“Many of the wars of the 20th century were about oil but wars of the 21st century will be about water unless we change the way in which we manage it”— Dr. Ismail Serageldin, Former Vice-President, World Bank.
On June 7, National Water Academy, Central Water Commission, Pune conducted a webinar to stress the importance of cooperation at the international level for the development and management of transboundary river basins. D. S Chaskar, Director (Monitoring & Appraisal) Central Water Commission, Pune deliberated on the matter.
Speaking on the subject, D. S Chaskar said that even though water is essential for all, it has given rise to debates regarding its use due to transboundary issues. He said, “The Government of India is taking a lead in fostering cooperation on transboundary matters as an equal partner with capabilities to provide technical leadership in the area.”
Let us understand river transboundary and the conflicts related to it.
**Water- essential but a weapon**
Water is one of the most essential requirements of human life. However, unlike most of the other natural resources, it does not follow political boundaries. The natural flow of water, both on the Earth’s surface and underground routinely crosses administrative boundaries, giving rise to debates and controversies over its use and flow, be it within the country or outside.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE/UNESCO 2015) says that there are 263 transboundary lakes and river basins covering almost half the Earth’s surface. 145 states have territory in these basins, and 30 countries lie entirely within them. There are approximately 300 transboundary aquifers, serving 2 billion people who depend on groundwater.
According to D. S Chaskar, water has the potential to be used as a weapon. For instance, water stored in a dam can be used as a weapon. The upstream country may release the water in the lower stream country and it can lead to a flood. The United Nations World Water Development Report 2019 says that during 2010-2018, there were 263 registered conflicts where water played a role (123 as a trigger, 29 as a weapon, and 133 as a casualty).
**India and water transboundary**
A transboundary river refers to a river that crosses at least one political border, either a border within a state or an international boundary. India shares its major rivers-Ganga, Indus, and the Brahmaputra with its neighbouring countries. Many transboundary rivers flow from India to Pakistan, India to Bangladesh, Nepal to India, and from China to India.
For the development and management of such river basins, international cooperation is vital. In the past, India has established cooperation with various countries to mutually benefit each other by sharing knowledge, technology, and following best practices in water development and management.
**Significance of transboundary water**
Cooperation over transboundary water management can be beneficial to international trade, economic growth, food security, climate change adaptation, improved governance, and regional integration. According to the UNECE/UNESCO 2015 report, since 1948, there have been 37 incidents of acute conflict over water. However, there have also been approximately 295 international water agreements.
Moreover, overexploitation of lakes, rivers, and aquifers can jeopardize the fragile ecosystem and have consequences on the reliability and sustainability of water supplies, which can cause international tensions and conflicts.
Studies suggest that the global water demand for all uses will increase by 20 to 30% by 2050.
**Role of the government**
The governing authorities play a major role in the cooperation, management, monitoring, and development of rivers. In India, the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Department of Water Resources, River Development, and Ganga Rejuvenation is looking into the matters relating to water and rivers. The role of the government is important in these aspects:
– For the implementation of a mechanism for the existing international treaties/agreements/MOUs.
– Monitoring the transboundary rivers and responding to issues related to the water of these rivers.
– Training and capacity building, cooperating with other countries, and developing technical consultation and support.
**India and Pakistan transboundary**
At the time of independence, the boundary line between India and Pakistan was drawn across the Indus Basin, India being the upper riparian and Pakistan, the lower riparian.
India and Pakistan signed the Indus Waters Treaty (1960) after a dispute between the two arose regarding the utilisation of irrigation water from existing facilities. The Treaty provides India an absolute control of all the waters of Eastern Rivers (Ravi, Beas, and the Sutlej). On the other hand, it is only permitted to use the waters of Western rivers (Chenab, Jhelum and Indus) for domestic use, non-consumptive use, agricultural use, and for the generation of hydroelectric power.
Meanwhile, the Treaty gave Pakistan unrestricted use of all the water of the Western Rivers.
**India-Nepal water cooperation**
India and Nepal signed the Mahakali Treaty in 1996 for the integrated development of Mahakali River including Sarda Barrage, Tanakpur Barrage, and Pancheshwar project.
Negotiations are on for the beneficial use of water of many other rivers flowing in the Himalayan region through Nepal and India. The Mahakali Treaty primarily aimed at energy production and augmenting irrigation in India and Nepal.
**India and Bangladesh**
An Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) is functioning since 1972 to maintain a liaison to ensure the most effective joint effort in maximising the benefits from common river systems.
India and Bangladesh signed the treaty for sharing the water of Ganga on December 12, 1996. The Treaty will remain in force for thirty years and will be renewed by mutual consent. The countries are also in discussion over the sharing of waters of Teesta and Feni rivers beside other six common rivers namely; Manu, Muhri, Khowai, Gumti, Jaldhaka and Torsa.
**National Perspective Plan of India**
The National Perspective Plan of India aims at transferring water from surplus river basins to deficit river basins. Speaking on the matter of connecting rivers, D. S Chaskar, Director (M&A), Central Water Commission, Pune said that the process would help in mitigating the problems related to water that states with surplus and deficiency of water face. Moreover, it would also help with other problems like migration, irrigation, agriculture, and so on. However, the process requires international cooperation as the canal structures would also fall in the foreign country’s territory.
“Transboundary issues are important for implementing many of the links of the Himalayan component of the National Perspective Plan of interbasin transfer of water,” said D S Chaskar.