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Overcoming Scarcity? On the Political Economy of Water in South Asia


· Wolfgang-Peter Zingel South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University (Heidelberg, Germany)


07/27 | 11:00-11:20 UTC+2/CEST


South Asia, especially its western part, is facing an increasing scarcity, with water availability already less than 1,000 m3 per head and year. Conflicts over water are increasing on all levels, threatening not only the fragile peace between SA’s major countries, but also the coherence of these countries. Any attempt of governments to increase water supply give reason to political agitation on territorial and ethnic lines. This not only concerns quantity, quality, seasonality and the use of water’s kinetic power but also the amount of water still held by aquifers. It is a matter of sustainability of flows and stocks. It is also a matter of politics in times of increasing chauvinism across the political spectrum.

Although water distribution is not a exactly a zero sum game, with increasing population numbers and wants the availability per person is going down, affecting all uses. Whereas international agreements like the Indus Water Treaty concentrate on the distribution of trans-border flows, the amount of water crossing borders and arriving downstream is becoming less at an alarming rate. A reason often overlooked is the fact that agricultural market and price policy has been counter-productive, as farmers are allowed, if not encouraged, to grow water hungry plants at locations with high potential evapotranspiration, often with antiquated irrigation techniques. On top of it, governments have been using irrigation projects to award land to favourite groups and thus change demography and, thus, aggravating social and political tensions.

The paper will analyse claims on water, government policies, the ongoing discussion in SA and choices for policy makers.