Politics of water at the Third pole

The very large storage of ice in the Himalaya, only less than those in the two poles of the Earth, has given the Himalayan region another name - The Third Pole of the Earth . The snow and ice melt flows in the rivers and improves their perennial character. These perennial Himalayan rivers, namely Brahmaputra, Ganges and Indus are the main sources of water in South Asia. The rivers are trans-boundary and water related disputes exist not only at the inter-country level, but also between provinces within the countries, as also between farmers owning adjoining pieces of agricultural land.

The traditional diplomatic processes have remained stagnant for decades and even initiatives pushed by The World Bank, like the Abu Dhabi Dialogue, has not brought much advancement. In the future decades, will there be an escalation of conflicts or will wise new options for cooperation for use of these trans-boundary waters be heeded? This article addresses the future of water security in South Asia, in particular in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) basin, an area of 1,745,000 sq. kms, shared by Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar and Nepal.

What is needed is new and ecologically informed, successful, water, science and diplomacy intervention in the GBM basin. Some suggestion entry points to achieve this are:

  • Create a hydro-meteorological data base for accurate modelling and assessment of flows in the Himalayan rivers
  • Strengthen regional climate models specific to the Himalayas
  • Recognized rivers as an interlinked flow of water, sediments and energy
  • Identify and assess the diverse ecosystem processes and services of the Himalayan rivers in all parts of their basins
  • Accept monsoon high flows as an expected natural event and not as an aberration or a sudden disaster
  • See the monsoon high as crucial sources of water for use in the off-monsoon periods, and as a host of ecological processes
  • Research and implement technologies for greater efficiency in demand management for water use, particularly in irrigation, should be a priority for water diplomacy
  • Use ecological engineering knowledge for economic advancement with poverty removal and water security and develop an informed hydro-diplomacy towards creation of policies for the same.

Read the complete article to get deeper insights.

Water security in South Asia is more rooted in spatial and temporal variations, and not an absolute scarcity per say. Successful corrective interventions can help address this.