The Third World War may be fought over water, according to experts. And if one were to go by the signs of the times, it will most probably be fought in Asia
Dr Shailendra Deolankar
Extreme climatic changes, degeneration of environment and indiscriminate use of water may lead to acute scarcity of water in the world in general and in particular, in the Asian subcontinent, says reports of several international organisations.
The Three Gorges Dam on River Yangtze
China, which anticipated the problem much earlier than India, has started construction of big ticket dams on rivers such as Brahmaputra, Indus, Sutlej, and Kosi. Once completed, these projects will adversely hit the lower riparian states like India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar among others .This might also give rise to serious water war.
Several international organisations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Green Peace, East Asia Report along with many other think tanks in their different studies have predicted an imminent crisis.
According to them, if there erupts a war in the future, it would be over water in general and that drinking water, in particular. Renowned authors like Amitav Ghosh—a recipient of Jananpeeth Award, have underscored this in his recent book.
Why water woes are serious?
71 per cent of earth’s surface is covered with water of which, 97 per cent of water is salty, meaning it is in the sea. 2% are in glaciers and only 1% is consumable water. According to various reports published in the recent past, by 2030, every three people in four will face drinking water problem in Asia. Thus, the war on water is inevitable.
In India, we have a very limited ground water available. Compared to China, India is far behind in conserving ground water. India’s ground water storage capacity is abysmally low. Because compared to other countries, India has very few dams. Therefore, India is bound to face water scarcity on a large scale in the future.
Hence, it is necessary to make concerted efforts to strengthen our water storage facilities by implementing required schemes/ programmes from now. 21st century is the Asian century. Asia will be at the helm of power. The Asian Tigers are rapidly marching on the path of development. However, it is pertinent to note that the Availability of drinking water per person in the Asian sub-continent is very less compared to other continents. Studies reveals that the continent has the lowest at 3,920 cubic metres drinking water per person and hence it will face acute scarcity of drinking water in future.
- The Third World War will be fought over water
- China’s Three Gorges Dam is so massive that it has slowed down even the earth’s motion
- Looking at the dictatorial attitude of China in drinking water issue and it is constructing dam, China should be pressurized to reduce
Balkan Lake in Russia is known to be the cleanest water body in the world. The storage capacity of this lake is higher than the US. But Asia lacks this kind of lakes. Therefore, water scarcity problem will assume serious proportion in Asia.
China’s pre-emptive water management
China, the economic and military super power of Asia, is known for its several peculiar qualities. China has border disputes with several of its neighbours. China has largest number of dams in the world numbering to 86,000. On the other hand, America has 5,500 dams. However, the number of dams in India are even less than that. Of the total dams in China, 30,000 dams are of 15 metre heigh that comes under the category of large dams. These are called as the Big Dams. Through these dams, China has established control over the rivers flowing there. China has the highest water storage capacity in Asia and the country is using this water. The world wonders why China is storing water on such a large scale. China’s large population and geographical structural imperatives are the reasons behind this move.
The highest number of rivers in China are in its southern region while maximum population resides in Northern and Eastern parts. Thus, the Northern and Eastern parts have comparatively less water. There are a total eight provinces in China out of which 40 per cent of the population resides in the north. Moreover, around 38 per cent of farming of China is carried out in this region. Over 50 per cent of industries are also concentrated in this region. China’s maximum population resides in the Eastern region, but the maximum water availability is in South. Therefore, China faces the challenge of diverting water from Southern region to the North East.
Ellllarlier, China had constructed dams on the rivers in Northern region. However, with the population crossing 150 crore, demand for water have become critical. This is the reason why China is a on rapid construction of large number of dams in the south.
China’s Dams: Implication to India
With the dams in Northern region proving insufficient, China has started diverting water from the rivers, which originate from the hills of Tibet and flow towards south through India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Myanmar. By diverting this water, China is trying to meet the demands of its eastern region. In fact, China has started this process in the 1950s. During the last 70 years, it has constructed a number of large canals. China has spent more than 100 billion dollars on these canals. This canal link is known as South North Water Transport Canal. China started the construction work of this canal in 1952 and it was completed in 2014. But this canal has also not been able to solve the water problems in China. Hence, it has now started construction of dams on the rivers in Southern region.
According to China’s Constitution, water issue lies in the jurisdiction of Central government and therefore, the Central government undertakes the dam construction work there. Moreover, due to an authoritarian single party rule, there is no opposition to the construction of dam in the country. That is why huge dams are completed successfully in China within a time frame.This is not the situation in India. As per the constitutional division of subjects, water is the issue of State governments. Moreover, unlike China India has a democratic set up. Therefore, whenever the government undertakes construction of big projects, it always faces strong opposition on large scale. A number of agitations take place in addition to opposition by thge NGOs on the pretext of environmental threat.
The Sardar Dam is a glaring example which could not be completed due to the Narmada Bachao Andolan. The dispute is still going on even after so many years. Such opposition puts limitations on the government to start any big projects in India. As a result, India has very little water storage capacity on the land. Thus, it is obvious, India will have to face bigger problems in future. Some of the international reports have made it clear that there would be tremendous water scarcity in India by 2030.
In this backdrop, there is a need for proper management of river water in India. Rivers are the primary water resources in India. Brahmaputra, Sutluj, Indus and Kosi, all these four rivers from Tibet into India via China. But China is making efforts to exploit this water resources.
China’s Arbitrary Policies
Surprisingly, China has not signed any agreement with any of its neighbours on water distribution. China has adopted an adamant stand. According to the 1997 resolution of United Nations proposes a bilateral or multilateral agreements between two countries for water distribution when a rivers flow from one country to another. These agreements chalk out the water distribution policy. This includes, the height of a dam if any to be constructed, its storage capacity, its water level, etc. Normally there are two types of rivers. The one which flows from hilly areas to the planes and the other which flow through plane areas.
Tibet: Water roof of the world
Tibet is known as the water roof of the world. Large rivers originate from Tibet and flow from hilly areas to the planes in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Some issues have to be considered while constructing dams on these rivers flowing from high to low riparian regions. It is mandatory to a high riparian state to share water information of these rivers to the low riparian countries. But China is the only country which has not signed any agreement with other countries to share such information. India and Pakistan have signed Indus Water Treaty, which is being followed for the last 60 years despite differences on several issues. Similarly, there is an agreement between India and Bangladesh regarding Ganga water. A similar agreement exists between India and Nepal. But China has not only ignored India, it has also not signed any agreement with its friendly countries like Pakistan and Nepal.There is no agreement between China and Bangladesh and China has also not signed any pact with Nepal, which has a communist government at present. Hence, China has taken an arbitrary stand on water distribution issue.
Brahmaputra: Lifeline to 10 crore Indians
Currently, China has undertaken dam construction work on two rivers. One of them is on Brahmaputra. This river originates from the hills of Tibet and enters India from Arunachal Pradesh after crossing Tibet. It flows into Bangladesh through Assam and finally into the Bay of Bengal. A large number of farmers in North-East India and Bangladesh are dependent on the Brahmaputra’s water. Livelihood of 10 crore people are dependent on Brahmaputra. The tea gardens in Assam are grown on Brahmaputra water while the jute farming in Bangladesh is also done on the same water. Despite knowing these facts, China has already constructed eight dams on Brahmaputra and now initiating work of 12 more dams. Thus, China intends to construct total 20 dams on the river. Once completed, these dams will have adverse effect on the water supply in India and Bangladesh and ultimately hit the agriculture sector. It will pose serious threat to the tea gardens in Assam and its employment prospects in tea industry.
China’s arbitrary stand on India
In fact, according to an agreement with India, China had agreed to share the water content figures of Brahmaputra in rainy season. But in a bid to settle scores with India on the latter’s firm stand on the Doklam dispute that erupted in 2017, China did not furnish this information on time. Based on this information, if there is a possibility of flood in Brahmaputra, India can take preventive measures, but with an intention to harass India, China did not give the water content information of the river to India in 2017. As a result, there were heavy floods in Assam where hundreds of people had to lose their lives for which China is solely responsible.
China has started constructing a similar dam on Mekong river also. This river flows from China into Thailand via Myanmar. People of Myanmar and Thailand are dependent on Mekong river’s water, but China has started construction of dams on this river too. The actual number of dams in China could be more than the figures that have come up. The reason being that these dams are situated in valleys and mountainous regions and their actual number is never known. China too, never makes the figure public.
Looking at the proposed and the ongoing dam projects undertaken by China, it is clear that the entire South Asia will have to face serious consequences in future. Nepal too, has raised its concern on the issue. If there is a serious water problem in South Asia, it may lead to a war. China against rule-based management Normally, there is a maritime boundary for every country. There are UN agreements for the judicious management of maritime borders .There are international agreements for every issue. Every state wants that the agreements should be based on the rules.
However, China seems averse to rule-based resolution of conflicts.China has flaunted its own rules irrespective of the international laws and follows arbitrary ways to resolve it. This has been exemplified by increasing Chinese claims on various islands in South China Sea. China is intimidating the other nations in the region by using high-handed policies. China is developing a number of islands in this region and building naval bases. It is showing its dominance on a number of islands and claiming ownership on a number of vital sea routes. It has also claimed its right on land of a number of countries. In the past, China had even wars with India and Vietnam. The US and India are pursuing for a rule-based management in South China Sea to which China is strongly opposed to.
Why water storage on a large scale
Today, America is well aware that world’s oil reserves will come down after 2050. Therefore, America is protecting its oil reserves. Similarly, it is America’s plot to exploit the oil in West Asia first and use it. When these oil reserves will get exhausted, America would be the only country to have the largest oil reserves in the world. In such a situation, it desires to dominate the entire world. China aims to do a similar exercise in case of potable water. China wants to establish its dominance on the world regarding water. China is well aware that by 2050, there would be severe water problems in the Asia .That would be the time when China would have largest number of drinking water reserves in the world. Therefore, it has started its journey in this direction to dominate and become the super power in the world. But India and Nepal will have to face the negative consequences of this desire and India will have to take necessary steps to prevent itself from this.
How to bring China on a right path?
To stop China’s nefarious intents, the friendly countries and those would be facing water scarcity should come together and mount pressure on China with the help of United Nations . Similarly, India should raise these issue at various multilateral platforms where both India and China are members like BRICS, SCO,APEC and G20. Even today, why India is not raising the issue is a question.
Recipient of Jananpeeth Award Amitav Ghosh in his book has raised a question as to why the world is so negligent and insensitive about water problem. He has raised a question as to when there is a possibility of world war and bloodshed owing to water problems, why water cannot be a part of international agreements. His concern is very genuine.
India raised the various innovative issues at the G20 summits in recent past like the issue of black money abd also suggested a collective mechanism to resolve it.In the recently concluded 2018 G20 summit. It advocated for action against the people engaged in economic frauds,scams and running away to other countries. Now it’s high time that India raised the issue of water problems due to arbitrary construction of large dams on international rivers in the coming G-20 summit.
Looking at the dictatorial attitude of China in drinking water issue and it is constructing dam, China should be pressurized to reduce the height of dams, get into water distribution agreements with other countries and provide water content information. If this is not done, time is not far when a desert like situation will emerge in South Asia.
(The writer is a security policy analyst based in Mumbai).