US report raises questions over Indus Water Treaty

A Congressional report has questioned the long-term effectiveness of the Indus Water Treaty, which has been successfully implemented for more than six decades between India and Pakistan.

Updated: Feb 23, 2011, 09:57 AM IST

Washington: With an increase in demand for water and energy resources in both India and Pakistan, a Congressional report has questioned the long-term effectiveness of the Indus Water Treaty, which has been successfully implemented for more than six decades between the two South Asian neighbours.

"While the IWT has maintained stability in the region over water, experts question the treaty`s long-term effectiveness in light of chronic tensions between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region, where a significant portion of the Indus River`s headwaters originate," it said adding that as the existing agriculture system becomes more water-intensive and, in some areas, more inefficient, water may prove to be a source of instability in South Asia.

The report, "Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia?s Growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan," sheds light on the drivers of water scarcity in Central and South Asia and provides recommendations for how the US should strategically approach water-related issues, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Written by the majority staff of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the report draws attention to the growing problem of water scarcity in Central and South Asia and how it has the potential to exacerbate existing regional conflicts and lead to new ones.

"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 neighbouring five Central Asian countries ?Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan," John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a statement.

"In addition, others question whether the IWT can address India`s growing use of the shared waters and Pakistan`s increasing demand for these waters for agricultural purposes," said the 28-page report.

"Signed in 1960, the IWT is considered as the world`s most successful water treaty, having remained relatively intact for 50 years and having withstood four Indo-Pak wars,"
it added.

The report said the drive to meet energy demand through hydropower development is occurring in India and Pakistan, two countries that lack sufficient access to energy.

This is particularly true with respect to India, which faces a rapidly expanding population, growing economy and soaring energy needs.

To meet growing demand and cope with increasing electricity shortages, the government has developed plans to expand power generation through the construction of multipurpose dams.

"India has 33 projects at various stages of completion on the rivers that affect this region," the report said adding that the number of dams under construction and their management is a source of significant bilateral tension.

"Currently, the most controversial dam project is the proposed 330-megawatt dam on the Kishenganga River, a tributary of the Indus.

While studies show that no single dam along the waters controlled by the Indus Waters Treaty will 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," the report said.
"In the difficult 60-plus year bilateral relationship, water has not yet been used in this way. However, staff met with some experts that argue the treaty’s long-term stability is threatened by a lack of trust between these two countries.

Any perceived reduction in water flows magnifies this distrust, whether caused by India`s activities in the Indus Basin or climate change," it said.

According to the report, US cannot expect this region to continue to avoid "water wars" in perpetuity.

"In South Asia, the Indus Waters Treaty has been the primary vehicle for resolving conflicts over the shared waters between India and Pakistan.
It is a prescriptive agreement that has recently been criticized for its inflexibility to adjust to changes in water levels," it said.

"Experts are now questioning whether the IWT can adapt to these changes, especially when new demands for the use of the river flows from irrigation and hydroelectric power are fuelling tensions between India and Pakistan.

A breakdown in the treaty`s utility in resolving water conflicts could have serious ramifications for regional stability," the report said.