Dr. Shastra Dutta Pant
Research Scholar, Nepal
Water is becoming a grave issue for the very existence of the people worldwide. The growing population and the rising global temperature are adding pressures on the growing water demands. Water is needed to meet the domestic, agricultural and industrial demands in all regions of the world. The fresh water resources are extremely limited in supply. It is known to all that over 97.21 percent of the water in the planet earth is saline water. The saline water is unusable by most terrestrial organisms. Of the 2.79 per cent of the fresh water 0.62 percent is aquifer and 2.14 percent glacial in the Arctic and Antarctic poles. The per capita water availability for the people is 1329 cubic meters, which is below the threshold of 1700 cubic meters. The rest of the water 0.03 percent is for the human consumption. At the same time the population around the world is increasing at around 80 million births every year. In the last century, the water consuming rate was six times higher than the population growth rate. Over 3 million people die every year due to water related issues. Over 1.1 billion people in the world are using unsafe water. Over 2.6 billion people have no facility for their cleanliness. If safe water is supplied 1.6 million people could survive every year.
By 2030, two-third of the people around the world will live in the urban areas. The water demand will increase rapidly. Though there is sufficient water for the use of the basic needs, the insufficiency is due to the mismanagement(s) of the water resources. That means a pressure is built for a demand of about 60 billion cubic meter fresh water every year. Besides over population, hyper-urbanization, global warming, pollutions of various types, climatic anomalies, degrading moral values of the people, all are compounding the environmental problems. All these problems are related in one way or the other with fresh water scarcity. Water scarcity directly impacts human security and the security of all the living beings on earth. Therefore water is a very potential source of conflict in the near future.
There are more than 263 trans-boundary river basins around the world and hundreds of trans-boundary aquifers on which over half of the world population depend.
Energy & Atomic Energy:
German chemists after successfully testing of the atomic power in 1938 came up with the view that this source could become an alternative resource of energy. Unfortunately, this invention was used for making atomic weapons and was used in Nagasaki and Hiroshima during World War II.
Electricity was generated with atomic energy in 1951. The then USSR and the UK generated it in 1954. By that time there were 441 atomic electricity power plants generating 368 GW of power out of which the USA alone had 104 plants generating 97,400 MW of electricity. This was 20% of the total electricity production of the USA. This country alone consumes more than 243500 MW of power. France produces over 78% electricity from its Atomic Power projects.
On 2 March 2007, India and the US signed a pact for the transfer of atomic technology. However, there is no guarantee that India, already an atomic power, will use such technology for peaceful purposes only, especially as it has already threatened its neighbors. The atomic accidents of the Three Miles Island (US, 1979) and Chernobyl (1984) show that such incidents may be repeated in South Asia too. With the US striving to control the world and India’s efforts to control the region, non-atomic power countries feel they are under threat.
After signing an agreement with America on atomic power technology, now India also has produced atomic power. There is doubt that this will be used for peaceful purposes only. Both countries are dangerous in their attitudes. The USA makes and stores atomic weapons and restricts all other nations through pressures and force not to do what it has already done, while India, by giving continuous troubles, terrorizes the South Asian nations to keep them under its control. Indian neighbors are always fearful because of India’s atomic power. The people of this region, having no atomic power, are afraid that similar incidents like that occurred in the Three Miles Island and the Chernobyl may also occur in this region. Therefore it is high time to work together for the peaceful-equal- transparent atomic use, control of terrorism, democracy and human rights. Respects of each other’s independence, sovereignty, and national integrity are the demands of the time.
Politics of Water and War Threat:
Water crisis is a term that refers to the scarcity and quality of available water resources that are needed for human survival. However the nature of crisis can change from one context to another. According to Wikipedia, water crisis is considered there when there is inadequate drinking water for 1.1 billion people; inadequate access to water for sanitation and waste water disposal for 2-5 billion people; excessive use of ground water leading to diminished agriculture yields; over use of water harming biodiversity; and regional conflict over scarce water. If per capita annual water availability in a country ranges between 1000-2000 cubic meters per person, this status is considered as ‘water stressed”, if it is below 1000 cubic meters it is considered as ‘water scarcity situation’.
After visiting the dry American West, which has had chronic water problems, the irrepressible Mark Twain remarked, in his inimitable but facetious style, “Whisky is for drinking: water is for fighting over!” Almost a century later, the UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in a widely quoted remark, said that the next war would be fought over water. It is difficult to imagine that the UN head was being as facetious as the American humorist, but we do know that many water experts discount water wars as a possibility. If wars will be fought, they will not be over water; but bad water relations may contribute to chronic bad blood between countries that will then exacerbate other more vexing grievances, which in turn may trigger martial responses. There is something about water- and the need to ensure its sustainable harvest over many years and generations rather than any one-time mining- that requires for its harnessing a strong degree of mutual cooperation within and between countries over an extended period of time. It cannot be done in the manner of surrounding a mine or an oil well with a security cordon and extracting the resource.
In the past, wars were fought for the cause of religion, usurpation of territories and control of resources. But in view of the acute shortage of water in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and elsewhere, the future wars will be fought for the sake of fresh water. Nepal will be a highly coveted nation, or it wears the diamond crown of water resources.
This deep-seated difference between petroleum and water leads us to a few broader conclusions:
Water does bring bounty if properly harnessed but assuring hydro dollars from its exploitation is fundamentally a different enterprise from earning petrodollars.
Around water are plenty of disputed issues, but they cannot be resolved by military means; and diplomacy is the proper manner in which water problems can be resolved, but it requires in-depth and interdisciplinary understanding of water issues. This short essay will try and link Nepali water history, its successes and failures, with current issues and the role for diplomacy.
The conflicts on fresh water are there everywhere.
The conflicts are the seeds for wars. If the international communities and well-wishers do not intervene, a new series of conflicts i.e. water wars may start. That can once again change the history of this region. Even the ways of legal battle is not easy and quick. In an age of a liberal democratic world, that ‘might is right’ theory cannot apply, though it has in some cases even if we review some recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa. But still the theory is that everyone should get justice easily and correctly.
The relationship between water and the security is of high importance. It is common to political leaders, hydrologists and climatologists. Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former UN General Secretary in 1991 said ‘the next war will be fought over water, not politics.”
Mr. Ismail Serageldin, the chairperson of the Global Water Commission said in 1995, “If war of this century were fought over oil, the war of the next century will be fought over water”
Mr. Kofi Anan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, on March 2001 had warned that the fierce competition over fresh water may well become a source of conflict and wars in the future. Mr. Ban Ki-moon has reinforced the concern. ‘A shortage of water resources could spell increased conflicts in the future. Population growth will make the problems worse. So will climate changes do? As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon. The crises from desertification, ecological degradation, scarcity of resources, all do have close connection with water.
The rising global water scarcity has made a fierce competition over accesses and control over water resources. This attitude of the nations, especially those that are stronger than the weaker ones, characterizes the debates on relationship between fresh water resources and international cooperation and conflicts. It will not only be a matter of the governments, but also a concern of the general people, institutions and societies. For water is of everybody’s concern. There may be general debates about the water system, but it must be understood that controversies and confrontations may further be made more complex with public opinion. Finally, the crisis involving the open defiance of the civil authorities, protests, counter-movements, resistance to water infrastructures may result in even violence and social upheavals. The river basins forming shared boundaries could be the flashpoints triggering disruptions in the infrastructures and eruption of conflict between countries and communities.
The second type of conflict might arise over water resource. Simultaneously the climatic changes will help enlarge the water scarcity situation. Mr. Aaron Wolf of the Oregon State University collected data of 122 out of the world’s 265 international river basins covering 124 countries. He comes to the conclusion that a direct causal relationship between water scarcity and international insecurity or war is based on anecdotal and rather selective evidences.
Water as a strategic resource:
It is to be noted that the rich and powerful countries have cooperated with the small/poor countries in many forms but the cooperation extended, outweighed the price the small/poor countries had to pay. Now it is high time to analyze and find a way out that is agreeable to all. Above all, the users must be satisfied and also the countries concerned.
If this is not done in a timely manner, the other issues such as territorial and commercial enmity may take place in the name of water issues. This will be a very dangerous situation.
Though many treaties have been signed so far, riparian and in relation with trans-boundary basins, they have not given any positive results so that every nation can remain satisfied with the assurance that there will be no wars for the cause of fresh water. There are nations who view water as a strategic resource, thinking of using their water resource/system as a weapon in military actions; using their water/resources as political tools; thinking of the same as a power for controlling others; the water resource/systems are also taken either as targets or tool of violence or coercion by non-state actors or anti-social elements; they are also direct targets of military action by nation states, and there are state and non-state actors who use water as development dispute. Control over water resources, the use of water as a political tool, relating it with socio-economic development, threats by the non-state or terrorist actors using water as a target or tool has become a worldwide phenomenon. The variables the amount of rate of physical/institutional changes in the water system, strength of the cooperative institution linking riparian and the global warming threatening eco-system, have placed unprecedented pressures on all nations
The Global Scenario:
(a) The dam building. Program of China remains highly controversial and countries on the lower stretches of the Mekong River, such as Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, are said to be concerned about the impact that the proposed dams will have on water levels downstream.
(b) The world population may face water scarcity in twenty-five years, as the demand for water supply has risen to as much as twice as higher than the population growth. Currently 1.25 billion people globally have no access to safe potable water. The present situation makes it explicit that water wars may take place in the future; should water wars occur, being the second richest country in water resources, Nepal will be one of the first countries to be targeted.
(c) 20 percent of the world population consumes about 80 percent of the energy globally and infuses 80 percent of the atmospheric pollution (the so-called 20:80 principle), destroying the environment. In the name of democracy, powerful nations seek to control the world’s natural resources, selectively intervening in countries and regions such as the Middle-East while, at the same time, overlooking the undemocratic and inhuman practices employed in other regions. As powerful nations focus on the oil producing region of the Middle-East, regional powers concentrate on Nepal’s water resources.
(d) The African country Ethiopia and Nepal are alike. Eritrea was separated in 1992 due to its internal conflicts. At the same time, because of the internal conflicts like in Nepal, its water resource was taken away by its neighboring countries Sudan, Kenya and Somalia. The Ethiopians cannot use their fresh river water flowing in front of their homes and farmland. So is being done in the case of Nepal and India. India has been working in dirtying out the Nepali politics because of its water interest. The reason behind it is the shelter provided by the neighboring countries during the time of conflict as Nepali political parties such as Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the Maoists were given shelter and food and they cannot take stand even in matters of national interests, nationalism and natural resources. They, as in
Ethiopia, used arms several times from the shelter of Indian soil. NC used arm struggle two times from the Indian soil. The CPN-UML by the name of Naxalists used arms several times. The Maoists continued a decade long arm struggles sheltering in Indian soil. The Madhesbadi dals, and their demands (whole tarai one state, separate tarai army, atma nirnayako adhikar) are the product of Indian interests. Keep Nepal poor, feed the hungry poor and do what it likes has been the motto. They have signed and promised several matters in which water resource is first. The Koshi, Gandaki, Rapti and the Mahakali were surrendered, The Karnali, Kankai, Arrun 3 and the Sikta were suspended for the interest of India. The Marsyandi was hampered. The West Seti, Upper Karnali and the Budhigandaki are in the trap of India. The BIPPA agreement (2011), third of its series is for the interest of India only. Nepal is always in loss. Not only water resources it helps grabbing Nepal’s economy and market as well.
The Ethiopian rivers are taking away the top and fertile soils, the farmers have no right even to make a dam to control soil erosion. Since June 10, 1990 MoU till BIPPA agreement 2011, Nepal is continuously loosing, becoming poorer and poorer, unemployed and dependent even in vegetables, food grains in a so called agricultural country year after year.
With author's permission from his new book on "Water Politics on Nepal's Fresh water", published by SIRUD. Thanks the author: Ed.