The Indus Waters Treaty and the Need to Broaden its Scope to Mitigate Climate Change and Global Warming

The implementation review of the Dhaka Declaration and the SAARC action plan on climate change and ensuring its timely execution under Article IX is a panacea to environmental degradation.

The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) ratified in 1960 with the arbitration of the World Bank is under a lot of stress due to growing water scarcity in Pakistan and India. This treaty may be considered a successful treaty as it withstood three wars. Yet, with the passage of time, one of the most stressed basins in the world is facing new challenges videlicet climate change, environmental degradation and global warming. There is no mechanism present in treaty to address these challenges due to their negligible significance at that time. The water crisis is a big question mark in Indo-Pak relations. The growing water stress between the two countries is likely to deepen further with current global climate changes. As a result, IWT has come under a lot of pressure due to changes in hydrological, demographic, political and economic environment. This is raising testing and novel questions on the normative, functional and administrative viability of IWT. Pakistan as a lower riparian country is at the receiving end and is suffering from water stress as a water scarce country.

Indeed, the per capital water availability has decreased from about 5,600 cubic meters available in 1947 to 1,032 cubic meters in 2016. Pakistan may become water poor if current situation persists. Pakistan is considered to be one of the world’s driest countries with a single basin. Pakistan’s dependence on external water resources is 76% while that of India is 34%. Annual influx into Indus through Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) regulates Pakistani economy. The basin accounts for 25% of Gross Domestic Product, 47% of employment and more than 60% of annual national foreign exchange earnings. So, Indus basin has critical importance for domestic water needs. IWT allows Pakistan restrictive uses of water. Furthermore, its lower riparian status aggravates the situation. Pakistan strongly feels that India does not follow the technical parameters laid down in the treaty.

Fortunately, IWT has mechanism of negotiation. So, revisiting this treaty, Pakistan may justifiably exploit Article VI (exchange of data), Article VII (future cooperation) and Article IX (settlement of differences and disputes).

Article VI allows the exchange of data. It is faced with number of challenges in its implementation. India shares timely data regarding flow and dams construction on the Western rivers. It has caused a lot of distrust and problems. Pakistan and India may practice telemetry. It will be helpful for both sides to observe water radars and transparency in data sharing will culminate distrust henceforth.

Article VII enhances scope of Indian Indus Water Commission (IIWC) and Pakistan Indus Water Commission (PIWC). Direct communication between IIWC and PIWC may be a right action to future cooperation in environmental degradation, global warming and climate change

Article IX specifies three tier dispute resolution mechanisms – bilateral level – PIWC and IIWC under Article IX (1) and Two Governments under Article IX (3) & (4). Judicious utilization of this article will solve ‘differences’ and ‘disputes’. Shared water management may be considered in this regard.

Global warming is clearly a threat to Indus basin and it is altogether out of IWT scope. Global warming raises sea levels and accelerates glacial melting. Flooding in rural Sindh and Punjab in recent Past is largely attributed to rapid glacial melting in Hindu-Kush-Karakoram-Himalaya region. Two-thirds of the Himalayan glaciers are receding while the Karakoram glaciers are advancing due to global warming. The Siachen glacier, the highest battleground on the earth between two countries, must be demilitarized to foster progress between the rival states. It is melting rapidly and has shrunk half to its original size. Its speedy melting owes to Indian military presence.

Siachen’s melting ice falls into Nubra River in Indian Controlled Ladakh which drains into the Shyok River which, in turn, falls into the Indus River. Thus, the glacier is a major source of Indus River to flow. The fast retreat of glacier directly touches millions of lives across Pakistan dependent on the Indus River for their livelihood. Besides Siachen, the biggest glacier in IHK, the Kolahoi has been receded from 11km2 to 8.4km2 over past three decades. Moreover, 459 glaciers in Indus basin stretched over 1414km2 have been retreated to 990km2 by 2016. This depletion of glaciers may put millions of lives to extinction.

Climate change is affecting monsoon patterns and increasing precipitation. Increased precipitation causes less rainfall and more flooding. India’s 90% water supply is dependent on rainfall. So, it may be in the common interest of both India and Pakistan to start a joint regulatory body under Article VII to observe climate changes and make sure the disposal of industrial waste, plastic bags and garbage on waste points.

The watershed area has suffered massive deforestation on both sides of Kashmir, leading to a decrease in annual water yield. Judicious utilization of Article IX allows two countries to maintain checks and balances on the shared aquifer. Indus enters into Pakistan from IHK and industrial waste is worsening the health of Pakistan’s population.

Clearly, the Pakistan-India water crisis is not only politicized but it is also internationalized; it may be in vital interest of Pakistan to make use of emerging international water and environmental laws to protect its rights under Indus basin. A versatile multi-pronged strategy needs to be adopted in this regard. The implementation review of the Dhaka Declaration and the SAARC action plan on climate change and ensuring its timely execution under Article IX is a panacea to environmental degradation. Moreover, an inter-governmental expert group may be authorized to develop clear policy on climate change, related socio-economic and environmental challenges, conservation of mountain ecology and observing monsoon patterns to assess vulnerability to climate change and environmental degradation. Article IX may broaden treaty scope by including all these modifications in its constitutional fabric.

Including other basin sharing countries, Afghanistan and China are also a part of the potential cohort of partners which can help us make the move towards equitable sharing. Specifically, China’s inclusion may help to address asymmetry between Pakistan and India and pave the way towards a more holistic agreement on Indus Waters.

The author, Muhammad Amir Shehzad, is currently working as a Research Assistant at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs.

Note: On May 17, 2010, Pakistan instituted arbitral proceedings against India under Paragraph 2(b) of Annexure G to the Indus Waters Treaty 1960. This is known as the Indus Waters Kishenganga Arbitration (Pakistan v. India) in which the Court of Arbitration composed of seven members decided that:

Having considered the Parties’ submissions, the Court of Arbitration unanimously decided:

1. In the operation of the Kishenganga Hydro-Electric ProjectKishenganga Hydro-Electric Project KHEP:

(1) Subject to paragraph (2) below, India shall release a minimum flow of 9 cumecs into the Kishenganga/Neelum River below the KHEP at all times at which the daily average flow in the Kishenganga/Neelum River immediately upstream of the KHEP meets or exceeds 9 cumecs.

(2) At any time at which the daily average flow in the Kishenganga/Neelum River immediately upstream of the KHEP is less than 9 cumecs, India shall release 100 percent of the daily average flow immediately upstream of the KHEP into the Kishenganga/Neelum River below the KHEP.

2. Beginning 7 years after the diversion of water from the Kishenganga/Neelum River for power generation by the KHEP, either Party may seek reconsideration of the minimum flow in paragraph (A) above through the Permanent Indus Commission and the mechanisms of the Treaty.

3. This Final Award imposes no further restrictions on the operation of the KHEP, which remains subject to the provisions of the Treaty as interpreted in this Final Award and in the Court’s Partial Award.

4. Each Party shall bear its own costs. The costs of the Court will be shared equally by the Parties.


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Filed under Afghanistan, Climate Change, Courts, Discussion, Energy, India, Pakistan Horizon, Politics, Water

One response to “The Indus Waters Treaty and the Need to Broaden its Scope to Mitigate Climate Change and Global Warming

  1. Pingback: Reportage on PIIA’s Peace in South Asia Conference 2017 | Pakistan Horizon

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