UNITED STATES SENATE,
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS,
Washington, DC, February 22, 2011.
This report by the committee majority staff examines United States policy with respect to water scarcity and water management in Central and South Asia. Water plays an increasingly
important role in our diplomatic and national security interests in the region, and we must ensure that our approach is carefully considered and coordinated across the interagency. President
Obama’s administration deserves credit for recognizing the critical role water plays in achieving our foreign policy objectives.
As water demand for food production and electricity generation increases, in part as a result of the quickening pace of climate change, so too must our efforts to provide water security. While
much of our focus currently rests on Afghanistan and Pakistan, we must also consider the interests in the shared waters by India and the neighboring five Central Asian countries—Uzbekistan,
Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. This report draws on staff travel to the region and the work of experts in government, academia, and international institutions. It provides
significant insight and several key recommendations to advance U.S. policy in Central and South Asia with respect to this vital transboundary resource.
JOHN F. KERRY,
Here's Dawn newspaper summary of the Kerry Water Report:
FOR the first time, the United States has `elevated` water-related issues in its bilateral relationship with Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Central Asia and would like to help resolve them so as to achieve its foreign policy goals and protect its national security interests in the region.
A report prepared by the staff of the US Senate for its Foreign Relations Committee and released to the media on February 22 by Senator John Kerry, its chairman, says that in South and Central Asia, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, water scarcity is fuelling dangerous tensions that will have repercussions for regional stability and the US foreign policy objectives.
The implications of this looming water shortage, caused or aggravated by agriculture demands, power generation and climate instability, will be felt all over the world, it says.
The report warns that the Indus Water Treaty, which has so far maintained stability over water between Pakistan and India despite wars over Kashmir, is now losing its effectiveness in settling the disputes and may fail to avert water wars between the two countries. “A breakdown in the treaty`s utility … could have serious ramifications for regional stability,” the report cautions. In other words, Washington is ready to act as a mediator between the two countries (in place of IWT) for two reasons: (1) the conflict over water sharing has assumed grave proportions, (2) to protect its long-term security interests in the region.
The report titled “Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia`s Growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan”, however, substantiates Pakistan`s concerns that India is violating the Indus treaty by building dams on western rivers, according to Foreign Office spokeswoman Tahmina Janjua.
India has 33 projects, including controversial Kishanganga, at various stages of completion. Although no single dam along the rivers controlled by the treaty may affect Pakistan`s access to water, “the cumulative effect of these projects could give India the ability to store enough water to limit the supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season,” says the report.
The spokeswoman said that these concerns which are causing tensions between the two countries need to be “addressed in a sincere, forthwith and result-oriented manner.” India disagrees with Pakistan`s contention that its share of waters is being diverted by dams in Indian-administered Kashmir. Instead, it claims that the levels of rivers have fallen due to climate change.
While much of the US focus currently rests on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the report says, it must not ignore the interests in the shared waters by India and the neighbouring five Central Asian countries—Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan.
The report makes following four recommendations to the Obama administration for consideration and action with respect to water issues in the region:
* The countries in South and Central Asia lack access to consistent and comparable data on water supply, flow and usage. This creates tension over the management of water by both upstream and downstream countries. The US should support data-related activities specific to measuring and monitoring water flow and volume for key rivers and river basins.
* The countries in the region cannot simply engineer their way out of growing water scarcity; they must begin by improving management of their existing supply. In fact, they should start shifting their focus from increasing the supply of water to decreasing their demand for it. Specifically, the US can utilise its expertise in demand management to help the countries reduce the amount of water consumed by the agriculture sector and regulate groundwater withdrawals.
* The impact of the US approach to address the water problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan can extend far beyond each country`s borders as water ignores political boundaries. Besides, regional water management can be an important type of conflict management. The US can assist in holding river basin dialogues and establishing community-level water management projects on shared watersheds.
* When a country`s weak institutions are confronted with natural disasters or human interventions that suddenly disrupt water flow, tensions can flare. The US, with decades of experience on water sharing agreements, is in a position to support programmes that build institutional capacity of government agencies in areas such as international water law, dispute resolution, mediation and arbitration.
In a special report on water published on May 20, 2010, The Economist said that the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty which withstood Indo-Pakistani wars in 1965 and 1971 is now threatened by three developments. First, India proposes to build a water-diversion scheme in Indian Kashmir that would take water from the Kishanganga river to the Jhelum river before it could reach Pakistani Kashmir.
Second, India, which already has more than 20 hydro projects on the three western rivers allocated to Pakistan, is now building at least another ten and more are planned. Each of these projects conforms to the letter of the treaty, since it does not involve storage but merely run-of-the-river dams, in which water is returned downstream after it has been used to generate power.
However, Pakistan is worried about the cumulative effects. When, in 2005, it complained about Baglihar hydro project, the dispute went to arbitration. That resulted in a ruling favourable to India. Pakistan feels that the spirit of the agreement has been breached and the treaty needs revision, partly because advances in technology make it possible to build dams that were not foreseen when the deal was signed.
Third, Pakistan badly needs more reservoirs. Storage is essential to provide supplies in winter (two-fifths of the Indus`s flow comes from the summer melting of glaciers) but Pakistan`s two big dams are silting up. It would like to build a new one in Pakistani Kashmir, but India has objected, and the money is not forthcoming.
Here's an ET Op Ed on water sharing problems in South Asia:
Water availability across our part of the world is already unpredictable due to climate changes with a simultaneous increase in major flooding and severe droughts. A Dutch study has estimated that shrinking Himalayan glaciers will reduce the flow of water to the Indus by around eight per cent over the next four decades. This is not a good sign for Pakistan, which is already described by the UN as one of the world’s “hotspots” as far as water shortages are concerned.
The 1960 Indus Water Basin Treaty, signed at a time when India and Pakistan both had abundant water is now outdated. The Indus Water Treaty gave Pakistan rights over the Indus Valley’s three western rivers, while India controls the three rivers to the east. India has initiated several dam and power station projects on the western rivers, fuelling fears that these activities will alter water flows across the border. India dismisses Pakistan’s fears as paranoia, yet, it too fears that China may attempt to change the course of the Tsangpo/Brahmaputra River in Tibet. India also has tensions with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal over water sharing.
The existing Indo-Pak water sharing paradigm may no longer be able to address the emergent tensions. Despite numerous rounds of bilateral talks, India and Pakistan are back in the Permanent Court of Arbitration over Indian dam building aspirations in Kashmir.
More innovative approaches have called for an integrated approach towards water management instead of trying to merely divide waters of the Indus basin. Such an approach would not only be more sensitive to the ecological and environmental challenges taking place in the region, but potentially help nudge our neighbouring countries towards broader cooperation as well.
Positive confidence building steps would include greater information sharing concerning river flows. Launching joint Indo-Pak dam ventures such as the Tala Hydroelectric Project, recently initiated between India and Bhutan, would be a further step in the direction of increased cooperation.
Conversely, it is crucial to acknowledge that our existing water woes are being compounded due to wastage, inefficient use and contamination. Water infrastructure systems, such as canals and pipes used to irrigate farm lands, are falling apart due to lack of adequate attention. Application of donor-backed policies like charging flat rates for irrigational water usage (as in Punjab) have not been able to generate the required resources to maintain the irrigational infrastructure, nor do they help ensure that poorer farmers are spared the brunt of revenue collection, or ensured better access to existing water supplies.
The untenable strain on groundwater is another serious issue. According to the World Bank, Indian aquifers are reaching critical conditions despite the fact that over 60 per cent of irrigated agriculture and 85 per cent of drinking water supplies in the country depend on groundwater. The groundwater situation in Pakistan is no better, yet, anyone with the money to pay for diesel can pump out as much water as they like. In fact, Pakistan has been keen to lease out vast tracts of its agricultural land to enable agribusiness companies produce food for Gulf states by tapping even deeper into already shrivelling water aquifers.
Here's a NY Times blog post on India's planned dams and India's lack of concern for environmental impact on India ad reduction of water for Pakistan and Bangladesh:
...India’s government was grappling with growing pressure to increase the dependability of its electricity service — for the growing numbers who have intermittent power and the 400 million who live without it.
As a solution, the government proposed constructing 292 dams throughout the Indian Himalayas — roughly a dam every 20 miles. If completed, the 7,000- to 11,000-megawatt dams would double the country’s hydropower capacity and meet about 6 percent of the national energy needs projected for 2030 (based upon 8 percent annual growth of the nation’s domestic product). The dams, the reasoning goes, would provide electricity to needy people as well as offset carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Scientists and citizens alike are crying foul, however, pointing out that the dams will probably displace millions and wreck ecosystems throughout the Himalayas.
No binding provisions are in place to ensure that displaced people receive adequate compensation and help with resettlement — and most of the projects are proceeding without adequate environmental impact surveys.
“The key issue is that there’s no requirement in India’s law to do cumulative impact assessments,” said R. Edward Grumbine, a senior international scientist at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Kunming Institute of Botany. Dr. Grumbine and his colleague, Mahara Pandit at the University of Delhi, wrote one of the first scientific papers discussing the dams, recently published in Science.
How these dams may affect communities and ecosystems in neighboring downstream countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan is little discussed.
Climate change offers a further strike against the projects. By 2050, scientists predict, the water supply from the Brahmaputra and Indus — two major rivers among the 28 that would receive dams — will decrease by about 20 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Those reductions would in turn cut the rivers’ capacity to produce electricity, undermining the dams’ purpose.