Dealing with water challenge

This Article was published in
The Frontier Post (June 23, 2010)

By Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

Wars related to water have been fought from the very earliest times. In fact, the earliest such war was fought way back in the year 3000 BC and from that time to the present these wars have been fought in various parts of the world on account of various water related issues. Wars between India and Pakistan have occurred quite regularly with the first of them being fought during the period 1947-1948. Wars between India and Pakistan have mainly been fought over getting control over Kashmir and have usually begun without the aggressor formally declaring war. The only exception was when India had to go into East Pakistan to support secessionist demands in the then East Pakistan. This war was fought in 1970 and led to the surrender of Pakistani forces and the independence of a new country called Bangladesh. Currently, the two sides are not at war but it is believed that the next India-Pakistan war will be fought over water shortages in Pakistan. If, as estimates suggest, both nations during the period 2018 and 2020 experience monsoon failures, then there could be a war between India and Pakistan, which will have been parched.

The demand for water throughout the world continues to rise and when demand exceeds supply there is a risk that shortage of water will compel nations to go to war with each other. In fact, over fifty countries, spread across five continents, are at a risk of being involved in wars that will arise on account of water disputes. This is why the need of the hour is for these countries to move as quickly as possible to agree to terms on sharing of reservoirs as well as rivers and even underground water resources. Conflicts and wars related to water disputes may soon emerge on a number of different geographical scales. The international community needs to address certain factors to help lower tensions among countries that may easily go to war on account of water conflicts. Water as we all know is essential to our survival and it is also required for different human activities including for use in agriculture and industry as well as for generating power and even for transportation of goods and people.

About ten percent of water is used for domestic purposes, twenty percent is used in industries and the remaining seventy percent is used for agriculture. Water also holds symbolic and emotional value and is needed to maintain the ecosystem as well. When there is pressure on supply of fresh water because of reasons such as a growing population and economic development, this water becomes scarce and this scarcity can then be the reason for a war or other profound consequence. From the very beginning of history, water has been a major reason why wars among nations have been fought. These wars are fought on various levels including on the local level, national level, international and even global levels. Each level is linked with the other and interventions that affect one level will impact the other levels. In addition, factors such as socio-economic, political and cultural also play a role that can lead to conflicts and increase in tensions. Some of the reasons why wars related to water can be and have been fought also include improper allocation as well as use of water. This precious commodity is also vital to production of food which alone accounts for seventy percent of water withdrawals. Fortunately, at present, the world has sufficient supply of water to take care of its population.

However, water scarcity is a threat to mankind and this scarcity can be physical as is witnessed in regions such as North Africa and the Middle East. It can also be an economic scarcity as is happening in Sub Saharan Africa. Water can also be used as a military tool in which water resources are used by one country as a weapon during military actions. It can also be used as a political tool to achieve political goals. Water can also be used by terrorists to conduct violent acts and to coerce nations to do what they (the terrorists) want. Even countries such as America and Canada that have abundant water resources often come into conflict because certain regions in the respective countries experience shortage of water. Canadians are known to use up double the amount of water as compared to an average European. Such factors show that water consumption in all of North America tends to be very high. Almost seventy five percent of Canadians depend on surface water supply and the remaining twenty five percent depend on ground water. Since both of these sources are under threat, it has increased the possibility of water conflicts in these regions too.

In 2007, Canada was struck by terrorism related to use of bottled water. In the same year, terrorism was the reason for another conflict related to water. In 2008, China launched its own crackdown of Tibetan dissidents. This is because Tibet holds water resources that are vital for China which wants to control this resource to safeguard its own interests. Given the impending danger of water scarcity in the South Asian region, the observers of regional scene have hinted at the possibility of next clash between Pakistan and India on the water issue. Tensions have already been simmering between both countries over Pakistan’s allegation of its water theft by India. The Pakistani authorities are of the view that Indian construction of dams on rivers, whose waters Pakistan is authorized to use, violates the Indus Water Basin Treaty signed by both countries in 1960 brokered by the World Bank.

There have been mutual exchanges of high-powered delegations aimed at sharing information and removing the ‘misunderstandings’ but no solution has emerged so far. The water issue has become so critical that political parties across the border have started using it in order to project their political interests by playing to the gallery. The international community needs to preempt the danger to global peace that may emanate from the water conflicts. It needs to pool its resources and offer solutions to cope up with the challenge. It would be pertinent if the United Nations includes water on its agenda and formulates a comprehensive strategy in that regard. It needs to identify the ‘sore regions’ that are likely to get involved in any sort of clash over water and take necessary steps to find a negotiated settlement.

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