‘China a concern for South and Central Asia’s water security’

New Delhi, March 7: With China building a “cascade of dams” in the upper reaches of rivers that flow into Central and South Asia and drawing large amounts of water to sustain its economy and people, there is a need to engage the Asian giant at bilateral and multilateral fora on the issue of water that is fast becoming a scarce and contentious commodity, said diplomats and experts here.

Addressing a round table on “Regional Water Security and Riverine Disputes: Issues Common to Central and South Asia” here Thursday, speakers, including ambassadors from Central Asian countries and other domain experts, also said that there is a need for Track II dialogue between civil society activists of countries and for transparency in sharing of hydro information in order to resolve the issues concerning sharing of water.

Leading strategic expert Brahma Chellaney said Central and South Asia share common water security issues. He said China is “happily placed” as it is home to the largest number of trans-border rivers, which all originate from the Tibetan Plateau and the Xinjiang region. Chellaney said China’s “annexation” of Tibetan Plateau and Xinjiang “changed the water discourse” for the people of South and Central Asia.

Chellaney, who is professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research, said China “is an issue of concern in South Asia and Central Asia… China is building a cascade of dams just before the rivers flow out of its territory.”

Ajay Bisaria, joint secretary in the Eurasia division of the external affairs ministry, said that India stands to benefit from the Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project, better known as CASA-1000, a new electricity transmission system to connect the countries of hydropower producing countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ashok Sajjanhar, former ambassador to Kazakhstan, said the Aral Sea from being a lake of plenty with fish, birds and wildlife, has turned into an “ecological disaster” with very high salinity and water level shrunk massively. The Aral Sea is a lake lying between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Sajjanhar said the issue of water distribution and water management between countries sharing water bodies is very crucial.

Rajiv Dogra, former ambassador, said the Central Asian water bodies were once clear blue and pristine, but have shrunk due to overuse.

“A drop of water is a grain of gold”, is the value placed on water in Turkmenistan, said the country’s Ambassador Parakhat Hommadovich Durdyev at the seminar held at the India International Centre and organised by the think tank Society for Policy Studies in collaboration with Asia News Agency.

William Young, Lead Resource, South Asian Water Initiative, World Bank, said the Ganga plains is inhabited by 600 million people, which shows the dependency on the river. He said the World Bank was looking to establish dialogues for the Ganga and Brahmaputra basin river countries.

Sanjoy Hazarika, director of Centre for North East Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, said the run of river dams that China was building on the Brahmaputra removes the fertile silt from the river water when it is released downstream into India, thereby harming agriculture and leading to climate change.

Hazarika also slammed the idea of interlinking of rivers being proposed in India, terming it a disastrous idea.