Some of the most potent seasonal monsoon rains hit India and Pakistan during September last year, devastating the two countries, causing landslides, house collapses and the worst flooding in the region in more than five decades. Both Jhelum and Chenab rivers flowed at a discharge rate almost four times the normal one. The regions of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Pakistan Punjab, were affected by these catastrophic floods. By September 24, 2014, about 280 people each in India and Pakistan had died due to the floods. In J&K, the cumulative loss due to the floods was in excess of `1 lakh crore.
This phenomenon of floods in the region is not new. In the past also, both nations have suffered due to this natural calamity. Mitigating, and hence minimising the damage and suffering from this prevailing threat require adopting a holistic approach for which both countries must cooperate. To reduce the impact of flooding, a number of options are available. However, India and Pakistan must totally subscribe to the implementation of these measures.
To prevent flooding, low-lying areas should be used to strategically divert water in order to avoid the inundation of cities and towns. The first option is to increase the carrying capacity of the rivers by dredging. This option, however, has limited advantages as the volume of water that causes major floods would far surpass their capacity.
Increase forestation in catchment areas
The second option is to increase the degree of forestation in the catchment/upper course areas of Jhelum and Chenab rivers. This will assist in breaking the momentum of flood water, apart from utilising the discharge.
The third option is to charge aquifers to improve the groundwater level. For this, detailed plans are essential to divert water to the designated area.
The fourth option is to construct flood spill channels. This should be in addition to desilting and strengthening of embankments. This task, on a small scale, had been undertaken on the Jhelum. However, it is required to be supplemented.
Build dams with large pondage
The fifth and most workable option is to construct dams with large pondage on the Jhelum and Chenab rivers. This will assist in the generation of power as well as control additional discharge. As per the provisions of the Indus Water Treaty, only run-of-the-river hydroelectric power projects are permitted on the western rivers. Thus, there is a need to consider the construction of large dams at strategic locations. The confluence of the Veshav, Lidder and Rambiyaar into the Jhelum within a few kilometres of each other in south Kashmir is a good example of where a dam could be constructed to good effect. Similarly, the Wular lake near Sopore also presents a natural water-storage option. Its capacity to hold a large quantity of water could be enhanced, as envisaged by the Wular navigation project. This will provide security against the threat of inundation in north Kashmir.
Pakistan, in the past, has not been able to prevent the devastation despite its large dams with huge storage capacity. Dams upstream will assist in keeping water levels low and prevent breaches.
Integrated eco mgmt of Indus basin
Pakistan will be well advised to understand that the treaty was never meant to provide a mechanism for integrated ecological management of the Indus basin, which is the need of the hour, to ensure water conservation and improve the quality of this vital watershed as a whole. This will assist in preventing loss of life and damage to infrastructure.
assured discharge to Pakistan
The provisions of the Indus Water Treaty will continue to remain the cornerstone, with assured discharge to Pakistan, and both nations will operate in a spirit of constructive cooperation. These options are in line with the recent verdict by the International Court of Arbitration on the construction of the Kishanganga hydropower project in J&K.
Fortunately, a mechanism exists under provisions of the treaty to carry out consultations and research on behalf of both nations and to remove misconceptions and anxieties. Article 7 of the Indus Water Treaty mentions ‘Future Cooperation’ which, inter alia, discusses efforts in the future to jointly optimise the potential of the Indus river system. Very little attention has been paid to this aspect so far.
Therefore, a simple solution is to form a joint study group of experts which should function as part of the mechanism available within the purview of the treaty. This group should carry out consultations and research on various options recommended to minimise losses due to floods. Thus, a regional approach is required to maintain the prosperity and dominance of the mighty Indus.
The writer is an expert on the water dispute between India and Pakistan. The views expressed are personal.