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Sandeep Dogra asked: Could water be a source of future conflict in South & South-East Asia? What could be its ramifications for India?

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  • Uttam Kumar Sinha replies: Water can be a source of dispute both 'within' countries as well as 'between' countries. Dispute cannot be the same as conflict and conflict cannot be the same as war. Water tensions will exist but water war is unlikely. South Asia has large river systems. Prominent are the Indus River in the west and the Ganga-Brahamaputra-Meghna in the east. With population pressures and the need to achieve developmental goals, disputes and grievances arise over the use of and control over the rivers. Structures like dams and barrages create upper-lower riparian tensions that have the potential to lead to conflict.

    Numerous bilateral treaties exist but are also often hostage to the prevailing political animosity. Resource nationalism will increasingly dominate the hydrological contours of South Asia and will largely define regional politics. Many of the existing riparian treaties will come under pressure over the sharing and harnessing of river waters. India’s riparian relation with its neighbours will become progressively testing with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal continuously raising concerns over regulating and sharing of river waters. While South Asia remains a difficult region with high suspicion and mistrust, remarkably water sharing is far more formatted with institutional mechanisms than any other issue. What probably would be required in the future is a political consensus based on interdisciplinary knowledge involving different stakeholders on how to share the benefits of the rivers. That's the challenge.