Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Can India and Pakistan Share the Indus?

If this headline from Reuters is true "Rivers a source of rising tension between Pakistan and India" then we may be in trouble.  When you read the article, however, you see that it is mainly speculation about the future of the Indus, if climate changes change the river's flow.  This is an issue that the IISS has looked at very closely, most recently at a workshop titled Conflict and Competition over Changing Water Resources.

As the article quotes a representative from Pakistan's Foreign Affairs Ministry:
High levels of poverty and population density also render both countries particularly vulnerable to climate change-related water shortages, said Munawar Saeed Bhatti, of Pakistan's ministry of foreign affairs. 
Of the world's major cross-border rivers (the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Mekong, the Brahmaputra, and the Indus), this border is potentially the most dangerous. The border is shared by two historic, nuclear-armed, enemies who have fought 3 wars in the last fifty years. Many have persuasively argued that the Indus Water Treaty is a prime example of cooperation succeeding over conflict between neighbours sharing water supplies, but it has not been tested by reduced water flow. The Indus Water treaty assumes a constant, predicitable flow, and if the sustanence needs of Pakistan are not met, it is concievable that interstate conflict would ensue. 

The article also hints at ways to avoid conflict and adapt to changes.  Better water management in both Pakistan and India could significantly reduce the amount of water needed for agriculture, and prevent much of the waste.  Preventing water loss from poor irrigation could help solve the problem, or at least push it back.

Gwynne Dyer's new book Climate Wars argues that we could see a conflict within the next 20-30 years over the Indus.  He made a similar case at our workshop last July, mentioned above.  After the jump is a detailed analysis that came from that event. 

We analyzed the major cross-border rivers of the world to see if changes in river flows caused by a changing climate could induce conflict.  The danger of major cross-border rivers, countries controlling the headwaters could have incentives to hoard water as a scarce and valuable resource, while downstream countries have incentives to use military and economic power to enforce their will on upstream neighbours. However, in the river basins of the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Mekong, and the Brahmaputra we found that conflict is unlikely because one state – which we termed the basin hegemon in this workshop – is much more powerful than its neighbours.

Only the Indus is shared among two states that can be defined as strategic peers: India and Pakistan. Pakistan – since before the partition in 1948 – has relied on the largest contiguous irrigation system in the world for its food production. The impact of global warming on agricultural production there could be dramatic: planners in the subcontinent estimate that every temperature increase of 1°C will correspond to a 10% decrease ingrain production. Climate change could also cause a reduced water flow from shrinking glaciers or a weakened monsoon. Expanding populations in both India and Pakistan will put great pressure on each nation to control the headwaters of the Indus. Though unlikely, a nuclear confrontation over water is plausible.

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