EducationVolume 14 Issue # 17

Future water wars

Once Benjamin Franklin said, ”You will learn the worth of water when the well dries.”A news papers paints a disturbing picture of a nearby future where people are fighting over access to water. These post-apocalyptic-sounding “water wars” could rise as a result of climate change and population growth and could become real soon enough if we don’t take steps to prevent them.


The study, which comes from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), says that the effects of climate change will be combined with an ever-increasing number of people to trigger intense competition for increasingly scarce resources. This can lead to regional instability and social unrest.


Future water wars cannot be neglected. Approximately, 800 million people lack clean drinking water around the globe.


As droughts and crises multiply, academics have begun grappling with the darker question of whether such shortages will push citizens – and even countries – into hostile factions of water-rich and water-poor. By mid-century, some of the world’s most populous, troubled regions are predicted to be dangerously water-scarce, including southern and central Asia, the Middle East and northeast Africa.


Tensions are rising as shortages intensify, says Zeitoun, noting simmering water conflicts along the Tigris and Brahmaputra, and intra-state conflicts in China’s Yellow Basin and the Basra region of Iraq. Two Pakistani provinces, the Punjab and Sindh – the last in line for the Indus water before it reaches the sea – are routinely at odds over water. In Sindh, many fishers and farmers, reliant on the rapidly declining delta ecosystem, have simply given up and fled to cities – water refugees. In Darfur, where rainfall is down 30 per cent over 40 years, evaporating water holes and disappearing pasture helped push farmers and herders into civil war.


The Indus River is the primary source of freshwater for most of Pakistan. Pakistan is one of the fastest-growing nations in the world. It has a population of 210 million now. The country is grappling with the same sorts of growing pains that its neighbour, India, is experiencing. The year 2025 has been marked as the year when Pakistan — if it doesn’t mend its ways soon — will turn from a “water-stressed” country to a “water-scarce” country. Warnings about water running out have been issued separately by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR). And as the alarm bells began to ring, the former Chief Justice of Pakistan launched a campaign to build the Diamer Bhasha and Mohmand Dams. In his inaugural speech, Prime Minister Imran Khan, too, announced his backing for the plan.


But Pakistan has an extraordinary problem looming on the horizon: water scarcity, which has devastated other countries in the sub-tropics in the past decade, is now quite real. And a solution to the crisis is not entirely within the country’s control.


A special report on climate change adaptation says that at least a billion people in sub-tropical regions of the world, like Pakistan, India, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Somalia will face increasing water scarcity.

Glacier melting is responsible for roughly half of the water flowing in the Indus, making the situation worse. The health of the Himalayas in the face of the earth’s changing climate is a real, and growing, concern.


“Given the rapid melting of the Himalayan glaciers that feed the Indus River… and growing tensions with upriver archenemy India about use of the river’s tributaries, it’s unlikely that Pakistani food production will long keep pace with the growing population,” Steven Solomon, writes. He also said that the Middle East would be the first region to confront the issue.


Just as we’ve seen in Yemen—where water riots ripped the country apart and led to a civil war that has destabilized the country in the midst of political chaos—wealthy, politically connected landowners in Pakistan have also been accused of siphoning off far more than their fair share of freshwater in upriver Punjab. There have been water riots over lack of water and electricity in Karachi.

“The future looks grim,” Solomon concludes. “Eventually, flows of the Indus are expected to decrease as global warming causes the Himalayan glaciers to retreat, while monsoons will get more intense. Terrifyingly, Pakistan only has the capacity to hold a 30-day reserve storage of water as a buffer against drought.”


But experts believe that India’s efforts to dam up the Indus could ultimately destroy Pakistan’s ability to feed its population.


If both countries collaborated on a series of giant, large-scale dams that were built to rotate water use to different regions, tensions could be reduced. More than 700 billion gallons of water is pulled from the Indus River every year to grow cotton.


“Pakistan’s entire economy is driven by the textile industry,” says Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “The problem with Pakistan’s economy is that most of the major industries use a ton of water—textiles, sugar, wheat—and there’s a tremendous amount of water that’s not only used, but wasted.”


The water crisis in Pakistan and overall the world has become adverse. All this should serve as a clarion call to our leaders who are busy at power politics and political squabbling. If the incumbent leadership does not build an adequate number of small and large dams, the country will face recurrent drought and threatening floods in the future. Be it climate-change, limited storage capacity, trans-boundary dispute or mismanagement of water; governments entities ostensibly lack coordination to tackle issue of water wars.


At the end, construction of reservoirs, using advanced telemetry, raising height of existing dams to increase capacity, using advanced technologies e.g. drip farming for water conservation, strengthening the role of the UN with constitutional and international law amendments, national way policy reviews are a few ways to counter this emergency with a practical futuristic approach.