Water Wars
Land = power. Water = life.
Since the beginning of time, people have fought over land, from the ‘Ashvamedha yajna’ of Vedic times, through Alexander, the Romans, Ashoka, and right up to Hitler’s attempt to seize Lebensraum.
In recent times, territorial battles have almost ceased, and the focus has shifted to battles over money, markets, and minds.
And water. 
Experts say that the next big war will be fought over water.
Not that water disputes and water-related wars are anything new. The oldest recorded dispute occurred 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia over sharing the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Today, there are many major water disputes worldwide, a few notable ones being:
- Egypt/ Sudan/ Ethiopia—river Nile water
- Turkey/ Syria/ Iraq - Tigris/ Euphrates water (no, it has not ended, been just 4,000 years!)
- China/ Laos - Mekong river water
- Iran/ Afghanistan - Helmond river water
What about India?
Ah, we have two big ones, both (apparently) settled.
Our internal dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka over the sharing of the water of the Kaveri river is about 150 years old. After many clashes, killings, court cases, tribunals, arbitrations – almost everything you could think of, a final settlement was reached in 2018. Time will tell if this is really ‘final’.
Our external dispute is more ominous, and rather strangely, it starts (not ends) with a ‘settlement’—the Indus water treaty (IWT). More on this later.
Yes, India does have a water problem. We have 18% of the world’s population but only 4% of its water resources. Already, groundwater levels have dropped alarmingly in several states due to unfettered extraction for irrigation. One-third of the population lives in water-stressed areas. In some areas, the groundwater is polluted with dangerous substances like arsenic.  
Admittedly, these problems can be tackled successfully, as Israel has shown. Modern water conservation methods have made Israel almost self-sufficient in food. Saudi Arabia is also trying to reclaim the desert and grow crops for export.
But India has a vast population, and wastage is rampant. Hence, water consumption is enormous, and the only readily available source of water, apart from rains, is 'surface water', i.e. rivers and ponds.
Unfortunately, a lot of our river water just flows into the sea. 
A BCE-era king in Sri Lanka wanted every drop of water to benefit his people before reaching the sea. Some 2,400 years ago, Sri Lanka had built a tank-based irrigation system, still visible today.
In India, attempts are being made to build innovative irrigation projects, necessarily mega-sized, such as the Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project (KLIP), which irrigates a large area with a gigantic amount of water using an intricate system of barrages, pumps and canals.
A more ambitious project is the Indian river inter-link, which seeks to connect India’s rivers through a chain of canals interspersed with strategically located reservoirs that will store water for the dry season. This project aims to match the availability and supply of water over a large portion of India, restore groundwater levels and reduce run-off into the seas.
Sadly, the project seems to be at the ‘feasibility report’ stage and implementation is a long way off.
An even more ambitious, if not colossal, project is the Kalpasar project in Gujarat, which envisages building a 30km-long dam across the Gulf of Khambhat connecting its east and west banks. This dam will create a massive freshwater reservoir which will collect water from seven major and minor rivers and use it for irrigation and electricity generation (using tidal flows), while the roadway on the dam will significantly improve connectivity between the two shores. 
Implementation is a long way off and environmentalists have not yet swung into action to thwart the project. 
Now for the IWT.
Very briefly—the Indus and its six tributaries flow through India before entering Pakistan. In 1960, the World Bank (WB) organised a tri-partite treaty (IWT) between India, Pakistan and WB to ‘settle’ the sharing of the waters of these rivers. 
The terms of the treaty, considered today to be over-generous on India’s part, gave Pakistan 80% of the waters while India got only 20%, and also (amazingly) required India to pay 60mn (million) UK pounds to Pakistan to help in the construction of canals. Despite the unprovoked attack by Pakistan in 1965, India did pay the money as agreed.
Even as of now, India has not used the full 20% allocation. However, over the past decade, India has accelerated the building of dams on these rivers within Indian territory for power generation while allowing the water to flow onwards into Pakistan. Pakistan fears that India could use these dams to choke the flow of water to Pakistan.
Then came the Uri attack of 2016 after which prime minister (PM) Narendra Modi said, “Blood and water cannot flow together.” 
This may have fazed Pakistan but did not deter it from carrying out the Pulwama attack. Nevertheless, Pakistan remains wary of India blocking the flow of water which would be devastating for Pakistan.
Pakistan’s apprehension is that India will block the water during summer, hampering irrigation and cultivation, and release it during the monsoon, causing floods.
The latest position: due to Pakistan’s unjustified objections to India’s building of dams, and refusal to resolve the matter through the mechanism laid out in IWT, India has sought an amendment to the treaty.
The matter is apparently in limbo for now, but it is by no means over.
The question is: Will India abrogate IWT and stop Pakistan’s water? And if so, will there be war?
Hawks in India say—yes, Pakistan is bankrupt and weak, its people are revolting, its army is in disarray. Now is payback time for all the terrorist attacks over decades. Let’s hit them where it will hurt—block the water.
Doves say—wait, not so easy. Can we really stop the water with the dams we have? Also, we will become the bad guys in the eyes of the world, ruining our current positive image. Moreover, this is just what the Pakistan army needs—a war—to rally the people behind it and divert attention from the chaos inside to the threat from outside.
What is your vote, dear reader?
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post-retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world, playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)
4 months ago
Yes, sheer brinkmanship to stop water from flowing to Pakistan. All that trouble Pakistan is facing now is not India-made. It's their own making. Pakistan is capable of harming itself enough given its corrupt and greedy army and the treacherous ISI.
Amitabha Banerjee
Replied to rangarao.ds comment 4 months ago
Yes, so far it seems that the doves have it. Pakistan is likely to self-destruct. That is not good news for India, and hence there is little point in accelerating the destructive process at the cost of a war.
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