The conflict over resource-rich Kashmir has sparked renewed tension between India and Pakistan, this time over access to one of Asia’s most indispensable commodities: water. The latest dispute erupted on September 13, 2008, with allegations by Pakistan that India had violated a 2005 World Bank agreement over the operational schedule of the Baglihar Dam, which lies on the Chenab River, just inside Indian-administered Kashmir. That agreement “required that filling [of the dam] should take place between June 21 and Aug 31 with prior consent of Pakistan and subject to a condition that river flows should not drop below 55,000 cusec inside Pakistan at any time,” according to Dawn. India continued to fill the dam well into September, provoking outrage from Pakistan, despite guarantees that water flow into Pakistan would not diminish. Pakistani officials reported that “Pakistan had been losing up to 15,000 cusec of water every day because of India’s action.”
Regional water disputes are no anomaly in Central, East, and South Asia, where population growth and increases in per capita consumption have led to competition over water resources. In recent years, Indiahas invested in hydroelectric projects—such as the Baglihar Dam, projected to generate 450-900 megawatts of electricity—to satisfy a burgeoning middle class hungry for energy. With the dam just up the river from the Pakistani border, Pakistanis have long worried that the dam would severely limit the region’s water and curtail farmers’ ability to irrigate crops. Since construction began in 1999, Pakistani officials have objected to the project, arguing that the more energyIndia attempts to generate from the dam, the less water will reachPakistan.
Last week, Pakistanissued a formal protest to the Permanent Indus Commission, a body formed by the 1960 treaty, over the reduction of Chenab River flows and asked for an emergency meeting with the governing body in order to address the danger posed to Pakistani rice farmers who rely on water flow to irrigate their crops. Since then, prospects for diplomatic resolution have warmed: Pakistani President Asif Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met on the “sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly” last week to discuss the issue. Meanwhile, the Permanent Indus Commission is schedule to meet this month, following an invitation from India to Pakistan’s Indus Water Commissioner to meet to resolve the issue.
Photo: The Chenab River, flowing here through Himachal Pradesh in the Indus Basin, provides farmers and local populations with the water required to meet their sustainable needs. Courtesy of flickr user Motographer.