by Robin de la Motte
In November 2010 it was reported that India and Pakistan were building rival dams on the Neelum river, a tributary of the Indus River. The river basin is covered by the Indus Water Treaty, signed in 1960. For decades, the treaty has been “widely cited as a model of exemplary cooperation in an often fractious bilateral relationship”, but India’s current development plans, focussing on hydro-electric power, threaten to destabilise the agreement. The agreement is crucial for Pakistan, as India controls the flow of the Indus into Pakistan, where it is critical for irrigation.
The geopolitics of water in the region are discussed in a 2003 article by Stephen Brichieri-Colombi and Robert W. Bradnock. The article compares and contrasts the Indus river basin with the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin, the latter governed by the 1996 Ganges Waters Treaty between India and Bangladesh (previously East Pakistan, until 1971). The authors describe how the relative lack of development of East Pakistan and its lower geopolitical significance resulted in substantially less cooperation between India and Pakistan in this river basin, with plans proceeding independently or in direct competition. The authors propose a complex of barrages which would allow the Brahmaputra River, whose flows are increasing, to supplement Bangladesh’s use of the Ganges, whose flows are decreasing; the scheme would also allow India to use more of the Ganges’ flows elsewhere, in drier parts of its catchment. The complex would require substantial cross-border collaboration, in support of the development of a river basin in which over 10% of the world’s population lives.
Feature image caption: The Brahmaputra River
Circle of Blue, 30 November 2010, “Pakistan and India in Dam Building Race — Interpreting the Indus Water Treaty”
Brichieri-Colombi, Stephen and Bradnock, Robert W. (2003), “Geopolitics, water and development in South Asia: cooperative development in the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta”, The Geographical Journal, Volume 169, Issue 1, pages 43-64