Unpredictable tensions between India and Pakistan amidst climate change, global warming, population growth and depletion of natural resources may result in an all-out war. Experts at the UN estimate that the above-mentioned factors could lead to a war between India and Pakistan in the near future.

Pakistan India
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Considering the fact that the two nations are nuclear-powered countries, their military confrontation could become a global disaster.

The Indus River, which flows through the Ladakh district of Jammu and the disputed Kashmir region, is at the center of attention. The Indus River and all other rivers in South Asia are the worst-affected from climate change. Climate change brings droughts and chronic water scarcity, and India is the first in line to feel the catastrophic consequences. Today India is already suffering from a water crisis. If it continues at this rate, the lack of access to drinking water from the Indus River will inevitably lead to a war between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan threatens India war over Indus Water Treaty

On Sept. 26, India suspended the Indus Water Commission meeting and declared that it wants to review the Indus Water Treaty. The treaty gives India the right to control the three eastern rivers, while Pakistan is allowed to control the three western rivers, including the Indus. As soon as India said it wanted to review and possibly walk away from the treaty, Pakistani leaders warned that such attempts would be deemed an act of war.

The Indus Water Treaty was signed in 1960 and emerged from Islamabad’s fears that New Delhi might shut off access to the Indus River.

Can cooperation prevent a global disaster?

The hostilities between India and Pakistan can be directly linked to rising water demands and gradual depletion of water resources in the Indus River.The lives of at least 300 million people depend on water from the Indus River, according to a new book from the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

In the book, titled Imagining Industan, 14 contributing experts urge the three nuclear-powered countries that share the Indus River basin – India, Pakistan and China – in addition to Afghanistan to prevent a global conflict. The UN experts point out a number of steps they believe the four riparian nations should take:

  • Start cooperation by sharing data on water supply, hydropower and studies on climate change;
  • Gradually raise the level of trust among the four countries;
  • India, Pakistan, China and Afghanistan must immediately launch basin-wide cooperative management of the Indus basin;
  • Cooperation must go within the existing legal and regional frameworks;
  • Follow the Indus Water Treaty as planned and achieve a more resilient future for the basin;
  • Consider the Indus basin’s geography, geopolitical interests and securitization of water;
  • Explore potential new impacts of climate change.

Indus River is a time bomb

Basically, the Indus River is a water time bomb which can explode at any second if India and Pakistan don’t cooperate on the issue. Any military confrontation in the region would inevitably lead to an even more extreme water scarcity and trigger irreparable climate changes.

The ever-rising water demand has led to pollution, water scarcity, shortages and worsened relations between India and Pakistan. Such factors as rapid population and economic growth have also been making matters worse. The nature of the growing tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi increases the difficulty to start cooperation on water issues between the two nations. Therefore, any amicable solutions are almost impossible at this point.

However, the UN experts still hope the nations will find peace for the sake of their own futures. But the longer Islamabad and New Delhi wait, the more difficult it’ll be to prevent the water catastrophe. It also doesn’t help that climate change only worsens by the day. Also China and Afghanistan seem to be rapidly gravitating toward the Indus River for their own benefit. That means we could end up having a four-nation conflict instead of the current two-nation one.

India and Pakistan suffering equally bad

Further delay in starting the cooperation among the four countries will only intensify the already-escalated tensions between India and Pakistan.

“The book is an important contribution to creating the awareness of the existing and emerging water-related conflicts in the world, and a loud call for immediate strengthening of transboundary cooperation – to increase both water security and overall regional security,” says Vladimir Smakhtin, director of UNU-INWEH.

The rising water demand and further depletion of water resources will inevitably result in economic distress and internal political instability. Pakistan and India are both prone to being damaged. For example, Pakistan withdraws 183 billion m3 of fresh water per year, which is the fourth highest rate of water use in the world after India, China and the U.S.

Is there hope for peaceful future?

Morgan Stanley researchers recently found that India and China are the most exposed to water scarcity. In China, there is a total of six hydroelectric systems that are exposed to a high risk of water scarcity. The 2030 Water Resource Group found that water demand is expected to exceed water supply by a whopping 40% within the next 16 years. That’s if global water use continues at its current rate and no efficient measures are adopted.

The Indus basin is one of the world’s worst-affected basins from climate change. That means the basin is prone to droughts, chaotic monsoon rains, flooding, sudden sea level rises, desertification and other disastrous events. But what’s more dangerous is the potential escalation of tensions between countries struggling due to climate change. If India and Pakistan adopt amicable and sustainable measures regarding their shared waters, there is still a chance for a peaceful future.

On the other hand, if Islamabad and New Delhi continue ripping each other’s throats, the consequences would be catastrophic for Earth. Any tension between nuclear-powered nations is bad news, but if this tension is fueled by a lack of freshwater resources and the inability to feed their people, countries are prepared to start wars. That’s what history tells us.