Thursday, May 10, 2012

Contentious Flow

How often has it been said that South Asia is the world’s water scarce region that has continued to squabble over its aquifers and rivers? How frequently have intra-state, inter-state and cross-border contentions been projected as new battleground in the region? And, yet none of the wars thus far in the region has ever been around ‘water’? The crucial question worth exploring from diverse perspectives is: does scarcity lead to conflict or encourages cooperation? While the Indus Treaty has withstood four wars, the Ganges Treaty has remained contentious despite any war being fought over it. But it cannot be said with any certainty that the region will show resilience should the countries fail to resolve their water conflicts.
All said, it will be fair to conclude that this region cannot escape the fact that it is part of the world devoid of any working institutions that can coordinate and integrate choices and that can collectively confront predicaments faced by states and governments – institutions able to sustain any degree of trust between neighboring states. In fact, in their absence, the sub-continent has remained vulnerable to the tyranny of geography.
No wonder, across borders there are joint river commissions to squabble over while provisions of the inter-state dispute redressal mechanism are enough to enrage states over their disputed share of river flows. Inventing new institutional mechanisms that can address the contentions from a regional perspective have been thwarted by the prevailing hydrocracy in the region. Under such a situation, would it not be prudent to draw river basin maps along linguistic lines to trigger a people-to-people engagement on the subject?
Given his background, Brahma Chellaney has viewed the potential water crises from a ‘battleground perspective’ whereas it is the paradox of common cultural lineage amidst mutual political mistrust that needs attention....Link
Water: Asia’s New Battleground
by Brahma Chellaney
Harper Collins, New Delhi
386 pages, Rs 699

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