Monday, July 26, 2010

Water Week: Pakistan vs. India

Throwing water (or the lack thereof) on the Indo-Pakistani conflict

On September 19, 1960, Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistani president Muhammad Ayub Khan signed the Indus Waters Treaty, a water-sharing agreement brokered by the World Bank that was instigated by Pakistani fears that their water supply, particularly in times of war, could be cut off by India, the location of the Indus River basin.

In May, Pakistan filed a case with the international arbitration court trying to stop the hyrdoelectric dam that India is building in Kashmir, the locus of many years of armed conflict between the two nations, now the center of a growing dispute about control of the water of the Indus basin -- a quarrel that threatens to disrupt peace talks between the nations. And though the 1960 water treaty survived the three major conflicts of the Indo-Pakistani Wars, today it is on perilous ground.

"The treaty worked well in the past, mostly because the Indians weren’t building anything,” said Harvard University environmental scientist and Southeast Asia water expert John Briscoe, in the New York Times. "This is a completely different ballgame. Now there’s a whole battery of these hydroprojects."

The ultimate source of the Indus River is the Tibetan Plateau. Four times the size of France, the plateau contains the world's third largest store of ice. According to an AFP story, former head of the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) Qin Dahe gave a warning about the plateau to Tibet Daily, saying that "temperatures are rising four times faster than elsewhere in China, and the Tibetan glaciers are retreating at a higher speed than in any other part of the world."

"In the long run, the glaciers are vital lifelines for Asian rivers, including the Indus and the Ganges," Qin said. "Once they vanish, water supplies in those regions will be in peril."

"The Indus looks nothing like the mighty river from history books," writes Graeme Smith in the Globe and Mail.

"Alexander the Great once sailed galleys along these waters; centuries later, the British used steamboats. Now, the decaying remnants of boats are stranded high on the sandy banks, dozens of metres above the brown trickle that was once a legendary river. Only small fishing skiffs remain on the water, and most sit empty."

  • Sign the petition to adopt Article 31 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights giving all people the right to clean and accessible water
  • Sign the Food & Water Watch "Take Back the Tap" pledge to choose tap over bottled water whenever possible, fill a reusable bottle with tap water and support policies that promote clean, affordable tap water for all
image: Satellite image of the Indus River basin. Red dots indicate fires. International boundaries are superimposed (Pakistan is in the middle, flanked by Afghanistan to the west and India to the east); the boundary through Jammu and Kashmir reflects the Line of Control (LOC). (credit: NASA)

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