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Connecting the Drops – An Indus River Basin Roadmap

Indus.A2002274.0610.1kmThe Stimson Center, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDIP) and the Observer Researcher Foundation have just released “Connecting the Drops: An Indus Basin Roadmap for Cross-Border Water Research, Data Sharing, and Policy Coordination.” This is the product of six months of dialogue and collaboration between an Indus Basin Working Group, comprised of twenty-five analysts and practitioners who sought to identify critical knowledge gaps, prioritize research questions, and formulate practical approaches for meeting needs.

The Indus River Basin is an important geography. According to the report:

It supplies the needs of about 300 million people and nourishes the breadbaskets of the subcontinent, watering fields in India and Pakistan that constitute the most intensely irrigated area on Earth.”

Some additional numbers gleaned from the roadmap’s introduction are striking, and worth noting:

  • The Indus River Basin is spread between several countries: 47% in Pakistan, 39% in India, 8% in China and 6% in Afghanistan.
  • The Indus River Basin makes up 65% of the total area of Pakistan, 14% of India, 11% of Afghanistan and 1% of China.
  • Agriculture accounts for 93% of the total water withdrawn from the river while industrial and domestic water demands account for 7%.
  • Pakistan abstracts three quarters of the river’s flow to provide 95% of the country’s irrigation needs. Farming in Pakistan employs 40% of total labor force and generated 22% of its GDP.
  • India generates a quarter of its grain production from the Indus river, and in total agriculture, comprises 17% of GDP and occupies 55% of the economically active population.

These numbers clearly paint the surface of a very complex system of shared waters that are already severely stressed, notwithstanding the effects of climate change.

In this context, the report offers a long list of detailed recommendations, which range from improved agricultural water-use efficiency, to deepening knowledge of glacial melt trends (a critical question given the Indus River Basin’s dependence on glacial waters).

The authors make the case that cooperation between the nations sharing the basin are in their best interest, and could be critical for mitigating security risks. According to David Michel, the lead researcher on the report from the Stimson Center:

Indian-Pakistani cooperation will result in more effective management of the basin’s water resources than confrontation between the two nations

Though the future of the region is uncertain, with likely increases in demand for the river’s waters, and growing climatic change risks to water security, this roadmap makes important strides towards asking the right questions, and highlighting opportunities for cooperation in the region.

Read the full report here.

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