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
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
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

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?