Tensions Over Water Supply Could Be A Trigger For The Next War

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We hear that water shortages arising from climate change may result in major wars. This is the kind of exaggerated alarmist claim that, without some convincing explanation, tends to discredit the climate change debate.

We hear that water shortages arising from climate change may result in major wars. This is the kind of exaggerated alarmist claim that, without some convincing explanation, tends to discredit the climate change debate.

If I continue by stating that Pakistan, currently substantially and catastrophically inundated, is a case in point, many people will shake their heads sadly.

The Tibetan plateau contains the world’s third-largest store of ice. Qin Dahe, the former head of the China Meteorological Administration, said the recent fast pace of melting and warmer temperatures will be good for agriculture and tourism in the short term, but issued a strong warning: temperatures in China are rising four times faster than elsewhere, and the Tibetan glaciers are retreating at a higher speed than in any other part of the world. In the short term, this will cause lakes to expand and bring floods and mud flows. In the long run, the glaciers are vital lifelines of the Indus river. Once they vanish, water supplies in Pakistan will be in peril.

There are insufficient data to say what will happen to the Indus, according to David Grey, the World Bank’s senior water adviser in south Asia. But we all have fears that the flows of the Indus could be affected by glacier melt, and be reduced by perhaps as much as 50%. What does that mean to a population that lives in a desert where, without the river, there would be no life? We need to be concerned about that. Mr Grey refers to the situation that will arise when the glacial melt slows and adequate water in the Indus to meet agricultural irrigation needs will flow only in the monsoon season when, as we now see, it can flow in unwanted and massively destructive quantities.

The 3,180 kilometres (1,976 miles) Indus is a strategically vital resource for Pakistan’s economy and society. It provides the key water resources for the economy of Pakistan – especially the breadbasket of the Punjab, which accounts for most of the nation’s agricultural production.

After the separation into independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, the use of the waters of the Indus and its five eastern tributaries became a major dispute between India and Pakistan.

The concern over India building large dams on various Punjab rivers that could undercut the supply flowing to Pakistan, as well as the possibility that India could divert rivers in a time of war, caused political consternation in Pakistan. Holding diplomatic talks brokered by the World Bank, India and Pakistan signed the Indus Waters Treaty in 1960. Recently, Pakistani politicians, and alarmingly jihadist groups, have alleged that India is building dams in violation of the Indus Waters Treaty. They claim that these dams will reduce water flow from the eastern tributaries of the Indus that flow from India into Pakistan.

This has led to further strain on relations between the two countries. The British Dambusters film is not unknown in the Pakistani air force.

We have seen how suddenly war can break out over ownership of Kashmir. As climate change progresses, no-one can guarantee that disputes over scarce water will not result in a destructive war between these two Commonwealth neighbours, a war that can only compound poverty and suffering.