Event ReportsPublished on Sep 02, 2011
Initiating the discussion on "Water Security in South Asia", eminent water expert and noted writer, Mr. B. G. Verghese felt that while water is the key to cooperation in the region, climate change is the most important issue for all South Asian countries.
Water key to cooperation in South Asia, says B.G. Verghese

Water is the key to promote cooperation and can play a crucial role in ending the confrontationist environment in the South Asian region, an eminent water expert and noted writer, Mr. B. G. Verghese, said on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at Observer Research Foundation.
Initiating the discussion on "Water Security in South Asia", Mr. Verghese expressed the need for educating people about the issues concerning water. He said that because of lack of understanding and knowledge about the water issues and its dynamics, various interest groups exploit these issues to push their limited and sometimes dangerous agendas.
Mr. Verghese claimed that on many occasions, discourse on water is driven by ideologies and myths which, with the passage of time, are perceived as truth. These perceived truths contribute to fanning antagonistic feelings among people, resulting often in the escalation of conflicts.
Commenting on the conflict between India and Pakistan, Mr. Verghese said that the Indus Water Treaty has worked well all these years because India has played fair. Unfortunately, Pakistan is playing politics with the Treaty, he said, adding that Islamabad, instead of putting in place an efficient water management system, is holding India responsible for its water shortage.
In his assessment, the problem of water in the neighbouring country has arisen because of its wastage. In Pakistan, there is an acute lack of storage, allowing the huge quantity of water received from India to flow into the sea without its proper utilisation.
The key to the solution of Indus water is the article 7 of the treaty which refers to future cooperation between the two countries, he pointed out.   
On Bangladesh, Mr. Verghese said that India's eastern neighbour is water surplus most of the year, but faces its deficit in few months. The country will not be able to utilise its water unless it cooperates with India, he said, pointing out that there are about 52 common rivers between the two countries. The speaker was of the view that water occupies an important position in the internal politics of that country. The political parties often try to politicise issues relating to sharing of water with India.
Though India and Bangladesh have signed  Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, Dhaka continues to complain that it has not got a fair deal. As a matter of fact, India has given more to Bangladesh than what was originally committed, Mr. Verghese said, adding that these allegations are made because of the secretive attitude of the Indian authorities. He said India needed to show much more sensibility while dealing with Bangladesh, particularly at a time when the relationship between the two have improved.
In Nepal too, politics played an important role on water issues. It was the internal Nepali politics that has stalled progress on the bilateral cooperation in tapping the water resources to mutual advantage. The only exception in the region has been Bhutan which has been prudent in handling its water resources. The country has used its water resources for its economic development. Cooperation with India for generating hydropower has made it the most prosperous country in South Asia. The model of Indo-Bhutan cooperation in harnessing water resources to mutual benefit can easily be an example for Nepal.
In India's case, Mr. Verghese argued for reviving the inland water transport system. In this context, he recommended that the Kolkata port be developed as a major river port as the navigability of the Hoogly River is decreasing despite best efforts. The efficiency of the port has come down because of the inability of large and medium sized ships to enter the port.
Mr. Verghese felt that this step would contribute to better utilisation of water because then flushing of large quantity of water from the Faraka barrage will not be required as is being done presently. This step will also help in improving the relationship with Bangladesh as India will be able to release more water to Bangladesh. The Faraka barrage was constructed to release water to the Hoogly River to improve the navigability of the Kolkata port which has become a bone of contention between India and Bangladesh.
Referring to the much-talked-about diversion of the Bramhaputra, Mr. Verghese said that there is a thought in China to divert Sangpo, one of its tributaries. But Bramhaputra is an Indian river in which various rivers including Sangpo merge.
However, the diversion of the Sangpo is not an easy task as it involves huge resources and great engineering-cum-technological expertise. Although he was skeptical about such a development, he did not rule out such a possibility in future, considering the engineering skills and technological capability China has mastered.
Mr. Verghese, however, felt that the issue of climate change is the most important issue for all South Asian countries.
Urging cooperation to meet the climate change challenges, Mr. Verghese said that if the region failed to evolve a collective response, then all will have to face its consequences. He said China should also  be taken on board since this is a Trans Himalayan phenomenon. 
(This report is prepared by Dr. Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, Associate Fellow, Observer Research Foundation)

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