Dr. Shastra Dutt Pant
Water Resource Expert, Nepal
China also has tremendous water resources. More than 2700 cubic meters of water flow from the country every day. Out of this, 6, 67,000 MW hydroelectricity can be produced. Of which 3, 00, 080 MW can be produced comfortably. China has already produced 80,000 MW of hydro power. By constructing 7 dams in the Chao and the Wape rivers, 4376 billion cubic meter water has been stored. Similarly Sijling Pumstores and Mang Dams have a storing capacity of 79760000 and 4450000 cubic meters of water respectively. From these dams, 885 MW of electricity is produced during peak hours. The unique, hydro power project in the world known as ‘Three Gorges’ is already in operation, though it will be fully completed only by 2030 after 36 years of its initiation. This project having 39 billion cubic meters water storage capacity will produce 18500 MW of electricity. The cost of this project is estimated at around NRs. 1900 billion. India’s ambitious river connecting project is inspired by this project. China rejected the offer of foreign aid and loan for this project. The Chinese nationalist- scientists quite rightly explained that if foreign loans are accepted, the project cost will become very high. If China produces power through its own resources, the project will become 10 times cheaper. In fact this is what nationalism is all about. The prime point of generating hydropower is in ensuring how to make electricity cheaper as per the unit cost. So in China’s case, it will be able to distribute this electricity at the rate of 0.25 Yuan per unit for the general use and 0.10 Yuan for the agricultural sector. Converting this cost in Nepali currency means the electricity will cost NRs. 2.25 and 1.90 respectively.
China and India both face shortage of water to meet the requirements of the growing population. Though India irrigates 165 million hectares of land and China irrigates only 137.1 million hectares of land, the resources of the water of both the countries are Tibet, which is located in China. Therefore, Tibet is of high importance for India. India has now been keenly watching Tibet through Nepali soil.
China Aims to increase its hydropower by 50 per cent by 2015, as it continues to accelerate efforts to boost its low-carbon energy supplies. China is aiming to increase its hydropower capacity from 200 million kilowatts currently to 300 million KW by 2015. Through the $ 5.86bn (Pound 3.79bn) facility China is constructing, it will be able to generate 19 billion kilowatt hours of electricity each year. China is already the world’s largest producer of hydropower. The Chinese Government reckons hydroelectricity will play a critical role in reducing the economy’s carbon intensity by 40 to 45 per cent by 2020. However, the country’s dam building program 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 impacts the dams will have on water levels downstream.
China Power International plans to spend up to US$4 billion by 2020 for developing renewable energy. As Beijing pushes to clean up its air and water, it also has plans to whittle down its reliance on imported resources. The company plans to put into operation 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity-including wind, hydropower and biomass energy into operation right away. Another 1,000 MW of such clean energy projects are under construction and it also has a further 1,000 MW project in the pipeline.
Yarlung Sampo and Yalu Jangbu projects of China have been seriously watched by India. The project to connect the Brahmaputra to the Yellow River by China and the issue of connecting the Himalayan Rivers and constructing of Kantha nahar Project of India are being worked out independently. However, they are also of concern to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Pakistan and Nepal. For these projects can invite critical situations mainly in environment and ecological imbalances affecting the whole region.
An effective system has not been yet developed for exchanging information on the data regarding the water, environment and ecological related issues in the region. This can be due to the defense strategies of China and India and such strategies can be reasons for the countries to go into wars.
Prof. Brahma Chelani of the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, opines that the water disputes between India and China are stronger and more serious than the border disputes. The water conflict now has become a question of security measures of these two nations. When there is an ongoing conflict between the states of India, it is sure that there will also be tussles between the nations of this region.
In reality, the conflicts between India and Bangladesh, between India and Pakistan and above all between India and Nepal are no more different than that of India and China.
Pakistan’s Water Resources:
Western India and Pakistan are one of the world’s driest areas. The average rainfall in Pakistan is only 240 mm a year. The ICIMOD’s International year of fresh water reports said that 24 out of 26 districts of Balochistan result in bringing drought conditions. The drought has effects in wilting of orchard trees; depletion of ground water; shortage of water for human beings, livestock and agriculture. Hence millions of people are frequently forced to quit their home land. For example in 2000, a big hospital called Azad J&K was closed due to shortage of water. Any one can imagine the drought situation in there.
The Indus Rivers mainly originate from the Tibetan plateau. It then meanders to the Arabian Sea near the port city of Karachi, with a total length of 3200 kilometers. Approximately it flows 207 billion cubic meters of water annually. Its five major tributaries are the Jhelum, the Chenab, the Ravi, the Bias, and the Sutlej. Another two tributaries are the Kabul and the Kurram which originate from Afghanistan.
The Sindhu valley civilization since the Vedic age is given after the name of the River Sindhu. In Sanskrit language, Sindhu means sea or sea-like big river. Similarly in Sanskrit, Pancha means five and aapa means water. Panjab is derived from the compound word panch-aapa or the collective name of the five rivers, the Chenab, the Jhelam, the Sutlej, the Bias and the Ravi. The collective name of those five rivers joining at the Arabian Sea is known as the Sindhu, as is the collective name of the rivers joining at the Bay of Bengal is Ganges. From the Sindhu word Sindh, Sindhi, Indus, India, Hind, Hindu, Hindustan, Hindi et cetera have been formed through different dialects and pronunciations.
Most of the high valued Indus basin lies in Pakistan and India. The co riparian nations in the Indus River basin are as stated below:
Pakistsn ( Basin area-597, 700 sq. Km); India ( Basin area 381, 600 Sq. Km); China (Basin area-76, 200 Sq. Km); Afghanistan-( Basin area 72, 100 Sq Km.); Indo-China disputed area ( Basin area-11, 200 Sq. Km); Nepal-Basin area ( 10 Sq km).
The total area of Indus basin is 11, 371810 sq. km, most of which lies in Pakistan. Reports, national and international, indicate that Pakistan is fast moving from water stressed country to a water scarce one. The water availability in 1947 was 5000 cm. per person which has now fallen to 1100 cm per person, which will be 700 cm. per capita by 2025. Pakistan’s water needs by the year 2025 will highly increase up to 338 billion cubic meters, whereas the total water availability will barely change from the existing 236 billion cubic meters.
Pakistan’s concern is mostly related with its agriculture sector as well. Pakistan’s agriculture contributes 21 percent to its GDP and employs over 45 percent of the country’s labor force. As 93 per cent of Pakistan’s agriculture depends on river water, the situation is critical. The issue has layers of complexities. Three of the rivers flow into Pakistan through the Indian portion of J&K, the territory over which the two countries have waged multiple wars and also the state of Punjab.
A super flood in the Indus basin occurs once in every five years on an average. The Indus Rivers System is the largest irrigation system in the world. It irrigates over 12 million hectares of land.
The Colorado river system in the United States has an annual yield of around 15 MAF, but it stores almost five times the amount of its annual flow, but the Indus system with an annual flow that is 10 times more than that of Colorado has been cursed to restrict its storage capacity to only 10% of its annual yield. This is a critical technical question regarding water storage in the Indus basin.
The Pakistani Provincial Disputes: India and Pakistan, the bigger nations in size and population in the South Asian region and also having provincial governments, do have provincial disputes regarding fresh water usages.
Like in the Indian states, there are disputes between the Punjab and the Sind Provinces, Sind and Baluchistan provinces in Pakistan. People of Sind, when their role of upper riparian and entity is considered, have conflicts for some parts of Baluchistan. There is also dispute between the states for equitable distribution on the basis of area and population.
The water disputes: The water disputes in the Indus basin existed between provinces even before India and Pakistan existed as independent sovereign nation before 1947. It became even more severe after 1947. After the partisan of India and Pakistan, the water rich headquarters went to India. However, the control of most of the existing structures on the rivers fell into the Indian hands. Soon India started interfering with the water flowing downstream by stopping waters on rivers Ravi and Sutlej from April 1, 1948 which affected 1.6 million acres of farmland. Pakistan was left with the water shortage lower riparian area. The important irrigation projects on the Sutlej (Ferozpur) and the Ravi (Madhupur) irrigating over 1.7 million acres went to India (i.e. East Punjab). As a result of which Pakistani areas of over 1.7 million acres were affected creating losses of about one million tons wheat output. Therefore several studies were carried out and several proposals were submitted. But both sides could not agree on a common development plan for the basin. Therefore both sides were asked to submit plans on 6th Oct. 1953. Following the statements of the two warring countries, The World Bank came up with its proposal on Feb.3, 1954. Finally India and Pakistan signed an agreement called the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) in 1960 as a solution of the conflict between the two nations and with the mediation of the World Bank. As per the proposal, the eastern rivers the Sutlej, the Bias and the Ravi were allocated to India and the western rivers, the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab were allocated to Pakistan. This agreement formed a Permanent Indus Commission which holds regular meetings alternately in Islamabad and in New Delhi. The commission is enshrined with the responsibility to provide a platform for both the countries to resolve their water dispute at the commission level. If the commission fails to resolve the problems the matter is referred to the government for further discussion at the diplomatic and the political levels. The commission has done nothing more than to delay the matters and buy time and Pakistan is not happy with this situation. The present water disputes between two nations are as stated below: Baglihar Hydroelectric Plant; Kisanganga Hydroelectric Project; Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project; Nimmo-Bazqoo Hydroelectric Plant.
The Issues on the Violation of the Treaties: Failing to resolve the problem of Baglihar Hydroelectric Plant, this issue was taken to the World Bank for neutral expert enquiries on 12 Feb. 2007. By violating the agreement, Pakistan claims that it incurred losses in over millions of acres of paddy crops in Marala command area and acute shortage in the Ravi area; the diversion of the Kisanganga Project was reduced by 20 percent of its total capacity. The water taken to Wullar Lake also does not fall again on the river Jhelum. The reason is that India wants to create additional storage areas in that area. The construction of Wullar barrage will deprive Pakistan of water of river Jhelam during the winter season which will reduce winter (Ravi) crops. Also, the 45 MW Nimmo-Bazqoo hydroelectric plants, containing a poundage component, is not treaty compliant, Pakistan claims.
Besides, Pakistan has been alleging that a number of hydroelectric projects of various capacities are being planned by India to further choke the water flow on the rivers reserved for Pakistan, under the bilateral agreement. The 24 projects in the River Chenab, 52 projects in the River Jhelum and 18 projects on the River Indus are being implemented in different levels without the consent of Pakistan. This is what Pakistan feels is the violation of the bilateral treaty of 1960. Pakistan is feeling that its agriculture land is under threat and its hydro power production is uncertain. The issue, if not resolved could lead to confrontation.
The main argument of Pakistan is not only the violation of the spirit of the IWT but also ignoring the huge trans-boundary impacts on hydrology and ecology of the rivers assigned as per the IWT. The stress between two countries since 1990 has been to implement the spirit of IWT exactly. The debate is mainly driven by the growing demand, decreasing availability of fresh water resources and the degree of their dependence in the area. India is going to be a ‘water stressed’ country while Pakistan is heading towards being a ‘water scarce’ country from a water stressed one, which after some time may go to ‘water poor’ country. In 2009 a group of more than 20 UN bodies have warned that now water between the two nations has become the latest cause for stoking tensions. This may perilously lead to the first water war in the region. For, water is linked to the crisis of climate change, energy and food supplies, troubled financial market and prices hikes. If reasonable solutions are not searched for, in the name of water, similar crisis such as the Kashmir and other border problems may intensify and the water crisis may worsen the situation further. One country will support another thus leading to a global water crisis and political insecurity. In this connection, Pakistani President Asif All Zardari on 28 Jan, 2009 warned “Pakistan would be paying a very high price for India’s move to block Pakistani water supply from Chenab River, and it should not try to trade important regional objectives for short term domestic goals. The water crisis in Pakistan is directly linked to the actions of India. Resolution could prevent an environment of catastrophe in South Asia, but failure to do so could fuel the fires of discontent that may lead to extremism and terrorism”. This indicates that the water crisis would become more serious than the territorial disputes or terrorism. Bokhari writes- “Water dispute with India could trigger a war. Pakistan could become a desert in 10 to 15 years. We (Pakistani) should show upright posture or otherwise prepare for nuclear war.” If India and Pakistan do not handle the issue with care and within the ambit of Indus water treaty the issue between the two nations could further sour bilateral ties and hamper peace talks. The dispute has already triggered anger among the farmers affected, which is another danger.
India and Pakistan both are nuclear power countries. Both have already fought wars three times. And if there will be a fourth war, this time it will be for fresh water. A time has come when this issue has become of concern to not only India or Pakistan, but to all the nations of this region. For, the unwanted war, directly or indirectly, will have negative impacts in the other countries of this region as well.
Therefore what can be done to ensure better functioning between the two nations for bridging the deficit in trust, is to actually implement the agreements they have signed thus averting an ever growing threat.
Thanks the author: Ed.