The current banter over the Indus Water Treaty, stressing Indo-Pak relations has presented itself as a major reality check. It has been renowned as a largely successful treaty in the international arena, even at times of war. Yet, current threats emanating from the Indian side to review the treaty or reconsider India’s position should not come as a surprise. This was bound to happen despite being clouded under the Kashmir issue. Conflict over water has always characterised politics through history. Where now does the Subcontinent stand on the waterfront?

Water is the next ‘oil’ – the resource countries will go to war for. In the case of India-Pakistan, though India has the larger population, according to World Resources Institute estimates, between 1998 and 2050 India’s population will increase by 57.1% whereas Pakistan’s population will grow by 141.8%. For the entire subcontinent that’s a 68.2% increase in population. In 1951, for a 34 million population, per capita water availability was 5250 cubic meters within Pakistan. Today this has dropped to 1032 cubic meters per capita, and is projected to drop to 769 cubic meters per capita by 2050. The coming conflict will not be over politics, it will be out of desperation.

Global warming is going to hit hardest on the global South, and the horrific floods of 2010, 14 and 15 in Pakistan are testament to this. Such catastrophic floods have not occurred in the country’s history. These have destroyed crops, increased water-logging, killed both people and cattle and begun the onset of disease. Yet there has been no research nor development to harvest this fresh water for the benefit of the people; especially should conflict occur.

Human induced climate change is seriously affecting the patterns of hydraulic cycles. Bangladesh is already sinking due to rising sea levels, inundating their fresh water with sea water; it is frightening to imagine the looming threat of dissension. The three major systems of Asia include the Indus, Euphrates and Jordan. All lands of immense history, ethnicities, and culture; all lands with laudable military power; with a history of disputes and agreements over water sources; all areas torn with terrorism and civil war. What will they do when in drought?

70% of the world’s water is in the oceans, only consumable if our current desalination technology were to become cheaper and easier to build. There is only 3% of available freshwater, of which two thirds is locked in glaciers and the rest is stored in underground aquifers. Thus only 1% of actual freshwater is left. This 1% usually comes in the form of rain or snow, of which another two thirds is lost to evaporation or transpiration. The remaining water is run off that pours into streams and rivers that then pours into the oceans. Half of this is lost to seasonal flooding, and some goes into remote inaccessible areas. 70% of the water finally left for human consumption is diverted only for agricultural purposes.

A 2006, a study pointed out that 28 m3 per second of untreated waste water is dumped into Ravi and it is estimated this will increase to 35 m3 per second by 2017 from Lahore alone. Waste water includes, industrial, municipal and agricultural waste. When dumped into our main water bodies, its seeps through the soil, contaminating our already depleted underground aquifers. It also poisons the soil, leaving little room for agriculture and the growth of vegetation. Deforestation further stresses this issue when local trees do not exist to keep the integrity of the soil, keep water-logging in check and continue the process of transpiration necessary for rainfall that keeps our lakes and rivers full.

Pakistan relies heavily on underground fossil reservoirs called aquifers for irrigation. In Punjab alone, 60% of the water used for irrigation is from underground water. According to the Punjab Irrigation department, during 2013-14 some 1175,073 tube wells existed in the country. The continued increase in number of tube wells has lowered our ground water tables exponentially. What was once extracted at 20-30 feet, now has to be pumped from 800 feet. Once these reserves have been fully tapped they will not fill up again for thousands of years. India has done very much the same, which means both countries have an over-reliance now on the Indus system. If India, as an upper riparian state, were to block our flows from Chenab and Jhelum we currently have consumed the water we could have fallen back on.

Water and beverage bottler multinational corporations such as Nestle and Coke are mindlessly extracting water outside of their resident countries.

In Pakistan the energy crisis is a constant and the public doesn’t seem to realise the water-energy nexus. 56% of Pakistan’s energy is reliant through fossil fuel combustion. That means, electricity is made through water that is converted into steam by burning oil and natural gas, and the consequent heat and steam turn the turbines that then generate electricity. It takes electricity to pump water into the commercial and household sectors, and it takes water to cool the generators that make electricity, from overheating.

Kashmir then, becomes an important piece of the puzzle. After it passes through China, the Indus pulsates through Kashmir. The rivers Jhelum, Chenab and Ravi begin in this area as well. The tumultuous region looks to remain this way for the future as the water crisis worsens. Whichever country gains control over the region will gain upper riparian rights. Yet, our Indus basin is shared not only with India, but with Afghanistan, China, Tibet and Kashmir. The basin has been listed in a study on ‘Basins at risk’ as one already at great risk for conflict.

Greater effort towards peace building with nations sharing the resources must be made, and a sense of trust must be garnered. The privatisation of water needs to be completely done away with. Waste water treatment and municipal waste treatment is the next major move. Treatment plants have to be publicly controlled to ensure no discrepancies. Disputes and violence must be avoided at all costs.