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Water: New weapon of mass conflict

A classified US report listed India’s three major river basins — Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra —among the world top 10 water conflict zones in ten years from now. Chetan Chauhan reports. Water dynamics

delhi Updated: Mar 27, 2012 10:01 IST
Chetan Chauhan

A classified US report listed India’s three major river basins — Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra —among the world top 10 water conflict zones in ten years from now.

The report based on National Intelligence Estimate on water security said the chances of water issues causing war in next 10 years were minimal but they could disrupt national and global food market and cause tension between states.

“Beyond 2022, use of water as a weapon of war or a tool of terrorism will become more likely, particularly in South Asia (India), the Middle East and North Africa,” the report said.

An insight on where India stands on water crisis is available in the recent household census data for 2011.

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The per capita availability of water for a household has reduced with increase in number of households from 24.1 crore in 2001 to 33.1 crore in 2011.

As a result around 3.8 crore women travel on average more than 500 meters to fetch drinking water — an addition of 1.2 crore women in this water fetching women club. Their collaborative effort means covering 47 times the distance between earth and moon every day.

More and more water conflicts have been reported from Haryana-Punjab in north to Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in north-east to Tamil Nadu and Kerala in southern India. “Such conflicts would rise further if we fail to improve efficiency in our water management,” said a plan panel member Mihir Shah.

Over 1,000 water-related violent conflicts have been reported since 2008.

Even as the nation battle with scarcity of water, another problem that is becoming acute is the quality of water. India records world’s highest per capita water borne diseases even more than some of the world’s least developed nations.

“The source of drinking water in most cities is directly from ground which may be contaminated,” said Sunita Narian, director-general of NGO Centre for Science and Environment.

The problem will aggravate with India's population in cities expected to rise from 340 million by 2030.

Indicating impact of such migration, the US intelligence report said solving water scarcity through negotiations will become tough.

The US report predicts that upstream nations — more powerful than their downstream neighbours due to geography - will limit access to water for political reasons and that countries will regulate internal supplies to suppress separatist movements and dissident populations.