India is stealing water of life, says Pakistan

Thousands of Punjab farmers suffer as river Chenab runs dry

Crucial, coveted and increasingly scarce, water has become the latest issue to stoke tensions between India and Pakistan, with farmers in Pakistan's breadbasket accusing Delhi of reducing one of the subcontinent's most important rivers to little more than a trickle.

A group of more than 20 different UN bodies warned earlier this month that the world may be perilously close to its first water war. "Water is linked to the crises of climate change, energy and food supplies and prices, and troubled financial markets," said the report. "Unless their links with water are addressed and water crises around the world are resolved, these other crises may intensify and local water crises may worsen, converging into a global water crisis and leading to political insecurity and conflict at various levels."

The crisis in the agricultural heartland of Pakistan relates to the Chenab, one of a series of waterways that bisect the Punjab, which means 'five rivers'. The Chenab is fed with glacial meltwaters from the Himalayas and for centuries has provided crucial irrigation for the region. But last summer farmers began to notice the levels of both the river and groundwater begin to fall.

Pakistan blames India, saying it is withholding millions of cubic feet of water upstream on the Chenab in Indian-administered Kashmir and storing it in the massive Baglihar dam in order to produce hydro-electricity. Its Indian neighbour, Pakistan declares, is in breach of a 1960 treaty designed to administer water use in the region. After initial talks to try and resolve the issue, the matter has been put on hold since the Mumbai attacks last November in which 165 people were killed, fuelling tensions between the two quarrelsome neighbours.

Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari warned: "The water crisis in Pakistan is directly linked to relations with India. Resolution could prevent an environmental catastrophe in South Asia, but failure to do so could fuel the fires of discontent that lead to extremism and terrorism."

The farmers who make their livelihoods along the banks of the Chenab are quick to blame India for their misery. When Mohammed Babar and other villagers close to the town of Wazirabad sunk a well several years ago, they discovered water just 50ft beneath the surface; now the water table lies at around 100ft down. "To irrigate our crops it used to cost about 200 rupees (£2.71) worth of diesel," said Mr Babar, standing amid fields lush with rice and winter wheat. "Now it costs 250 or 300."

From where Mr Babar and his neighbours live, it is just a few hundred yards to the Chenab. Once a strong-flowing river, it is now a slow-flowing trickle. Locals say the river once came up close to the top of the road bridge but now it dribbles past, metres below.

Abdul Hamid and his family make their living cutting reeds for thatching on the east bank of the river. They have watched the level of the water fall, and with it, the supply reeds from which they make their living.

"There has been a big difference. It doesn't even look like a river anymore, it looks like a puddle," said 40-year-old Mr Hamid, who has eight children. "When there is no water, there are no reeds and then no money. My whole family works doing this. We used to earn 500 rupees a day. But now it's down to 300 because there are less reeds." Asked why the Chenab had fallen, Mr Hamid had a ready answer: "It has been cut off by India."

The Chenab is one of five main rivers that pass through the Punjab, all ultimately joining the Indus, which reaches the sea south of Karachi. The 1960 Indus Water Treaty allocated the river waters between Pakistan and India, which is also allowed to make some use of them for power generation. Pakistan complained in 2005 to the World Bankabout the operation of the Baglihar dam. An independent expert upheld some objections, but dismissed others.

Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for President Zardari, said Pakistan was "paying a high price", but India has denied breaching any conditions of the 1960 treaty. Delhi said it had invited Pakistan's water commissioner to visit the dam to see that the Chenab's flow was naturally low.

India's Ministry of External Affairs declined to comment, but an official said: "The entire peace process and discussions we have been having for the past three or four years have been put on pause. It is not the right climate for these talks when we know that there are threats against our safety and security emanating from Pakistan."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world