The water dispute between India and Pakistan started as early as 1947. What is the fight about?
The India Pakistan water dispute started immediately after India gained independence from the British in 1947, and the subcontinent was partitioned to form the two countries. The dispute is serious not just because it concerns water, but also because of the ongoing political rivalry.
The Indus Water Treaty, which was signed in 1960, has remained intact for more than 50 years even during periods of unrest. Under the treaty, India gained control over the Sutlej, Ravi, and Beas rivers, while Pakistan received control over Chenab, Indus, and Jhelum. However, since the Pakistan-controlled rivers first flow through India, in the background of mutual hostility and suspicion between the two countries, Pakistan has the tendency to believe that the water scarcity that they experience is somehow attributable to India (as opined by Ramaswamy Iyer, the former Secretary for Water Resources in India).
According to the Asian Development Bank report, Pakistan is one of the most water stressed countries in the entire world. According to projections, India will become water stressed by 2025. Pakistan is likely to be classified as water-scarce soon, and India is set to become water-scarce by the year 2050.
Pakistan draws a lot of water from its existing reserves, thus putting the country in great danger of water shortages in the future. According to the Asian Development Bank, the water storage capacity of Pakistan amounts only to a 30 day supply, significantly lower than the 1000 days that is recommended for countries that have a similar climate. Correspondingly, the water storage capacity of India is 120 days.
The Indus Water Treaty, at the time, was the best option that both countries could get after a long negotiation of eight years. It wasn’t the best treaty, but it was the only one that was acceptable by both. As time passed, increasing water pressure has put new demands on both countries. In order to address the current situation, the treaty needs to be amended, but this doesn’t seem likely because of recurring conflicts and ongoing bilateral tensions.
In 1947, when the subcontinent was partitioned, India and Pakistan were born to become rivals. Several other conflicts have also had an impact on the water relationship between the two countries.
One of the reasons why Pakistan suffers greatly with respect to water is because of its weak lower riparian status. Also, the country does not have a good supply-side management structure. This results in wastage of almost 35% of its water resources. An imbalance in water distribution across Pakistan is also another reason for some areas getting less water than required.
The ongoing water stress contributes to the turbulence and conflict between India and Pakistan, but it is not likely to cause a full-blown water war. Both countries are taking steps to adapt and survive with the help of desalination plants and drip-in irrigation.
For a long lasting solution to the water problem, the Indus water Commissioners must learn to trust each other. Rather than an asset to water as a source of conflict, both countries must start looking at it as a source of cooperation. Though it may not immediately solve any problems, the change in narrative will definitely have an impact in thinking for the future.
Main image: “India-pakistan-flag” by Mxshanii at Wikimedia Commons