India’s water position vulnerable vs China: Brahma Chellaney

China’s use of water as an “unconventional weapon” of warfare against India is a major geopolitical and environmental concern for New Delhi, strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney warned, as he recalled how Beijing’s refusal to provide New Delhi with hydrological data in 2017 had caused “preventable deaths.”

“As an upper-stream state, China is obliged to provide India with hydrological data on the Brahmaputra river during the flood-prone season from May till November,” noted Chellaney, delivering the keynote address at India-Israel Cooperation on Water Management and Environment seminar in New Delhi on Sunday.

“But it is also a strategic adversary and withheld information as a retaliation, causing flooding deaths in Assam,” said Chellaney, currently a professor of strategic studies at New Delhi-based thinktank Centre for Policy Research (CPR).

“Why does China not have a water-sharing treaty with any country? Because it doesn’t believe in the sharing of waters,” he stated in his address.

All the major river systems in south and south-east Asia originate in the Tibetan region, whether it is the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Indus, Mekong or Myanmar’s Irrawaddy, noted Chellaney, who has also served as a former government advisor on national security in his eventful career.

“China in effect changed the water map of Asia by occupying Tibet,” he said.

The discussion on water conservation, organised by the Indo-Israel Friendship Forum and Forum for Awareness on National Security (FANS), kickstarted a two-day anniversary event to commemorate Indian cavalrymen’s help to liberate the port town of Haifa from the erstwhile Ottoman Empire (1299-1924) on September 23, 1918.

In his comments, Chellaney went on to warn that China’s control of Tibet and its water resources was leading to geopolitical and environmental consequences involving enormous costs. “The environmental security of the entire region is affected,” pointed Chellaney.

He cautioned that the significance of maintaining abundant water resources for India could not be overstated, given that it had just 4.4 per cent of the world’s water to provide for 19 per cent of the global population.

The strategic affairs expert lamented that New Delhi had been shortchanged by Pakistan into signing the Indus Water Treaty in 1960, which he labelled as “the world’s most generous water-sharing arrangement.”

Almost 80 per cent of the waters from the six Indus’ tributaries has been earmarked for Pakistan, with India only allowed access to the waters of the three smallest of the rivers of the Indus system — Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, he added.

The academic reasoned that India had afforded Pakistan a crucial geopolitical advantage in Jammu and Kashmir by acceding to the Indus Water Treaty, which emboldened Islamabad’s ambitions on the region even further.

“Within five years of signing the treaty, they waged a war against us in 1965,” he said.

He worriedly recalled that the increasing and bitter disputes over water-sharing between Punjab and Haryana, and Haryana and Delhi, are due to the effects of the Indus Water Treaty, stressing the need for water conservation and the need to come up with new ways to ensure equitable distribution of water.

In his new book, Water: Asia’s New Battleground, Chellaney dwells on the strategic and political implications of the worsening water crisis, as well suggests a few solutions to deal with it, including developing cheaper methods to de-salinate sea water and recycle waste water.

“About 80 per cent of our water resources go into agriculture. That is really unsustainable. There is an urgent need to modernise our agriculture for more efficient and sustainable use of water,” he proposed.
He further noted that India needed to expand its water storage capacity, which was 11 times less compared to that of China’s.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) National Executive member Indresh Kumar, the Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) Shakti Sinha and former Lokayukta of Chhattisgarh Shambhu Nath Srivastava were also among other public personalities present on the stage during the talk.