Transboundary water challenges and IWT

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Transboundary water challenges and IWT

(Muhammad Arfan has a background in hydrology and writes on water, energy and environment related policy issues.)

In a recent report issued by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) last month says that Pakistan’s negligence in conducting a sound analysis of trans-boundary water issues and delays in presenting the cases of dispute with India to the Indus Water Commission or the World Bank on the issues related to the Indus Waters Treaty have caused the issues to linger on and remain unaddressed.

The report titled “Devolpement Advocate Pakistan” highlight the shortcoming of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) and said “The treaty fails to address two issues: the division of shortages in dry years between India and Pakistan, when flows are almost half as compared to wet years, and the cumulative impact of storages on the flows of the River Chenab into Pakistan”. According to it, an increase in water stress in the basin states since the early 90s has brought the treaty under strain.

In fact, its survival appears weak, although there is no exit clause. Due to the increasing water scarcity in the world and region ignite the dispute among nations and countries.

Former USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev says “Water, like religion and ideology, has the power to move millions of people. Since the very birth of human civilization, people have moved to settle close to it. People move when there is too little of it. People move when there is too much of it. People journey down it. People write, sing and dance about it. People fight over it. And all people, everywhere and every day, need it”

The recent transboundary tensions over Indus Water Treaty between Pakistan and India is a clear depiction of Mikhail Gorbachev quote. Indian PM announced that blood and water can’t flow together and blaze tension among the Pakistan and India. World Bank mission is on Pakistan and India visit to discuss the matters towards any logical conclusion.

Changes in flow quantity are likely to raise tensions among the states, in particular for the downstream areas, with regard to reduced water flows in the dry season and higher flows and resulting problems of flooding during the rainy season. Estimating water resource under changing flow regimes is important for planning and the operation of water related project. Hydrological parameters are changing under the influence of climate change, which is resulting in the changing pattern of flow regimes. There is large variation of flow at different location in the Indus basin irrigation system.

Upper riparian (India) flow regulation control over the western rivers reduced western rivers flows during winter season. IWT are silent over the use of western river water by India and both parties having different interpretation over the treaty.

During spatial analysis of Jhelum, it was concluded that summer seasons are more decrease in discharge at higher elevation point namely Chinari, than lower elevation point namely Marala. During temporal analysis it was found that annual mean, maximum and minimum discharge decreasing during 1986-2010 time intervals.

During seasonal analysis it was found that winter (O-M), winter (D-F) and spring (M-M) season shown increasing trend in discharge whereas summer (A-S), summer(J-A) and autumn (S-N) showing decreasing trend in discharge.

River Chenab annual mean, maximum and minimum discharge shown decreasing trend and also rate of decreasing is more during 1986-2010 time span as compared to the 1961-1985.

A nation that fails to plan intelligently for the development and protection of its precious waters will be condemned to wither because of its shortsightedness. The hard lessons of history are clear, written on the deserted sands and ruins of once proud civilizations (Lyndon B. Johnson).

Cholistan and Thar Desert civilization of Indus Valley was a clear example of this phenomenon. As of 1999, over 1,056 cities and settlements had been found, of which 96 have been excavated, mainly in the general region of the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra Rivers and their tributaries. River’s having same relation with civilization which blood have with body. Indus valley civilizations were also flourishing and matured along the rivers bank. Harappa a famous city of Indus Valley Civilization was along the river Ravi.

The worsening situation of eastern rivers downstream stretches after the Indus water Treaty requires an immediate thoughtfulness of the policy makers to avoid another awful event in the history. The downstream stretches of eastern rivers Ravi and Sutlej and their associated ecology are on at risk.

Today it is too much important that we study, understand and realize the environmental consequences of this treaty. The concerning point regarding this treaty is that when both parties deciding water distribution formula, no one think about the fair share of nature and environment. That’s why they are agreed upon the formula that three eastern rivers water rights are in Indian control and three western rivers rights in Pakistan control.

No one think about that what will be going with downstream of these three eastern rivers and ultimately how they affect the downstream of whole Indus basin. What are the impacts on the biological life (flora, fauna) and the downstream end of the basin?

Ms. Sjomander Magnusson, Director Trans-boundary Water Management of Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) studied all water disputes, inter-state or intra-state and concludes that dooms day scenario of looming water wars propagated few decades ago does not reflect the current scenario. The regions with the controversies and even the states with disputes have come together to negotiate on water distribution.

We need a generous and sensible attitude towards solving our transboundary water challenges and rehabilitate our shared rivers like Sutlej and Ravi. There are number of workable options which we may consider for implementation. First of all there is a need to investigate the annual and seasonal environmental flows requirement of both the rivers Ravi and Sutlej for its different stretches. The successful international examples give us, an opportunity that how countries are cooperating to utilize potential of shared water resources.