Frequent military skirmishes on Himalayas are not necessarily to protect the source of their rivers. Instead, it is to protect the image and perhaps to serve the egos of top military brass
No one can deny that the adequate supply of good quality water is the key to ensure steady economic growth and to maintain good quality of life for the people. The health of national and global economies, social well being and prosperity of every individual human being and all rural and urban communities are inseparably linked to the reliable availability of clean water.Most notably, some sectors of economy such as energy, transport, agriculture, forestry, mining, manufacturing, construction, tourism etc. are all heavily dependent upon the affordable supply of water. In the age of internet-based global economy and overcrowded world, water has become even more precious and scarce commodity.
Consequently, no effective economic and/or social development policy and associated plans, programs and activities can be developed or implemented properly without ensuring a constant supply of good quality of water.
Undoubtedly, an effective implementation of a properly formulated natural resource management policy with key emphasis on its water, results in very positive impact on all other policies including foreign and defence policies.
Needless to say that managing any natural resource in a sustainable fashion is a very complex and difficult exercise. I do not claim to be fully qualified to cover all aspects of such a vast and complex subject. Moreover, it is not even possible to do so in one brief article.
However, based on my working experiences in the Canadian ministries of Health and Environment and also having spent a few years as a scientific staff member in the IJC [International Joint Commission of Canada] Secretariat, I have encountered some of the major difficulties every government faces in developing and implementing appropriate policies, plans and activities for managing water resources in a sustainable and publicly acceptable fashion.
- Uneven distribution of major water resources around the globe;
- Generally speaking, watershed of a major water body such as a large lake or a river and its various tributaries, often covers different jurisdictions within a country or even territory of different countries;
- unpredictable climate changes and weather patterns and resultant precipitation necessary for seasonal replenishments of streams, rivers, lakes and the ground water reservoirs;
- need for huge financial resources, skilled manpower and modern technology for bringing the water to where it is needed.
- distribution of legal authorities and responsibility among various local, state/provincial and central governments/jurisdictions for managing, distributing, conserving and recycling water.
- the lack of adequate investments for producing adequately qualified professionals and allocating necessary funds to regulatory agencies for doing regular monitoring to control pollution of water bodies and thus ensure their long term ecological health and integrity; It is also a fact that instead of developing and implementing cooperative and conciliatory approaches, some governments for political or some other reasons, often prefer confrontational and even go to wars for settling water disputes.
These historical facts led Mark Twain, to say: “Whisky is for drinking: water is for fighting”.
Recognizing the importance of water for the socio-economic progress of their people, the visionary leaders of the United States and Canada signed in 1905 Boundary Waters Treaty between their two neighbourly nations. Under this treaty, the two countries agreed to work closely and cooperatively for protecting and preserving the ecological health and integrity of all watersheds which exist along their borders and the rivers which flow across the US-Canada border.
The two countries also established an independent body called the International Joint Commission of Canada (IJC) for facilitating the proper implementation of various provisions of the treaty.
Because of their historical and unwavering commitment to protect and preserve their natural heritage especially vast water resources, the people of Canada have been enjoying an unmatched economic prosperity, an enviable high quality of life and peace at home and also with their powerful neighbour.There has been growing awareness around the globe that large watershed such as those of rivers Nile in Africa, Rhine or Danube in Europe and Amazon in South America etc need multinational cooperation and coordination for protecting and sharing these resources for mutual benefits and for peaceful co-existence.
Pakistan and India also signed Indus Water Treaty in 1960 and established an ‘Indus Water Commission’ for facilitating various provisions of this treaty which seems a similar step as the creation of IJC by the US and Canada.
Having left my homeland, Pakistan more than half a century ago, I am not very familiar with the work of Indus Water Commission. However, having had the privilege of working at the IJC Secretariat for few years, I have some knowledge of the IJC’s mandate and the nature and associated benefits of its work.
Needless to say that the relevance and effectiveness of any cooperative arrangements depends heavily on the nature of political relations and level of mutual trust among the signatories of such treaties and agreements.For instance, Canada and the United States are best of friends and have remained very close military, political and economic allies. Consequently, all levels of government in each country, local, state, provincial and the two federal governments and their respective institutions and employees, work closely, cooperatively and diligently on daily basis in order to fully implement the letter and also the spirit of all provisions of the Boundary Waters Treaty.
On the other hand, India and Pakistan have been and continue to be at a ‘state of war’ since their appearance on the world map as independent states. Consequently, each side looks at every initiative through the prism of ‘national security’ and/or though the binoculars of military and security establishments.
It is fair to say that frequent military skirmishes on the inhospitable glaciers of Himalayas are not necessarily to protect the source of their rivers which provide life sustaining water and food for the people living down stream along the banks and fertile valleys of these water bodies. Instead, it is to protect the image and perhaps to serve the egos of top military brass and may be to hold on to few meters of ‘national territory’.
Most definitely, these are extremely dangerous and poor choices. Such actions often result in tremendous loss of precious human lives, destruction of natural environment but have no tangible benefits to people living on both sides of the border.
|Dr. M. Husain Sadar is a Canadian of Pakistani ancestry. He lives with his Family in Canada’s national capital city, Ottawa.|