WEB DESK: Pakistan seems to have decided to move the International Court of Arbitration (ICA) to restrain India from building two major hydropower projects on rivers assigned to Islamabad under the Indus Water Treaty.
An eight-member delegation led by Secretary Water and Power Mohammad Younas Dagha has recently returned from India after having final talks on resolving the dispute bilaterally or to seek arbitration.
Pakistan’s experience with both international forums – neutral expert and ICA – has not been satisfactory for varying reasons and outcomes, partially due to domestic weaknesses, including belated decision-making. Pakistan first challenged Baglihar Hydroelectric Project before the neutral expert and then Kishanganga Hydroelectric and Wuller Barrage before the ICA.
An official has been quoted by the media as having said that Pakistan now again felt its water rights were being violated by India on two rivers, the Chenab and Jhelum, through a faulty design of 850MW Ratle Hydropower Project and 330MW Kishanganga Hydropower, respectively. He is further quoted to have said the government had originally decided to take up the matter at international forums provided in the 1960 treaty in December 2015 but the process was delayed for unknown reasons. He said even two US law firms, Three Crowns and Willams & Connelly, had been selected at the time.
Both Pakistan and India have already declared their failure to resolve the issues pertaining to the designs of Kishanganga and Ratle hydropower projects at the Permanent Commission of Indus Waters (PCIW). Pakistan believes Kishanganga’s pondage should be a maximum of one million cubic meters instead of 7.5 million, intake should be up to four meters and spillways be raised to nine meters.
On Ratle, Pakistan has four objections. Freeboard should be one meter instead of two meters, pondage should be a maximum of eight million cubic meters instead of 24 million, and intake level should be at 8.8 meters and spillways at the height of 20 meters. It believes the Indian design of Ratle project would reduce Chenab flows by 40 per cent at Head Marala and cause a profound irrigation loss to crops. The Ratle dam is believed to be three times larger than the Baglihar dam.
The India-Pakistan water dispute started immediately after the subcontinent was partitioned to form the two countries in 1947. The dispute is serious not just because it concerns water, but also because of the ongoing political rivalry. The Indus Water Treaty, which was signed in 1960, has remained intact for more than 55 years even during periods of unrest. Under the treaty, India gained control over the Sutlej, Ravi, and Beas rivers, while Pakistan received control over Chenab, Indus, and Jhelum. However, since the Pakistan-controlled rivers first flow through India, in the background of mutual hostility and suspicion between the two countries, Pakistan believes that the water scarcity that they experience is somehow attributable to India.
The Indus Water Treaty, at the time, was the best option that both countries could get after a long negotiation of eight years. It wasn’t the best treaty, but it was the only one that was acceptable by both. As time passed, increased water needs have put new demands on both countries. In order to address the current situation, the treaty needs to be amended, but this doesn’t seem likely because of recurring conflicts and ongoing bilateral tensions.
One of the reasons why Pakistan suffers greatly with respect to water is because of its weak lower riparian status. Also, the country does not have a good supply-side management structure. This results in wastage of almost 35% of its water resources. An imbalance in water distribution across Pakistan is also another reason for some areas getting less water than required.
For a long lasting solution to the water problem, the Indus water Commissioners must learn to trust each other. Rather than a source of conflict, both countries must start looking at water as a source of cooperation. Though it may not immediately solve any problems, the change in narratives will definitely have an impact in thinking for the future.
The following excerpts from a piece on the issue by an expert put the matter in its right perspective: “Because the relationship was not normal when the Indus Water Treaty was negotiated, Pakistan would agree only if limitation on India’s capacity to manipulate the timing of flows was hard-wired into the treaty. This was done by limiting the amount of ‘live storage’, the storage that matters for changing the timing of the flows, in each and every hydropower dam that India would construct on the two rivers.
While this made sense given the knowledge in 1960, over time it became clear that this restriction gave rise to a major problem. The physical restriction meant the gates for flushing silt out of dams could not be built, thus ensuring that any dam in India would rapidly fill with silt off the young Himalayas. This was a critical issue at stake in the Baglihar case. Pakistan stated that the gates being installed were violation of the specification of the treaty. The finding of the neutral expert was essentially a reinterpretation of the treaty, saying that the physical limitation no longer made sense. The finding in the case of Baglihar left Pakistan without the mechanism – limited live storage–which its only, albeit weak-protection against upstream manipulation of flows in India.
This vulnerability was driven home when India chose to fill Baglihar exactly at the time when it would impose maximum harm on famers in downstream Pakistan. If Baglihar was the only dam being built by India on the Chenab and Jhelum, this would be a limited problem. But following Baglihar is a veritable caravan of Indian projects – Kishanganga, Sawalhot, Pakudul, Bursar, Dul Huste and Gyspa. The cumulative live storage will be large, giving India an unquestioned capacity to have a major impact on the timing of flows into Pakistan (War or Peace on Indus? By Briscoe John – The Southasian idea).
The surface water resources of Pakistan mainly consist of flows of the Indus River and its tributaries, which bring in about 138 million acre feet (MAF) of water annually. The Indus River alone provides 65% of the total river flows, while the share of Jhelum and Chenab is 17 and 19%, respectively. The alluvial plains of Pakistan are blessed with extensive unconfined aquifer, with a potential of over 50 MAF, which is being exploited to an extent of about 38 MAF by over 562,000 private and 10,000 public tube-wells. Due to enormous amounts of sediments brought in by the feeding rivers, the two major reservoirs – Tarbela and Mangla – have already lost their storage capacity, by 25%, which has further aggravated the water-availability situation.
Since agriculture is the major user of water, therefore sustainability of agriculture depends on the timely and adequate availability of water. The increasing pressures of population and industrialisation have already placed greater demands on water. Though, once a water-surplus country with huge water-resources of the Indus River System, Pakistan is now a water-deficit country. At present, the annual per capita water- availability in Pakistan is about 1,100 cubic meter (m3); below 1,000 m3, countries begin experiencing chronic water stress. The situation in Pakistan indicates that the country is nearing conditions of a chronic water stress. Meanwhile, the gap between demand and supply of water has increased to levels creating unrest among the federating units.
In Pakistan agriculturally inefficient irrigation uses up 97 per cent of the country’s water resources to support one of the lowest productivities in the world per unit of water. Pakistan’s excessive cultivation of water intensive cash crops like sugarcane has increased stress on water. Thirtyeight per cent of Pakistan’s irrigated lands are water logged and 14 per cent are saline; and saline water has intruded into mined aquifers in Pakistan.
There exists an alarming level of decline in water tables in Balochistan, and an increased reduction in sweetened water in the lower Indus basin. It seems an accepted fact that the Indus Basin irrigation system, the only source of water in Pakistan is vulnerable and there exists a need to explore alternative water resource development and management techniques. Dams are losing their ability to supply water. For example, the Tarbela Dam has lost 30 per cent of its storage capacity since the 1970s and now retains so little water that irrigation supplies are often threatened.
According to the Asian Development Bank report, Pakistan is one of the most water stressed countries in the entire world. Pakistan is likely to be classified as water-scarce country soon. Pakistan draws a lot of water from its existing reserves, thus putting the country in great danger of water shortages in the future. According to the Asian Development Bank, the water storage capacity of Pakistan amounts only to a 30 day supply, significantly lower than the 1000 days that is recommended for countries that have a similar climate.
Source: Business Recorder