||Water: Asia's New Battleground
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
30 Apr 2012
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.
Water: Asia’s New Battleground
by Brahma Chellaney
Harper Collins, New Delhi
386 pages, Rs 699