An integrated approach - Zulfiqar Halepoto - Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Source :

THE countries of the Indus Basin have for the most part been largely self-sufficient where water availability and food security is concerned.

But for the last couple of decades, the Indus Basin has witnessed unprecedented threats of water scarcity and environmental degradation, and has been linked to the possibility of conflict arising from this shortage.

Unprecedented population growth, unplanned urbanisation, mismanagement of water-related development, climate change and poor pollution control are permanent threats to water and food security. These should be addressed holistically and on a priority basis.

On the one hand, the basin is jeopardised by rivalry between Pakistan and India on issues of water-sharing and the construction of new dams. On the other, there is intrastate rivalry among various riparian provinces and states inside Pakistan and India. The Indus Basin’s importance is underscored by the fact that the area is home to hundreds of millions without sufficient access to key needs including safe drinking water. This region has abysmal human development indicators. All this is exacerbated by the political conflict between Pakistan and India.

Constant pressure on water resources intensifies hydrological, social and ecological interdependencies in river basins. The increasing competition for water for agriculture and other uses, the effects of pollution on water resources, the degradation of ecosystems and greater interdependency demand an integrated approach to developing and managing water resources at the basin level.

Many countries elsewhere have begun to implement or are testing an integrated or one-basin approach for effective trans-boundary water management. Even more are struggling with devising institutional arrangements to support more cooperative and integrated management

The basic rules of the integrated basin approach are reflected in a 1997 United Nations convention calling upon states to be mindful of the impact of their actions vis-à-vis international watercourses. However, the Lake Lanoux case, concerning a water dispute between France and Spain, not only explores the issues surrounding the convention, but also highlights the major cases and controversies concerning international watercourses as a background against which to consider the substantive and procedural rights and obligations of riparian states, and is a useful example to note.

An integrated approach to the Indus Basin is perhaps the only solution to the crises in water management, availability and supply at the interstate and intrastate levels to provide the basis for trans-boundary cooperation and a water- and food-secure future.

The UN Environment Programme recommendation — in which ecosystem functions, such as flood mitigation, water supply, groundwater recharge, agricultural production, fisheries and tourism are recognised as factors that must be resolved in order to help mitigate conflicts over the common resources of water — must be studied. In the light of this, it would be crucial for ecosystem functions to be taken into account in river basin management.

The example of the European Union is before us. The EU is using this approach for water management successfully since the adoption of the EU Water Framework Directive. The situation of European water resources is relatively favourable compared to other regions of the world. There is generally enough water due to plenty of rainfall, but in many areas its quality is not always up to scratch.

Historical evidence and the background of water rivalry between various countries and regions around the world suggest that the one-basin approach is a workable solution between water-sharing states. Towards this end, the best way to protect and manage water resources is through close trans-boundary cooperation that involves all countries relying on a river basin, to protect the interests of riparian states upstream or downstream.

Unfortunately, countries often fail to use trans-boundary natural resources in an efficient and sustainable manner because they are averse to looking at ground realities. They restrict themselves to a national outlook and disregard contemporary international norms and policy recommendations, which could provide incentives for states to cooperate and that could prove better for all of them.

A multi-level approach and long-term vision, that does not allow political animosities to dominate the agenda, is required to understand the benefits of transnational institutions for the management of trans-boundary resources. Regional efforts are needed to develop a strategy for collective river basin management. For this purpose, national needs and demands must be aligned with international laws and systems and the reliance on scientific knowledge rather than past practice.

In the case of the Indus Basin, there is a strong need for adaptive and collaborative institutional arrangements at the state level for the idea of the one- basin approach to materialise and address the potential threat to agriculture and environment in the region. It is heartening to note that in such a complex scenario, the Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan has withstood a torrid 50 years. It is an indication that cooperation on an integrated system is the only hope for a food-secure region and can, in fact, be achieved.

Trans-boundary water management can reduce natural and man-made threats emanating from scarcity, the impact of climate change and the construction of new dams and riverine structures on a common river basin. Otherwise implementing plans for numerous river dams and power plants including Kishanganga and Baglihar by India can hamper not only water-sharing but also the bilateral peace process.

The writer is a doctoral candidate researching water conflict at the University of Sindh, Jamshoro.

No comments:

Post a Comment