Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Another water war brewing?

A couple of months ago I mentioned the dispute between Egypt and its upstream neighbours over the waters of the Nile. Well, that's far from the only place on the planet where trouble is brewing over this essential resource:

The last time water issues pushed India and Pakistan to the brink of armed conflict was half a century ago, when Bashir Ahmad Malik was an engineering student. His government asked him to drop his graduate studies and join a team of experts urgently negotiating a way to share water between the rival countries.

“Both sides were threatening war,” he said. “India was shutting the canals, starving or flooding us.”

The Indus Water Treaty averted disaster when it was signed in 1960. Even when India and Pakistan did eventually go to war over different issues in the following decades, they continued to respect the water treaty.

But the agreement now seems to be unravelling. Dispute-resolution mechanisms, never invoked in the first four decades of the treaty, have been triggered twice in recent years. The latest round of talks broke down earlier this month, as the two sides failed to agree on a neutral umpire to settle a quarrel over India’s plans for the Kishanganga hydroelectric project in northern Kashmir.

Even the veteran water expert who assisted with the original negotiations now feels that the treaty was inadequate.

“At the time, we felt it would be all right,” Mr. Malik said. “But now, I don't think it was a good treaty for Pakistan.”

Loss of faith in the Indus Water Treaty comes at a time when water disputes between the nuclear-armed neighbours have reached unprecedented levels of bombast.

From the Globe. Scary times we live in...

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