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Dealing with water challenge

By Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

Wars related to water have been fought from the very earliest
times. In fact, the earliest such war was fought way back in the
year 3000 BC and from that time to the present these wars have
been fought in various parts of the world on account of various
water related issues. Wars between India and Pakistan have
occurred quite regularly with the first of them being fought during
the period 1947-1948.

Wars between India and Pakistan have mainly been fought over
getting control over Kashmir and have usually begun without the
aggressor formally declaring war. The only exception was when
India had to go into East Pakistan to support secessionist
demands in the then East Pakistan. This war was fought in 1970
and led to the surrender of Pakistani forces and the
independence of a new country called Bangladesh.

Currently, the two sides are not at war but it is believed that the
next India-Pakistan war will be fought over water shortages in
Pakistan. If, as estimates suggest, both nations during the period
2018 and 2020 experience monsoon failures, then there could be
a war between India and Pakistan, which will have been parched.

The demand for water throughout the world continues to rise and
when demand exceeds supply there is a risk that shortage of
water will compel nations to go to war with each other. In fact,
over fifty countries, spread across five continents, are at a risk of
being involved in wars that will arise on account of water
disputes. This is why the need of the hour is for these countries to
move as quickly as possible to agree to terms on sharing of
reservoirs as well as rivers and even underground water

Conflicts and wars related to water disputes may soon emerge on

a number of different geographical scales. The international
community needs to address certain factors to help lower
tensions among countries that may easily go to war on account of
water conflicts. Water as we all know is essential to our survival
and it is also required for different human activities including for
use in agriculture and industry as well as for generating power
and even for transportation of goods and people.

About ten percent of water is used for domestic purposes, twenty

percent is used in industries and the remaining seventy percent
is used for agriculture. Water also holds symbolic and emotional
value and is needed to maintain the ecosystem as well. When
there is pressure on supply of fresh water because of reasons
such as a growing population and economic development, this
water becomes scarce and this scarcity can then be the reason
for a war or other profound consequence.

From the very beginning of history, water has been a major

reason why wars among nations have been fought. These wars
are fought on various levels including on the local level, national
level, international and even global levels. Each level is linked
with the other and interventions that affect one level will impact
the other levels. In addition, factors such as socio economic,
political and cultural also all play a role that can lead to conflicts
and increase in tensions.

Some of the reasons why wars related to water can be and have
been fought also include improper allocation as well as use of
water. This precious commodity is also vital to production of food
which alone accounts for seventy percent of water withdrawals.
To produce a kilogram of bread it is necessary to use up one
thousand liters of water and to product one kilogram of beef
requires using fifteen thousand liters of water.

Fortunately, at present, the world has sufficient supply of water

to take care of its population. However water scarcity is a threat
to mankind and this scarcity can be physical as is witnessed in
regions such as North Africa and the Middle East. It can also be
an economic scarcity as is happening in Sub Saharan Africa.

Water can also be used as a military tool in which water

resources are used by one country as a weapon during military
actions. It can also be used as a political tool to achieve political
goals. Water can also be used by terrorists to conduct violent
acts and to coerce nations to do what they (the terrorists) want.
Even countries such as America and Canada that have abundant
water resources often come into conflict because certain regions
in the respective countries experience shortage of water.
Canadians are known to use up double the amount of water as
compared to an average European. Such factors show that water
consumption in all of North America tends to be very high. Almost
seventy five percent of Canadians depend on surface water
supply and the remaining twenty five percent depend on ground
water. Since both of these sources are under threat, it has
increased the possibility of water conflicts in these regions too.

In 2007, Canada was struck by terrorism related to use of bottled

water. In the same year, terrorism was the reason for another
conflict related to water. In 2008, China launched its own
crackdown of Tibetan dissidents. This is because Tibet holds
water resources that are vital for China which wants to control
this resource to safeguard its own interests.

Given the impending danger of water scarcity in the South Asian

region, the observers of regional scene have hinted at the
possibility of next clash between Pakistan and India on the water
issue. Tensions have already been simmering between both
countries over Pakistan’s allegation of its water theft by India.
The Pakistani authorities are of the view that Indian construction
of dams on rivers, whose waters Pakistan is authorized to use,
violates the Indus Water Basin Treaty signed by both countries in
1960 brokered by the World Bank. There have been mutual
exchanges of high-powered delegations aimed at sharing
information and removing the ‘misunderstandings’ but no
solution has emerged so far. The water issue has become so
critical that political parties across the border have started using
it in order to project their political interests by playing to the

The international community needs to preempt the danger to

global peace that may emanate from the water conflicts. It needs
to pool its resources and offer solutions to cope up with the
challenge. It would be pertinent if the United Nations includes
water on its agenda and formulates a comprehensive strategy in
that regard. It needs to identity the ‘sore regions’ that are likely
to get involved in any sort of clash over water and take necessary
steps to find a negotiated settlement.

(The writer is Australia-based PhD candidate)