Why is China’s water security a concern for lower riparian states?

China has already started securing water as an upper riparian country, causing concern to the lower riparian states.

Why is China’s water security a concern for lower riparian states?

By Neeraj Singh Manhas

Water insecurity threatens human well-being and ecosystem health across a range of measures. Almost 4 billion people are projected to live in severely water-stressed basins by 2050, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

China is divided into two roughly equal parts, known as the Heihe-Tengchong line. 94% of the population lives in the east and 6% of it resides in the west because of three main reasons – the climate, geography, resources and culture. Eastern China has flat plains, making it easier to develop, and the primary water resources like the Sichuan basin and the Yellow river feed the city’s needs. However, Western China has the Taklamakan and the Gobi deserts as well as the Tibetan plateau, which makes the place susceptible to very low temperature, as much as -40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winters and the most unbearable 113 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. China’s large and growing population, rapid economic development and poor water resource management make it very vulnerable to the Chinese people. China has already started securing water as an upper riparian country, causing concern to the lower riparian states.

China’s understanding of water security

China thinks of water as its resource, which is very sovereign, something that should not be shared. This approach hurts countries that are further down the chain. China keeps the information about water flows and hydropower work secret. Chinese experts often say that no single drop of China’s water should be shared without China using it first or paying for it. Most of China’s forty rivers that flow into other countries are not covered by international agreements. Also, the Chinese interpretation of water security is a ‘neo-liberal’ point of view. It makes China’s intentions and positions threaten other South Asian states.

India, which is in South Asia, has been brought under the umbrella of river water issues that affect both countries. India needs fresh water to grow crops and meet the challenges of food security, health security, and economic security. India has been working on several multipurpose dam projects on the Indus, Ganga, Brahmaputra, and other tributaries to deal with these problems. But India’s water security is put at risk by the problems caused by the upper riparian states’ dams and irrigation projects that use too much water.

In South Asia, the above-mentioned transboundary river courses have been the subject of a lot of political debate between and within the riparian states. As an upper-riparian state of Bangladesh and Pakistan, India has received a lot of criticism because many dam-related projects have been built on the Ganga, Brahmaputra, Barak and Indus River basins, which affect people’s lives, the environment and food security.

On the other hand, China is on the upper side of the Brahmaputra River, which flows along the border between India and Bangladesh. In this case, China is a serious threat to India’s water security because its dams have caused India and Bangladesh to run out of water.

Considering the problems over the transboundary rivers, India’s national security strategy has made water a vital part. From traditional to non-traditional security problems, India should be aware of this when dealing with river problems with its neighbours.

However, India’s position on its water security system is standard, genuine, inclusive, humble and very respectful when it comes to helping the neighbouring states of South Asia. However, in the 21st century, India’s growing population and a race for resources have shifted it toward a more nationalistic style of government, the rise of non-state actors, the Internet, and other forms of terrorism, threats to a country and its people are coming from many different places. So, securing India’s water becomes the utmost need of the hour.

Water security isn’t just a problem in the water sector. It’s also a significant social, economic, environmental and political issue. To sustainably manage the connections between water, food, energy and climate change, all sectors need to be educated and encouraged to include water in their plans and policies. This is important for social and economic growth and political stability worldwide.

Way Forward

Water and security are closely interdependent and it is time to bring water to the forefront of all debates and discussions about security. Many water scholars have defined water security as a conceptual concept, and each varies in definition. The only problem is that it’s not been appropriately defined, generating both convergence and confusion about the concept and options for measuring and managing water security. Another issue is that there is no proper water security funding and research. Only 600-700 peer-reviewed papers have been published in the last decade aswater has become an increasing threat to nations. Many water- related think-tanks need to be opened in South Asia for collaborating on projects, research and data sharing among each other. In the past the states in South Asia tried to save water and use it cautiously because the future will be worse if attention is not paid.

The author is a Director of Research in the Indo-Pacific Consortium at Raisina House, New Delhi.

 DisclaimerViews expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.

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