By Rao Farman Ali
In India, the competition for water has a history of provoking conflict between communities. In Pakistan, water shortages have triggered food and energy crises that ignited riots and protests in some cities. India can store only about 30 days of rainfall, means 200 cubic metres per person, compared to 900 days in major river basins in arid areas of developed countries. India is expected to have roughly 20 litres available per head per day. There has been extensive droughts lasting a long time and now with global climate change, things will become even more difficult. The glaciers are receding from the Himalayan Mountains. They are about one fifth the size they were about 60 years ago.
Every river in India is polluted to some extent. The water quality in underground wells violates the desired levels of dissolved oxygen and coliform, the presence of which is one measure of filth, in addition to having high concentrations of toxic metals, fluoride, and nitrates. India’s rivers also have high fluoride content, beyond the permissible limit. The polluted water then seeps into the groundwater and contaminates agricultural products when used for irrigation. Over 21 percent of transmissible diseases in India are related to unsafe water. Millions of the poorest are affected by preventable diseases caused by inadequate water supply and sanitation. A report published by World Health Organization on Gender, Climate Change and Health, states thatat least 30 percent of a woman’s daily energy intake is spent fetching water during the dry season in rural India.
In Pakistan, most troublingly , Islamabad’s diversions of water to upstream communities with ties to the government are inflaming religious sectarian loyalties and stoking unrest in the lower downstream region of Sindh.
The water issue also threatens the fragile peace that holds between the nations of India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed rivals. Water has long been seen as a core strategic interest in the dispute over the Kashmir region, home to the Indus’ headwaters. Since 1960, a delicate political accord called the Indus Waters Treaty has governed the sharing of the river’s resources. But dwindling river flows will be harder to share as the populations in both countries grow and the per-capita water supply plummets.
Some growth models predict that by 2025, India’s population will grow to triple what it was—and Pakistan’s population to six times what it was—when the Indus treaty was signed in 1960. Lurking in the background are fears that climate change is speeding up the melting of the glaciers that feed the river.
Mountain glaciers in Jammu and Kashmir on either side of LoC, numbering approximately 3136 out of 15000 in Himalayan belt, primarily Siachin play a central role in regulating the river’s flows of Indus stream. Glaciers act as a natural water storage tank that freeze precipitation in winter and releases it as melt-water in summer, but the temperature in glacier areas has risen to 1.4ºC and the glacial ice is melting very quickly and has posed a chronic threat for the human existence besides environmental changes .
The Indus is dependent on glacial melting for as much as half of its flow. So, its fate is uniquely tied to the health of the Himalayas. In the short term, higher glacial melt is expected to bring more intense flooding, like 4-7 September 2014—the devastating deluge. Since, Jhelum being the lifeline of Kashmir, its water carrying capacity around 62000 to 65000 cusecs (1962) has drastically gone down around 27000 to 32000 cusecs, besides lowering of water table, including high-speed vanishing phenomenon of receiving water bowls and distributaries, whose results will have the far reaching consequences in the coming years and might invite afresh conflict with its inward and outward perceptions.
Many Pakistanis are worried that, being in control of upstream waters, which are situated in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir, India can easily run Pakistan dry either by diverting the flow of water by building storage dams or using up all the water through hydroelectric power schemes, but, out of these hydel projects people of Jammu and Kashmir are getting nothing, except short- term clerical jobs to a few. So, as long as Kashmir is with India, fear will continue to exist among the policymakers of Pakistan that their country will be devoid of waters and have no exception but to support Kashmir resistance.
At the same time, nearly 30 percent of the world’s cotton supply comes from India and Pakistan, much of that from the Indus River Valley. On average, about 737 billion gallons are withdrawn from the Indus River annually to grow cotton—enough to provide Delhi residents with household water for more than two years. Admittedly, t the water economy of Pakistan depends fundamentally on a gigantic and complex hydraulic infrastructure system. There are now a set of related challenges which have to be addressed – how to maintain what has been built, what major new system-wide infrastructure needs to be built, what infrastructure needs to be built for populations who have not been served and for environmental protection, and how to build institutions that will manage the resource effectively in the looming era of scarcity.
First is rehabilitation and maintenance. Many elements of the vast hydraulic system are now reaching the end of their design lives, and have to be rebuilt. There is an enormous backlog of deferred maintenance. Most recent irrigation and water supply “investments” from donors, including the World Bank, have been for the rehabilitation of poorly maintained systems. There is no systematic Asset Management Plan at either the Federal or Provincial level which describes the condition of the assets, the requirements for replacement, rehabilitation (or retirement) and operations and maintenance and the associated costs, and the proposals for financing of these costs. Further, the agrarian economy of Pakistan accounts for about 25percent of GDP and employs about half of the labour force. While the transition to an urban and industrial economy can and must continue, agriculture will remain central for the well-being of large numbers of people. Better water management is a key constraint to improving agricultural productivity and generating jobs.
—(To be Continued….)