Brahma Chellaney's well-researched book, Water, peace and war: Confronting the Global Water Crisis, highlights the seriousness of water stress and should be read by everyone who cares for the world we live in, writes Vikram Sood.
The UNESCO, in its latest finding, ‘The World Water Development Report’ released on World Water Day, has made some dismal observations about the future. It says that by 2050 water demand will increase by 55 per cent; by then more than 40 per cent of the world’s population including those living in areas from North Africa and West Asia to western South Asia, will be living under “severe” water stress. This should not be surprising considering that one has seen days of unlimited water on the tap five decades ago to limited water supply hours in one’s life time. The report adds, rather ominously, that Asia will be the biggest hotspot with conflicts over water extraction where water resources straddle national boundaries. “Areas of conflict include the Aral Sea, the Ganges-Brahmaputra rivers, the Indus and the Mekong river basins,” says the report.
Environmentalists and scientists have asserted that the biggest global destabilisers for the future are water scarcity and global warming. Boutros-Boutros Ghali had warned three decades ago that future wars could be fought over water and later Ismail Serageldin, vice-president, World Bank, was even more forthright when, in 1995, he said, “If wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water.”
We now have a book from Brahma Chellaney — Water, Peace and War; Confronting the Global Crisis — that highlights the seriousness of the problem from an Indian perspective in the global context of dwindling resources, war and peace, discusses strategic implications and consequences, and the need to act now before it is too late. This is a well-researched text book that covers the entire issue of the implications of our most precious resource that is under threat. One would unhesitatingly recommend that Chellaney’s book needs to be read by our political leaders, policy makers, administrators, corporate leaders, environmentalists and students and anyone else who cares for the world we live in. Chellaney’s remark that despite the rise in oil prices, “the crude oil spot price is still lower than the retail price of mineral water, or even plain bottled water” should make anyone sit up and wonder about the future of water as the author himself discusses this in Chapter Three. The subsection on the dangers of a parched future shows that this future is already upon us with parched fields in the Thar in Sindh, Pakistan, or Gurgaon in India, where the groundwater table is declining every year. We do not adequately realise that the water that quenches our thirst and washes us, or irrigates our fields, will eventually run out.
The author is particularly concerned about what he calls “The Wages of Dam Frenzy” of the Chinese and its repercussions on India should the Chinese go ahead with building a dam at Daduqia to harness a 3000-metre drop as the Brahmaputra turns sharply south from the Himalayan range. This would be in addition to another planned dam at Metog on the same river to produce 38 gigawatts of power. It is argued by some that the construction of these dams on the Brahmaputra will not affect water flow into India and Bangladesh but this is debatable. The other issue is that construction of such dams in seismically active regions is potentially hazardous for the lower riparian. During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s last visit to China in October 2013, the Chinese offered little comfort on transborder river co-operation beyond offering to share hydrological data on the Brahmaputra for only an additional fortnight from May 15 instead of June 1 to October 15 every year.
The problem, however, may not be just that states do not pay enough attention to this “unglamorous” issue of resourcing, curing and supplying water, of preventing pollution, or keeping our rivers as clean as the Danube or the Seine, or even the Nile that looks a mighty river as it flows through Cairo, unlike our Yamuna that looks like a pathetic polluted drain, off-season. Water, like air, is for all to use. Unfortunately, individual profligacy, like that of the man next door whose water tank overflows all night, and municipal disinterest is the biggest problem. They do not understand that if all the world’s water were put in a five litre jerry-can, the fresh water available to mankind, from rivers, mountains, lakes and underground, would be just a table spoon held by a shaking hand. In other words, “only about .007 per cent of the world’s water is available for human use” (Every Nation for Itself, Ian Bremmer).
Chellaney recommends urgent action on water management on many fronts and it becomes quite evident after reading the book that decisions taken now and implemented by mankind will have an immense bearing on our future. If we are unable to bring about a change in our pattern of consumption, wastage and pollution, then we are staring at a dustbowl. We need to worship water like our ancestors did and manage it, if we wish to have a future.
(Water, peace and war: Confronting the Global Water Crisis by Brahma Ch9ellany, Oxford University Press, Rs. 595, PP400)
(Vikram Sood retired as head of R&AW in 2003 and is now Adviser Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He blogs here .)