India and Pakistan will both benefit if they work together to peacefully share
and conserve the vitally important waters of the Indus River Basin, according
to a new report by researchers from the Stimson
Center and research institutions in India and Pakistan.
The study was produced by water experts from groups that
formed the Indus Basin Working Group. In addition to the U.S.-based Stimson Center,
the study was conducted under the auspices of the Sustainable Development
Policy Institute in Pakistan and the Observer Research Foundation in India.
“Indian-Pakistani cooperation will result in more effective
management of the basin’s water resources than confrontation between the two
nations,” said David Michel, director of Stimson’s Environmental Security
Program and the lead Stimson researcher on the report. The report is titled:
“Connecting the Drops: An Indus Basin Roadmap for Cross-Border Water Research,
Data Sharing, and Policy Coordination.”
Water shortages could hit the
subcontinent in a few years because growing populations and increasing
development are placing rising pressure on the Indus Basin, to the point that water
removals from the Indus are outpacing natural rates of renewal, researchers
Almost all of the basin’s renewable water resources are
already allocated for various uses – with little or no spare capacity.
Scientific and policy collaboration across national and disciplinary boundaries
will be essential, according to the study.
The report gives a long list of detailed recommendations
Improve agricultural water-use efficiency and
enhance food security in the Indus Basin.
- Encourage low-impact economic development in the basin,
increase water-use efficiency among non-agricultural industries and improve
cross-border communication concerning hydroelectric development.
- Develop a comprehensive knowledge base about emerging
climate change impacts and mounting environmental pressures on the basin’s
hydrological health, and create a cooperative framework for safeguarding the
region’s ecological health.
- Deepen knowledge of glacial melt trends to better understand
their implications for water stakeholders in the basin.
- Fully utilize and effectively empower the institutional
arenas and governance mechanisms that shape water policymaking within and
between India and Pakistan.
- Foster cooperation by India and Pakistan to overcome
overlapping socio-economic, environmental, and political pressures as they
endeavor to fulfill their countries’ future water needs and peacefully manage
the Indus River Basin.
The Indus River is one of the most
important water systems in the world. It supplies the needs of about 300
million people and nourishes the breadbaskets of the subcontinent, watering
fields in India and Pakistan that constitute the most intensely irrigated area
The waters of the Indus are vital to
farming, which employs 40 percent of Pakistan’s labor force and generates 22
percent of its gross domestic product. In India, agriculture comprises 17
percent of the gross domestic product and employs 55 percent of the
economically active population.
India and Pakistan have inadequate sewage treatment facilities, and as a result
increasing water pollution burdens the Indus Basin. In
addition to untreated human waste, the Indus system is polluted by agriculture,
industry, mining, and other activities that fill the river basin and its
aquifers with synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, toxic metals, and
microbial pathogens that can spread disease and disrupt natural ecosystems.
Water-borne diseases account for a
third of all deaths in Pakistan – including an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 children
each year. Inadequate sanitation is responsible for 10 percent of all deaths in
India and causes more than 30 percent of deaths among children under age 5.
Diarrhea alone killed 395,000 Indian children in 2006.
A growing number of studies foresee
increasing water shortages in the Indus Basin because of population growth. The
United Nations projects that India’s population will increase by almost a
quarter in the next 20 years, topping 1.5 billion in 2030 and approaching 1.7
billion by 2050. Pakistan’s population is forecast to grow from 174 million in
2010 to 234 million in 2030 and nearly 275 million in 2050.
The specter of global climate change
compounds the water resource challenges confronting the region. Continuing
global warming may shift the seasonal timing or the geographical distribution
of the precipitation that replenishes water supplies, the study found.
David Egner, director of communications
The Stimson Center is a nonproï¬t and nonpartisan think
tank that conducts research and offers pragmatic policy ideas on some of the
most important peace and security challenges around the world. Stimson was recently
honored with a $1 million
MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.