Water is an essential resource without which life is impossible. The major civilizations of the world were established around rivers so access to water would be perpetually assured. But even though the world had moved forward in controlling and limiting access to energy driving resources such as coal and oil, water has not received as much regulation. In case of riparian disputes, the upper basin state naturally has an upper hand and it uses it to its advantage. International disputes are not uncommon but inter-state disputes are also a challenge to any country’s federal structure.
The judicious use of water is what future plans and policies must aim at; for at present perhaps water is the most taken for granted resource. What is perhaps absurd is that water which in spite of being recognised as a precious resource is given away for throwaway prices and wastage of water is also not uncommon. To change attitudes and create a culture of conservation and recycling would be the first step towards ensuring water security. Differential pricing of water and periodic review of tariff is also a mandate in the National Water Policy, “Pricing of water should ensure its efficient use and reward conservation.”2
Many countries such as India are already water stressed and in future can become water scarce.
Unlike oil where the majority use is by a country’s armed forces (true for any nation), water is used by all sections alike. Therefore, its regulation by a select elite triggers competition and in extreme cases, instances of armed conflict.
As per the website of Ministry of Water Resources, India, following are the current water disputes in India-
Ravi and Beas, Cauvery, Vansadhra, Mandovi and Krishna 1
In India, we have the Inter Water Disputes Act of 1956 which provides for the establishment of a Tribunal in case of a dispute between states.
Some major international water disputes are-
- Indus (India and Pakistan)
- Jordan (Israel and Jordan)
- Tigris Euphrates (Iraq, Turkey and Syria)
- Nile (Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt)
- Ganga (India and Bangladesh)
- Mahakali (India and Nepal)
- Mekong (China, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam)
- Teesta (India and Bangladesh)
What is perhaps undermined and not utilised to full advantage is the role of third parties in mediation of water disputes. Any particular party with interests in water resources and belonging to one side will always view the dispute through its narrow lens and therefore, the appointment of a neutral third umpire is of essence and very often the only option in solving potential water conflicts. This is of greater relevance in case of international water disputes.