The global demand for fresh water resources has escalated dramatically over the last few years, especially in light of rapid population growth and widespread urbanization across the globe.
Moreover, as the impacts of climate change and stresses of resource scarcity gain further traction, societies are increasingly hard pressed to find effective and sustainable solutions to their water woes.
Water scarcity has particularly emerged as a highly critical and contentious issue within South Asia, one of the world’s most dynamic regions and home to nearly a quarter of the world population.
China is, overall, an arid country and water security has been regarded as an important national security issue for many years. Building dams, irrigation systems and diversion projects thus is considered vital not just for providing water to its 1.3 billion people, but also for ensuring internal political stability
The subcontinent separated to the north from central Asia by several high mountain ranges – the Karakorum, the Hindukush and the Himalayas- shares a net of major rivers and their tributaries.
Some rivers of Pakistan’s rivers originate in the western mountains, but most of the water flows of South Asia originate from Tibet.
Brahmaputra River rises from its source in western Tibet. Running almost 2,900 kilometers across Tibet, it then makes and unusual turn and heads back west and into India, before turning south through Bangladesh and emerging in the Bay of Bengal.
Indus river originates in the area of Lake Manasarovar in Tibet’s Ngari Prefecture. The river runs immediately west and into the Ladakh District of Kashmir before entering Pakistan from the north.
The river then flows the entire length of Pakistan, emptying out into the Arabian Sea close to the city of Karachi. Around 3,180 kilometers long, this is Pakistan’s longest river.
Sutlej, or Langchan Khambab in Tibetan, carves a very different route into Pakistan before joining its sibling from Ngari, the River Indus, for the last 1,000 kilometers to the sea.
Irrawaddy is the main river of Myanmar, and a source of water for most of the country. It is still unclear as to which side of the border the source of this massive waterway lies, as the area is still in dispute between China and Burma.
Increasing glacial melt in the Tibetan Plateau, combined with changing rainfall patterns across South and South-East Asia, threatens water security for millions of people who rely on the transboundary rivers that originate in Tibet
However, its main feeder, the Dulong Jiang, does originate on the Tibetan Plateau, in the north of Tibet in Chayu County and runs through Yunnan Province before crossing into Myanmar to join with the Irrawaddy not far downstream from the source.
BhoteKosi River means “river from Tibet” is sourced in Tibet in the lower slopes of the famous Mount Shishapangma, is a main river of Nepal. Tributaries of the Ganges – the BhoteKosi River and the Karnali – originate in the far west of Tibet.
Tibet is not only the epicentre of South Asian but of Southeast Asian regional water security. Mekong and Yangtse rivers originate in Tibet as well.
Read more: Can India and Pakistan cooperate on water?
Increasing glacial melt in the Tibetan Plateau, combined with changing rainfall patterns across South and South-East Asia, threatens water security for millions of people who rely on the transboundary rivers that originate in Tibet.
The annual rate of glacial melt in Tibet is currently seven per cent, which could result in the loss of two-thirds of its glaciers by 2050. Water flows in some rivers like the Brahmaputra have increased due to melting glaciers.
River water supply will increase in the short-term but this will only last as long as the glaciers do. Asia cannot rely on increased run-off being a long-lasting phenomenon. Changing rainfall patterns are expected to further exacerbate dwindling freshwater sources.
Building dams, irrigation systems and diversion projects thus is considered vital not just for providing water to its 1.3 billion people, but also for ensuring internal political stability
Climate change, Asia’s rapid urbanisation and population growth rates are placing increased pressure on scarce water resources.
China thus takes a central seat in the management of main water resources of Asia including the subcontinent.
China is, overall, an arid country and water security has been regarded as an important national security issue for many years.
Building dams, irrigation systems and diversion projects thus is considered vital not just for providing water to its 1.3 billion people, but also for ensuring internal political stability.
The arid climate in China’s northern regions has created the need to divert water from the Tibetan Plateau into its northern and western regions.
Read more: Water woes of Pakistan
China has constructed seven dams along the Mekong River in Tibet and 21 more are planned. Almost 60 million people depend upon the river for food and water security in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
Any alteration to its flow could have dire consequences for them, including the creation of environmental refugees and water wars.
Same is Brahmaputra. China also has plans for two more dams along the Tsangpo.
India opposes the construction of dams along the Tsangpo because of the effects it will have on India’s own hydro-power projects.
China’s plans to divert water would damage water flow, agriculture, ecology, lives and the livelihoods of 1.3 billion people downstream in India and Bangladesh.
Ikram Sehgal, author of “Escape from Oblivion”, is a Pakistani defence analyst and security expert. He is a regular contributor of articles in newspapers that include: The News and the Urdu daily Jang. The article was first published in Daily Times and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.