Indian geopolitical analyst Brahma Chellaney was recently quoted by the media as saying that “China is engaged in the greatest water grab in history. Not only is it damming the rivers on the plateau, it is financing and building mega-dams in Pakistan, Laos, Burma and elsewhere and making agreements to take the power.”
He warned that China-India disputes had shifted from land to water. “Water is the new divide and is going centre stage in politics. Only China has the capacity to build these mega-dams and the power to crush resistance. This is effectively war without a shot being fired.” According to Chellaney, India is in a weak position because half of its water comes directly from China.
On the other hand, Sushmita Sengupta, research associate at the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, believes that water availability has declined to such an extent that many parts of India today face a drought-like situation.
As a matter of fact, the Indian government is opposing the construction of dams on River Brahmaputra, known as Tsangpo in China, and has gone as far as raising the issue with the top Chinese leadership. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discussed the issue at a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit in Durban. While the Indian government does not want the Chinese to build dams on River Brahmaputra, it advocates a water treaty or commission to sort out the issue.
Meanwhile, according to a Canadian researcher, China could emerge as the ultimate controller of water for nearly 40% of the world’s population. Tashi Tsering, a water resource researcher at the University of British Columbia in Canada, claims the Tibetan plateau is the source of single largest collection of international rivers in the world, including the Mekong, Brahmaputra, Yangtse and Yellow rivers. It is the headwater of rivers on which nearly half the world depends.
Meanwhile, figures provided by global institutions reveal that about 2.4 billion people live in ‘water-stressed’ countries such as China. In a 2007 report, the World Bank said that water scarcity and pollution were reducing China’s gross domestic product by about 2.3 percent annually.
The statement by Chellaney was an effectively measured effort to bring into the world’s notice India’s alleged woes on water. While the Indian government claims that the Chinese plans could reduce the water inflow into their country, it has nevertheless failed to seriously consider Pakistan’s dilemma.
The Asian Development Outlook 2013 report says: “Pakistan is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, not far from being classified as ‘water scarce,’ with less than 1,000 cubic meters per person per year.” The report added: “Water demand exceeds supply, which has caused maximum withdrawal from reservoirs. At present, Pakistan’s storage capacity is limited to a 30-day supply, well below the recommended 1,000 days for countries with a similar climate. Climate change is affecting snowmelt and reducing flows into the Indus River, the main supply source.”
It is common knowledge that India has either started construction or has planned over 100 dams on western rivers, posing a serious threat to agriculture and hydel projects in Pakistan. These include 24 projects on the River Chenab, 52 on River Jhelum and 18 on River Indus. But most alarming are the Baglihar Hydroelectric Plant, located on River Chenab, commissioned in 2008, Kishenganga Hydroelectric Project on the River Neelum and Wullar Barrage Project located on the River Jhelum.
Regardless of the questionable ethics on water issues with Pakistan, the Indian government continues to slam the Chinese on what it perceives is its right. New Delhi should also make serious efforts to resolve the water issues with Pakistan. Due to the sensitivity of the water grab issue and its impact on Pakistan, the quicker it is done the better it will be for both countries.