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Indus Water Treaty may not survive, warns UN report

New Delhi : Against the backdrop of revival of India-Pakistan dialogue for implementation of the Indus Waters Treaty, a new report by the United Nations has raised questions over the survival of the four-decade old treaty while blaming Islamabad for causing delay in resolution of bilateral water issues with New Delhi.

Both sides are expected to meet sometime in March 2017 on the Indus Waters Treaty, a move that was anxiously awaited since India suspended the water dialogue after the terrorist attack in Uri.

But, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 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 (IWT) have caused the issues to linger on and remain unaddressed.

The UNDP report -- “Development Advocate Pakistan”, which was released on February 1, said that awareness about trans-boundary water issues is a recent phenomenon.

"Pakistan has gone as far as calling the treaty an inefficient forum for resolving water issues, elevating the water issue to a "core issue" and including it in the composite dialogue. But India has refused to include the issue in the composite dialogue because it is not ready to discard the treaty," the report added.

"The treaty permitted India to create storage on the western rivers of 1.25, 1.60 and 0.75 million acre feet (MAF) for general, power and flood storages, respectively, amounting to a total permissible storage of 3.6 MAF," the report said.

Wular Barrage and Kishenganga project on the Jhelum and Neelum rivers present a similar problem whereby water storage during the Rabi season is critical as flows are almost one-fifth of the Kharif season, according to the report.

“A clear ambiguity in the treaty occurs in its permission to be interpreted differently, thereby creating conflicts between Pakistan and India. The treaty also fails to clearly address India’s share of shortages in relation to storage dams on the western rivers, an issue of major concern,” the UNDP said.

As a consequence of climate change, shrinking glaciers and changing precipitation patterns render the need to address issues of water scarcity and resources. “During floods, for example, majority of the water runs into the rivers of Indus-Pakistan which leaves the province of Sindh flooded. Such negative setbacks on the economy will eventually have dire consequences if not addressed,” the report added.

Interestingly, the report claims that while the Indus Water Treaty between the two neighbours has been an outstanding example of conflict resolution so far, scarcity of water in the basin states since the early 1990s has brought the agreement under strain and its "survival appears weak".

"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," the report added.

Pakistan’s former Indus Water Commissioner Jamait Ali Shah, however, felt that any bilateral talks at this stage will be an exercise in futility.

In an interview to Thethirdpole.net, Ali Shah said the disinterest in the matter of the Ministry of Water and Power in Pakistan has also added to the damage. Pakistan first notified India for resolution of the questions (on Kishenganga and Ratle projects) by a neutral expert (NE) and then withdrew it, then approached the Bank for a Court of Arbitration (CoA).

Ali Shah was of the view that the World Bank has bowed to Indian pressure, which in turn is stalling on the process of resolution by a CoA.

"I feel it was an issue to be resolved by the NE being technical/design in nature. Therefore, processing it through CoA was not required. But the question that comes to mind is to look deeper in the vested interest in the deadlock. Who is guiding Pakistan to go round in circles?”, said Ali Shah.

"Most importantly, who engaged the two law firms in Washington DC which decided to process the case for CoA through the Bank? Many people aim to benefit from the case being taken from one authority to another. I have learnt that the expenses incurred are PKR 300 million of which PKR 190 million has already been paid", he added.

The World Bank had asked both the countries to consider alternative ways to resolve their disagreements over the Indus Water Treaty. The Bank said while it was temporarily halting the appointment of a neutral expert as requested by India, it was also stopping from having a Chairman of the Court of Arbitration as requested by Pakistan.

Recently, in meetings with the Indian officials in New Delhi, World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva had reportedly given some "suggestions" for resolving the deadlock between New Delhi and Islamabad over the Kishenganga and Ratle projects. Both projects come under the Indus Waters Treaty.

Pakistan had last year approached the World Bank saying that the two projects in Jammu and Kashmir violated the water distribution agreement. However, India has maintained the two projects do not violate the Treaty. New Delhi had sought appointment of a neutral expert given that the issues raised by Pakistan were “design related and technical ones”.

Pakistan maintains the Kishenganga project, coming up on Jhelum River, will bring down by as much as 40 per cent the water flowing into its territory. It also wants the storage capacity of the reservoir of the Ratle project to be reduced. The Ratle project is coming up on Chenab.

On the Indus Waters Treaty, Georgieva was quoted as saying in The Hindu that “a constructive engagement is taking place. We have seen there is good progress.”

India, Pakistan and the World Bank are signatories to the Treaty and are in discussions on resolving disagreements the two countries have over India’s construction of two hydroelectric power plants, the World Bank said.

“The Treaty has served the two countries very well and has survived difficult moments. It has benefited the countries,” Georgieva added.

However, she added that water resource management today is very different when compared to the times when the Treaty was signed (in the year 1960) due to the huge rise in population and the increase in the water requirement for energy and agriculture. Water sharing is a major issue not just between India and Pakistan, but in many parts across the world. The World Bank was working on better strategies to make best use of water resources, she told The Hindu.

Georgieva also said India had a “very strong voice” within the World Bank group due to its active participation in the financial institution’s meetings and decisions. The World Bank is looking to further strengthen this partnership.

Meanwhile, India has reportedly agreed to participate in the 113th meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission in Lahore. The Commission has so far met 112 times since 1960 once every year alternately in India and Pakistan.

Indian officials have maintained that the meetings of the Commission are "a routine issue every year" and deal with technical matters concerned with implementation of the Treaty. But, experts see initial signs of ice breaking between the two countries and say that there are directions from the highest office to restart the bilateral dialogue.

"There is positive movement to resume the dialogue. But, India should take a cautious approach", said an expert.

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