[Reader-list] Blood in the Water

Shuddhabrata Sengupta shuddha at sarai.net
Wed Jun 18 16:57:26 IST 2008

Dear All,

A friend forward this article, published recently in the Asian  
Sentinel, to me recently. I think that it introduces an element,  
control of water and natural resources, that are actually key to an  
understanding of how conflicts such as Kashmir get played out. In the  
longer term, these issues may be far more significant than the issues  
of ethnic and religious identity. it is a pity, that whenever the  
question of say Kashmir, comes up, or whenever the issue of  
Bangladeshi migrants to India rears its head, all that everyone wants  
to talk about is the 'identity' issue, what gets left behind is  
thought about things like water. Ask a Bangladeshi immigrant to Delhi  
about what drove him to cross so many miles of hazardous territory,  
and the chances are, that if you are prepared to pay attention, he or  
she will have something to say about floods, and the lethality of  
rivers, and the rising sea.

I know many people who are ambivalent about their identities, but I  
have yet to come across a person who does not feel thirsty. Given  
that water is so important to our survival and life, it is a sad  
travesty that we pay it so little attention when it comes to  
politics. We wouldn't be around to protect our identities and our  
nationalities if we could not drink water, or did not have the  
guarantee that our homes would not be flooded, year after year.




Blood in Kashmir's Water

Sankar Ray
18 June 2008
A decades-old competition for water complicates the already-bitter  
relationship between India and her neighbors

Water is destined to be a determining factor in the regional  
conflicts of South Asia in the years to come, particularly between  
India and Pakistan. Unquestionably one of the most crucial of  
environmental resources, this essential ingredient for human life is  
growing so scarce in some areas globally that if current trends  
continue, two-thirds of humanity will suffer "moderate to severe  
water stress" within 30 years, according to a comprehensive  
assessment of freshwater resources by the United Nations.

Nowhere is this truer, however, than in the parched regions of India,  
Pakistan and Bangladesh, where overpopulation, poverty and scarce  
resources make the competition more acute. In a remarkably even- 
handed paper published in a recent issue of the Journal of  
International Affairs, Saleem H. Ali, associate professor of  
Environmental Policy and Planning, at the Rubenstein School of  
Environment and Natural Resources of the University of Vermont in the  
US, identifies the lack of environmental cooperation in bilateral and  
multilateral relations as the root cause of a potential conflict  
"between two nuclear neighbours, India and Pakistan, predicated in a  
history of religious rivalries and post-colonial demarcation."

The Pakistani scholar urges India and Pakistan to put aside their  
mutual distrust to reconfigure the riparian issues for lasting piece  
in the region, their inveterate, decades-old antagonism  
notwithstanding, and concentrate on a matter of equal importance to  
their survival of each country. Ali praises the World Bank's  
"instrumental role in its negotiation during the height of the Cold  
War to bring the two countries to the negotiating table with the  
Indus Water Treaty after bilateral negotiations failed. The outcome  
of this historic treaty was the unrestricted use by India of the  
three eastern rivers, the Ravi, Sutlej and Beas and complete control  
of the three western rivers, the Jhelum, Chenab and Indus by Pakistan.

The rivers all have their origin in the bitterly disputed region of  
Kashmir. And thus, theoretically whoever controls Kashmir controls  
the rivers, a fact conveniently forgotten for years as Pakistan and  
India tested each other's mettle in a series of wars. The Pakistani  
Prime Minister, Hussain Suhrwardy, in 1958 pointed to the  
geographical importance of Kashmir when he emphasized the importance  
of the six rivers of the Indus Basin.

"Most of them rise in Kashmir. One of the reasons why, therefore,  
that Kashmir is so important for us is this water, these waters which  
irrigate our lands," Suhrwardy said at the time. He proved himself a  
prophet. The only other international statesman who thought along the  
same lines was the British Premier, Anthony Eden, who believed that  
the resolution of the water dispute would reduce the tension over  
Kashmir, hence the Indus Water Treaty.

India denied the link between Kashmir and the water issue, however, a  
denial that has contributed to the growing resentment between the two  
countries, and an amazing one given reality. The head of the Indus  
flows through the valley corridor that connects Indian and Pakistani- 
held Kashmir.

Further south India has been engaged in a running dispute with  
Bangladesh over the Farakka Barrage over the River Ganges since 1973.  
This project involved a dam built on the Ganges in West Bengal, about  
10 kilometers from the Bangladesh border. Bangladeshi objections that  
the project would seriously affect the country's water supply have  
proved correct. Falling water levels below the dam have raised  
salinity levels, affecting fisheries and hindering navigation.  
Falling soil moisture levels have also also led to desertification.

Ali firmly believes that "environmental factors can play a pivotal  
role since they help link various issues such as economic development  
and security." He points out that, "states that are ecologically  
vulnerable to extreme climatic events, such as Bangladesh, are  
recognizing that poor environmental planning in coastal areas can  
have devastating economic impacts".

"I have long been criticizing the brazenly reactionary promotion of  
water disputes among Indian states by the political parties in  
power," said Surajit Guha, the former deputy-director general of the  
Geological Survey of India and one of India's top hydrologists "It  
may not be confined within the Indian territory. The Farakka impasse  
is a clear evidence of this. Have you seen European countries through  
which the mighty River Danube flows engaging themselves in dispute  
over sharing of water during the last one hundred years? I do not  
know why water is increasingly politicized when most of the peoples  
of SAARC region are deprived of access to safe and potable water."

While the west is busy concentrating its efforts on securing a ready  
supply of oil, in South Asia the governments are slowly but surely  
waking up to the fact that in the not too distant future water is  
going to be equally, if not more important to the survival of their  

Shuddhabrata Sengupta
The Sarai Programme at CSDS
Raqs Media Collective
shuddha at sarai.net

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