DAWN Article on Water Issue in Pakistan

Water scarcity and disputes

By Zulfiqar Halepoto

Courtesy: daily dawn, Monday, 06 Jul, 2009

WITH unprecedented challenges of water scarcity facing the world, some new approaches have surfaced to tackle this problem. The terms like ‘river diplomacy’ and ‘environmental peacekeeping’ are commonly used in non-traditional human security studies as tension between riparian states mount on water sharing, environmental degradation, irrigation and drinking water shortage and decline in food security.

Recent research studies on water related bodies warn that the world may be very close to its first water war due to the adverse climate change, energy and food supplies and prices, and troubled financial markets. Water scarcity is leading to political insecurity and inter and intra-state conflicts.

Glacier melting, global warming, water reservoir and dams affect shared ecological resources, upsetting political relationships between riparian states. Building of Kishanganga and Baghliar dams on river Chunab and Jhelum is an example of trans-boundary water dispute between two hostile neighbours: Pakistan and India. The future of peace and economic stability in South Asia also depends on the flow of water from Indian held Kashmir to the downstream Kotri, Pakistan.

The two states have also been locked in a dispute over the project for years. The Kishanganga or the Neelam River is the largest tributary of Jhelum. Pakistan believes that this project will not only impact its hydropower potential, but will also adversely affect the agriculture in the Neelam valley and the Muzaffarabad district. Experts on strategic studies and diplomacy are now terming water as oil of 21st century. Water is going to determine the foreign policy discourses of nation-states with their neighbouring countries that are sharing water resources. The future of political relationships of lower and upper riparian may be shaped by the water flows, both in terms of quantity and quality.

Pakistan and India are no exception to this. Per capita water availability is fast approaching the threshold of 1000 cubic meters of water per person per year in both countries. Pakistan at 1200 cubic meters per capita is slightly above this water stress threshold.

The Indus River Basin comprises of almost 1.2 million square km in Tibet, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) of 1960, three eastern rivers, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej were handed over to India.

In the IWT, India has also been allowed to develop 13, 43,477 acres of irrigated cropped land on the western rivers without any restriction on the quantum of water to be utilised. India has already developed 7, 85,789, acres for which 6.75 MAF has been used. Thus, for the remaining area of 5, 75,678 acres, 4.79 MAF would be required on pro rata basis.

Whereas three western rivers, Indus, Jhelum and Sutlaj were given for the exclusive use of Pakistan which irrigate 20 million hectares land out of total 69.6 million hectares land; four million hectares of land is rain-fed.

The source of water for these two nuclear rivals is Kashmir, which is a ‘jugular vein’ for Pakistan and for India “an integral part”. In the Himalayan mountains of Kashmir high altitude glaciers are melting an at unprecedented rate.This phenomenon threatens the security of water supply of hundreds of millions of people.

The local environment of Kashmir and Himalayan range is suffering from the decades of military presence–habitats of snow leopards, brown bears, ibex are also under threat and garbage is being dumped into mountain crevasses. Conservationists and ecologists suggest that Siachan Glacier mountains be declared as ‘peace camp’. This would not only ensure protection of the landscape, but would offer the possibility of political peacemaking as well.

Kashmir’s strategic position is turning into a non-traditional human security protection zone in terms of water and environment. Pakistan is a rain scarce country and most of its water depends on melting Siachen Glacier in the Himalayan mountains in Kashmir.

In 1990, General (rtd) Pervez Musharraf, then a brigadier under training at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London, in a presentation, argued that the issue of Indus waters had the “germs of future conflict”.

On June 18, 2002, Syed Salahuddin, chairman of the United Jihad Council and the leader of Hizbul Mujahideen, said “Kashmir is the source from where Pakistan’s water resources originate. If Pakistan loses its battle against India, it will become a desert.”

Few months back in Srinagar the chief of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Mehbooba Mufti asked New Delhi to compensate Jammu and Kashmir on account of the Indus Water Treaty. She described the treaty as “discriminatory” and blocking the progress and economic development. She also came down heavily on the New Delhi-owned NHPC for its “arbitrary” exploitation of the state’s water resources. She said the NHPC was producing 1,500-MW of power from its projects in Jammu and Kashmir, but it was sharing just 180-MW with the state.

Pakistan realised this very late that except for Indus main and Kabul rivers, all the five vital tributaries of Indus river system (Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej), originate in Kashmir. Perhaps India knew all along, the importance of Kashmir and therefore it lied to the United Nations that it was prepared to hold a plebiscite in the valley. This realisation has given a new and a dangerous, twist to the Kashmir dispute.

India is also in the process of building the 330 MW Kishanganga dam on river Jhelum and the 450 MW Baglihar dam on river Chenab for hydro power generation, beside Tulbul (Wollar) barrage on Jhelum for navigational purposes.

Apart from these, Uri II hydro-electric project on Jhelum, and Pakul Dul and the huge, 1020 MW Burser hydro dam, both on Marusunder, a tributary of river Chenab, are in various stages of planning and execution.

According to the Indus Water Treaty, the country which completes the project first, will have the first rights on the river water. Pakistan has recently awarded a $1.5-billion contract to a consortium of China’s Gezhouba Water and Power Company and China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation to build the 960-MW project in eight years. Against the estimated Rs13.36 billion cost, the NHPC received the lowest bid is of Rs29.60 billion. Officials said they are still negotiating with the lowest bidder.

On the other hand, the water availability in our rivers is highly unreliable. The highest annual water availability in the recorded history 1922 to date was 186.79 MAF (million acre feet) in the year 1959-60 as against the minimum of 95.99 MAF in the year 2001-2002. This includes the Kabul river which contributes a maximum of 34.24 MAF and a minimum of 12.32 MAF with an annual average of about 20.42 MAF to Indus main.

The conflict for controlling Indus river basin between Pakistan and India is increasing. In future, water is going to be a crucial issue in relations between the two countries, perhaps at par with the Kashmir question.

President Asif Ali Zardari has warned: “The water crisis in Pakistan is directly linked to relations with India.”

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