Bitter wars for water
Reviewed by Kanwalpreet

Water, Asia’s New Battleground
By Brahma Chellaney. Harper Collins, India. Pages 386. Rs 699

Water, Asia’s New BattlegroundWater has emerged as a key issue that could determine if Asia is headed toward cooperation or competition. The risk of water becoming a trigger for war or diplomatic strong-arming is especially high in Asia...." With these lines, Brahma Chellaney sets the tone of his book which is a joint venture of Harper Collins and the India Today Group.

Water, it seems might trigger a war between countries in the near future for it will become a scarce resource. The author, like many others, agrees that water is "white gold" or "blue gold" of the future, the control of which will give immense powers to the country that has this resource. Chellaney writes passionately about the issue. He is a concerned author who has researched on the subject thoroughly. He squarely blames China, in the Asian continent, for misusing water and hijacking it to cause discomfort to the neighbouring countries.

He criticises the South-North Water Transfer Project of China in which the efforts are to transfer water from the southern part of China (which has more water) to the comparative arid North. China goes against its own ideal of ancient times of "harmony between heaven and humanity". The Communist Party’s efforts have been described by Judith Shapiro as carrying forward Mao’s message that "man must conquer nature" and thus, the Party continues its open war against environment: To bend the physical world to human will. Continuing his argument, Chellaney discusses the case of Tibet throwing light on the Roof of the World, which is the ‘water-tower’ of Asia.

Again, China’s interest in the region is because of the rich natural resources, including water. He discusses China’s callousness that is adversely affecting climatic changes. In short, the author builds up a strong case against China. "China’s voracious appetite for energy is another major dam-building driver."

Besides China and Tibet, he discusses all those regions where water is a bone of contention. So, he discusses the six-day war in 1967 of Israel with its neighbours or the current tension over water between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. He also puts forth the effect of damming of rivers by China on India as well as Bangladesh.

China is trying to create ‘water-shortage’ which would economically bleed the other Asian countries. He talks of a maverick Pakistan which has no plans for its better future but only wants to despoil India. He discusses this crucial topic under "Water, the latest Pakistan-India battle line".

Minutely going into the reasons that cause water shortage, he talks of the growing middle class in the developing countries that wastes water or the growing trend of cultivating paddy.

The author sheds light on Nepal’s peculiar problem of having resources yet not utilising them. "Nepal’s curse has come without exploiting its resources reserves, let alone making exports". He praises Bhutan for aiming for "gross national happiness", by taking measures to preserve its environment. In all the issues in different countries, Chellaney’s focus is water in the different rivers flowing from one country to another. As the river flows through countries its name changes yet the importance of its waters remains the same. Water sustains civilisations and trying to change or halt its waters by an up-stream country would lead to disastrous effects on the countries that lay down-river as he argues, "dams hold back nutrient-rich sediments".

The author sometimes adds humour to an otherwise very serious issue. He talks about Chinese reciting about their own dining preferences: "Eat anything that flies except airplanes; eat anything with legs except the table" or the floods caused in 2000, 2001 and 2005 in Himachal Pradesh by China’s water-works in Tibet that prompted an Indian magazine to coin in the phrase, "Made-in-China floods".

The book is extensively researched. Being a foreign policy matters expert, Brahma Chellaney has not only discussed water’s growing importance to create wars but has also delved on what the future holds for us, especially those in Asia, if all the countries do not step cautiously by co-operating with each other. Chellaney through this book reminds us what Ismail Serageldin warned: "Many of the wars of this (twentieth) century were about oil, but the wars of the next century will be about water". Brahma Chellaney’s effort, knowledge and firm grip over the subject is proved by each thought-provoking line in this book. A very informative, engrossing book recommended to all those who waste water besides the strategists, politicians and planners.