenishes water supplies, the study found. Commenting on the report, Mr A. K. Bajaj said though the report is a great study on the Indus Basin, an overall broad perspective is missing as the group members were predominantly climate or environmental experts. He felt that such a study should also have experts with the practical knowledge of what is happening on the ground in terms of development in the field of agriculture, hydropower development and how Pakistan is coping up after the treaty was implemented to bring water to the areas which had earlier been fed by the three rivers which have been allocated to India. He said both India and Pakistan lag behind in the implementation of the Indus Water Treaty, which is a very comprehensive document. He said Pakistan is guiltier than India in this respect. He said even today Pakistan is wasting a lot of water which is allocated to them. There is no free debate on the issues in Pakistan and no free flow of information as most leaders are trying to mislead the public into believing that all the problems were created by India, not releasing the water as per the treaty. He called for a change of mindset of the authorities in Pakistan who are managing the rivers. Later, taking part in a panel discussion on the report, Mr. H. L. Bajaj, former Chairman of the Central Electricity Authority, said the Indus Water Treaty can be defined as ’Water Trust’ in a nut shell. ’If both the sides trusted each other, understood each other, then there would be no problem. But that is not the case yet’, he said. Mr. Wilson John, ORF Senior Fellow and an expert on Pakistan, said that calibration of policies towards water issues and water management, taking into account three dimensions of water issues -- bilateral issues, regional issues which complicate the bilateral issues and domestic issues -- is the biggest challenge to South Asian countries, particularly India and Pakistan. He pointed out that Pakistan Army was one of the key stake holders in the decision making process and issues of water in Pakistan. He observed that since water is a strategic issue, the army also managed the rhetoric around water often through its proxies and through its allies in the political spectrum. He also stressed upon Pakistan army’s vested interest in water as it was itself in control of about 12% of the state land. He called for investment in the conservation of water as a solution for water issues. Dr. Rohan D’Souza, a professor of social science from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, impressed on the need to bring in the perspective of climate change and glacial melt which was not of pressing importance in the 1960s when Indus Water Treaty was signed. He said the uncertainties of climate change could be better negotiated with interdependence and inter-connections rather than through physical divisions of a river ecosystem. He recommended that both India and Pakistan have to look beyond the ’megawatt’ and ’cusec’ potential of the river and look at how the glaziers and headwaters connect to the delta. He defined mandate of the Indus Water Treaty as a joint responsibility to a common endowment and said that it is now not a debate between two governments but a discussion between people and communities. Prof. Alok Bansal, a security analyst, described the report as ’extremely informative’ and pointed out that there were not only political problems between the India and Pakistan vis-a-vis the Indus Water Treaty but there are more significant and serious differences between various provinces in Pakistan as far as the usage of the Indus water is concerned. He agreed with the rest of the discussants that the key problem was one of perception of people in Pakistan. Overall there was a broad agreement that changes in the climate, population and economic growth would be a serious threat to the Indus basin and that prudent policies on water management should be implemented on both sides of the border. Connecting the Drops: (This report is prepared by Akhilesh Sati, Programme Manager, Observer Research Foundation)
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