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Climate Change and the Future of Water Security in South Asia


Water will be one of the critical drivers of peace and stability in South Asia in the second decade of the 21st century. If the first decade of the new millennium was shaped by terrorism, the next two decades (2010-2030) will witness issues around water dominating internal and external policies of countries, especially in South Asia where the fresh water crisis is brewing with great intensity.

It is estimated that by 2030, only 60 per cent of the world’s population will have access to fresh water supplies. This would mean that about 40 per cent of the world population or about 3 billion-people would be without a reliable source of water and most of them would live in impoverished, conflict prone and water-stressed areas like South Asia.

Climate Change and the Future of Water Security in South Asia

So, it is imperative to have a policy formulation and discussion on such a scarce and depleted resource. In light of this, as a part of theThe State of the Environment – #PlanetTalksIMPRI Center for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD) and IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organised a distinguished lecture by Prof Scott Moore on Climate Change and the Future of Water Security in South Asia on 20th September 2021

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The speaker of the session was Prof. Scott Moore, a political scientist whose work focuses on water politics and policy, especially in China and South Asia. The discussants included Dr. Ranjana Roy, a faculty in the Department of Regional Water Studies at the TERI School of Advanced Studies (TERI SAS), New Delhi, India  and Dr. Indira Khurana the vice-chair at Tarun Bharat Sangh, Alwar, and director at Coastal Salinity Prevention Cell. 

Climate Change and the Future of Water Security in South Asia


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Shifting and Shrinking: The World’s Water Resources

Prof. Scott Moore initiated the discussion by emphasizing the impact of climate change in international relations between South Asian nations in these dimensions: Social, Economic and Political. Besides this, he also took the attention on regional effects of climate change and water scarcity and it’s dimensions. 

He focused on shifting and shrinking of the world’s water resources in South Asia countries by presenting a thematic map of how water resources are shifting in the South Asian regions. His analysis of the map followed the regional impact of water shrinkage and shifting. Also, he emphasised on the depletion of groundwater resources in the specific areas of the world map. The depletion of groundwater resources occurs mostly in north east India and Pakistan region. 

Melting of the Third Pole

Groundwater shrinkage refers to the excessive intake of water than the replenishment capacity of the groundwater aquifers. It is overdrawing of groundwater resources. He also presented the warning signs of depletion of water resources in the South Asia region. 

Prof. Scott Moore then continued with the melting of the third pole glaciers as the major fallout of climate change in South Asia region. The great glacial melt has played a major role in melting of the third pole. Then he emphasised the growing risk of GLOFs on glacial melt and thus climate change in the region. He also emphasised on uncertainties that occur due to climate changes. 

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Warning Signs

He then elucidated on the growing tensions in the roof of the world, i.e, India and Bangladesh due to scarcity of water resources. There are also dangerous misconceptions about spatial distribution of rainfall in the region. Then he presented the facts on South Asia relations. Inquisitively, the Indus Treaty was a one sided affair as due to it, Pakistan gets 80% of the water in the 6- river Indus systems. Also, it is the only pact compelling upper riparian states to defer to interests of downstream states. Rethinking the treaty would cause International condemnation and flooding in our cities as countries with water sharing arrangements with India would become uneasy. So, it’s a kind of Pillar under pressure. 

The Politics

Rising tension on the roof of the world

Further, he deliberated on political weaponization of water. The reference of Telangana CM was mentioned. AP government had “taken a vow to destroy farmers in Telangana” (Times of India, 2014). Then, Telangana Irrigation minister also replied in a political way. Also Maharashtra WR Minister points out “our farmers suffering from a severe drought have not been able to get water because of the approach Telangana has taken”. This suggests the political downplay on water resources and the political weaponization plays a key role in relations, not only within the state but outside connected regions as well. The political emphasis has downplayed the goal of the constitution of maintaining integrity and sovereignty. Both aspects are ignored by states and coordination and cooperation have been the downpour. This suggests the overuse of resources and its depletion leads to the instinct of self sufficiency. 

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Dr Indira Khurana

Dr Indira Khurana emphasized the mismanagement of water resources by India and increasing burgeoning climate change. She said that there are a lot of aspects to it like humanitarian etc. This would shrink the resources we are left with. Dr. Indira Khurana emphasised on the need of development in science and technology to leverage climate change. She also expressed her views on mismanagement of groundwater resources and concluded by expressing on how we should look on to manage resources for sustainable development of the nation. 

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Dr. Ranjana Ray Chaudhari

Dr. Ranjana Ray Chaudhari emphasised on getting solutions and a policy on how to replenish the groundwater resources. She also questioned the lack of awareness of how to recharge groundwater resources and conserve. She also stressed that river Krishna doesn’t have water left. There has been a spurred demand in the canal system of this river that it has exhausted Krishna’s water. She highlighted the twin challenges faced by Telangana region in water scarcity and water salinity. Prof. Scott Moore concluded by grasping on the need of having energy resources and energy storage with renewable solar energy as the progressive demand.

Climate Change and the Future of Water Security in South Asia

YouTube Video on Distinguished Lecture | Scott Moore | Climate Change and the Future of Water Security in South Asia

Acknowledgement: Vaibhav Aggarwal is a Research Intern at IMPRI.

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