The Global Security News: 1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (88 sites): Eurasia Review: The World Needs A Water Treaty – Analysis

By Conn Hallinan*

During the face-off earlier this year
between India and Pakistan over a terrorist attack that killed more
than 40 Indian paramilitaries in Kashmir, New Delhi made an existential threat
to Islamabad. The weapon was not India’s considerable nuclear arsenal,
but one still capable of inflicting ruinous destruction: water.

“Our government has decided to stop our share of water which used to flow to Pakistan,” said Indian Transport Minister Nitin Gadkarikin
on February 21. “We will divert water from eastern rivers and supply it
to our people in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.” India controls three
major rivers that flow into Pakistan.

If India had followed through, it
would have abrogated the 1960 Indus Water Treaty (IWT) between the two
counties, a move that could be considered an act of war.

In the end, nothing much came of it.
India bombed some forests, and Pakistan bombed some fields. But the
threat underlined a growing crisis in South Asia, where water-stressed
mega-cities and intensive agriculture are quite literally drying the
subcontinent up. By 2030, according to a recent report, half the population of India — 700 million people — will lack adequate drinking water. Currently, 25 percent of India’s population is suffering from drought.

“If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water,” warns Ismail Serageldin, a former executive for the World Bank.

Bilateral Strains

While relations between India and
Pakistan have long been tense — they have fought three wars since 1947,
one of which came distressingly close to going nuclear — in terms of
water sharing, they are somewhat of a model.

After almost a decade of negotiations,
both countries signed the IWT in 1960 to share the output of six major
rivers. The World Bank played a key role by providing $1 billion for the
Indus Basin Development Fund.

But the ongoing tensions over Kashmir
have transformed water into a national security issue for both
countries. This, in turn, has limited the exchange of water and weather
data, making long-term planning extremely difficult.  

The growing water crisis is heightened by climate change. Both countries have experienced record-breaking heat waves, and the mountains that supply the vast majority of water for Pakistan and India are losing their glaciers.
The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment report estimates that by 2100, some
two-thirds of the area’s more than 14,000 glaciers will be gone.

India’s response to declining water
supplies, like that of many other countries in the region, is to build
dams. But dams not only restrict downstream water supplies, they block
the natural flow of silt. That silt renews valuable agricultural land
and also replenishes the great deltas, like the Ganges-Brahmaputra, the
Indus, and the Mekong. The deltas not only support fishing industries,
they also act as natural barriers to storms. 

The Sunderbans
— a vast, 4,000 square-mile mangrove forest on the coasts of India and
Bangladesh — is under siege. As climate change raises sea levels,
upstream dams reduce the flow of freshwater that keeps the salty sea at
bay. The salt encroachment eventually kills the mangrove trees and
destroys farmland. Add to this increased logging to keep pace with
population growth, and Bangladesh alone will lose some 800 square miles
of Sunderban over the next few years. 

As the mangroves are cut down or die
off, they expose cities like Kolkata and Dhaka to the unvarnished power
of typhoons, storms which climate change is making more powerful and

The Third Pole

The central actor in the South Asia
water crisis is China, which sits on the sources of 10 major rivers that
flow through 11 countries, and which supply 1.6 billion people with
water. In essence, China controls the “Third Pole,” that huge reservoir
of fresh water locked up in the snow and ice of the Himalayas. 

And Beijing is building lots of dams to collect water and generate power. 

Over 600 large dams
either exist or are planned in the Himalayas. In the past decade, China
has built three dams on the huge Brahmaputra that has its origin in
China but drains into India and Bangladesh.

While India and China together
represent a third of the world’s population, both countries have access
to only 10 percent of the globe’s water resources — and no agreements on
how to share that water. While tensions between Indian and Pakistan
mean the Indus Water Treaty doesn’t function as well as it could,
nevertheless the agreement does set some commonly accepted ground rules,
including binding arbitration. No such treaty exists between New Delhi
and Beijing.

While relations between China and
India are far better than those between India and Pakistan, under the
Modi government New Delhi has grown closer to Washington and has partly
bought into a U.S. containment strategy aimed at China. Indian naval
ships carry out joint war games with China’s two major regional rivals,
Japan and the United States, and there are still disputes between China
and India over their mutual border. A sharpening atmosphere of
nationalism in both countries is not conducive to cooperation over
anything, let alone something as critical as water.

And yet never has there been such a
necessity for cooperation. Both countries need the “Third Pole’s” water
for agriculture, hydropower, and to feed the growth of mega-cities like
Delhi, Mumbai, and Beijing. 

Stressed water supplies translate
into a lack of clean water, which fuels a health crisis, especially in
the sprawling cities that increasingly draw rural people driven out by
climate change. Polluted water kills more people
than wars, including 1.5 million children under the age of five. 
Reduced water supplies also go hand in hand with waterborne diseases
like cholera. There is even a study that demonstrates thirsty mosquitoes bite more, thus increasing the number of vector borne diseases like zika, malaria, and dengue.

Regional Pacts Won’t Cut It

South Asia is hardly alone in facing a
crisis over fresh water. Virtually every continent on the globe is
looking at shortages. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2030
water sources will only cover 60 percent of the world’s daily

The water crisis is no longer a
problem that can be solved through bilateral agreements like the IWT,
but one that requires regional, indeed, global solutions. If the recent
push by the Trump administration to lower mileage standards
for automobiles is successful, it will add hundreds of thousands of
extra tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which, in turn, will
accelerate climate change. 

In short, what comes out of U.S. auto
tailpipes will ultimately be felt by the huge Angsi Glacier in Tibet,
the well spring of the Brahmaputra, a river that flows through China,
India, and Bangladesh, emptying eventually into the Bay of Bengal.

There is no such thing as a local or
regional solution to the water crisis, since the problem is global. The
only really global organization that exists is the United Nations, which
will need to take the initiative to create a worldwide water

Such an agreement is partly in place. The UN International Watercourses Convention
came into effect in August 2014 following Vietnam’s endorsement of the
treaty. However, China voted against it, and India and Pakistan
abstained. Only parties that signed it are bound by its conventions.

But the convention is a good place to
start. “It offers legitimate and effective practices for data sharing,
negotiation, and dispute resolution that could be followed in a
bilateral or multilateral water sharing arrangement,” according to Srinivas Chokkakula, a water issues researcher at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research.

By 2025, according to the UN, some
1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute
water shortages, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be under
“water stress” conditions. There is enough fresh water for seven
billion people, according to the UN, but it is unevenly distributed,
polluted, wasted, or poorly managed.

If countries don’t come together around the conventions — which need to be greatly strengthened — and it becomes a free for all with a few countries holding most of the cards, sooner or later the “water crisis” will turn into an old-fashioned war.

*Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Conn Hallinan can be read at and

Eurasia Review

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