A grand water helpline

the timing, and background, of the recently concluded 3rd World Water Forum in Japan ensured that water be seen through the lens of conflict. Most debates centred around 'privatisation of water' and large infrastructural developments in water management. Not unnaturally, the effect of large scale intervention in a river basin became an agenda

 
Published: Tuesday 15 April 2003

-- the timing, and background, of the recently concluded 3rd World Water Forum in Japan ensured that water be seen through the lens of conflict. Most debates centred around 'privatisation of water' and large infrastructural developments in water management. Not unnaturally, the effect of large scale intervention in a river basin became an agenda.

A new facility has been announced to resolve freshwater disputes. Reportedly called the Water Co-operation facility, it is a unesco, Paris, initiative along with the World Water Council and the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. It will help nations share the national resource 'peacefully'. Earlier, an attempt was made by the un Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses in 1997. So far, it has been signed by a mere 16 countries and ratified by 9. National interests override all senses of international cooperation when it comes to rivers. Since, currently, there are 261 international river basins shared by 145 countries, disputes are growing. But international role in conflict resolution has been avoided.

Now, the worrying trends of unilateral project-based intervention in a river basin shared by more than one nation in the absence of any cooperative regime is back on the agenda. Sure enough, India's river-interlinking fantasies were talked about. India should worry. A study published by Greencross, called National Sovereignty and International Watercourses attempts to mark future conflict zones. Out of the possible 17 conflict-ridden basins in the future, one is shared by India. The Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin is shared by China, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar. The stand-off between India and Bangladesh over Ganga water is not unknown to the international community. But India does not like the internationalisation of such issues. Like the us, we insist on 'bilateral' negotiation in the region. But interlinking of rivers is too large a project to go unnoticed, and bound to create havoc for those share the rivers downstream. Thanks to our techno-savvy leadership, we are on our way to internationalising the issue of water sharing.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected to provide legal advise and a neutral forum to peacefully solve any complaint. Is it just another forum we should not take seriously? Just wait and see, a lot of fingers are waiting for that phone number in Paris! Interlinking of rivers is now set to be internationalised, thanks to the government in power.

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