Trouble over water

Trouble over water

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Flood water is discharged from the Three Gorges Dam, a hydropower project on the Yangtze River.
Flood water is discharged from the Three Gorges Dam, a hydropower project on the Yangtze River.
Photo: Xinhua
The Himalayas is home to red foxes, brown bears, snow leopards and red pandas. It also has plenty of water sources, which have placed the famous mountain range at the centre of a dispute between China and India.

The mainland needs huge amounts of water for its industrial and agricultural sectors. The country controls 7 per cent of the world's fresh water, but it is still facing shortages.

Scarcity is an even greater problem in India: it has just 3 per cent of the world's fresh water while its population is similar in size to China's.

The mainland is on top of the problem - literally. It controls the source of mighty rivers like the Mekong, Brahmaputra, Yangtze and the Yellow River. As a manufacturing superpower, it depends on the rushing torrents to generate electricity. China is "the most dammed country", with more than 22,000 dams producing electricity for the energy-thirsty economy.

India is in a rather unfavourable position. The country's leaders are worried that China's dams might worsen India's situation by altering the flow of water downstream.

But the issue is not so black-and-white. Chinese pundits claim that the mainland's dams will benefit neighbouring countries by reducing the likelihood of floods and providing a more efficient way to share water and electricity. Wang Dehua, a South Asia specialist at the Shanghai Institute of International studies, asserts that India's worries are "exaggerated propaganda".

The latest participant in the blame-game is Bangladesh. Its government scientists stated that even a 10 per cent reduction in water could cause large portions of farmland to become arid. Four-fifths of the nation's 50 million farmers rely on Indian water.

At this point, it seems that India's concerns are exaggerated. The country has yet to provide conclusive evidence that China's hydropower projects do indeed cause adverse effects in India. It would help, however, if Beijing was a bit more transparent with its projects.

In many ways, the fight for water in the region is like a celebrity custody battle.

Both parties fight for their precious treasure until someone loses all their hair over it. In the end, both parties end up losing a bit.

Synergy is always the best option. As former mainland leader Hu Jintao once said: "China has been committed to the independent foreign policy of peace and has developed friendship and co-operation with all countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence".

We should follow that advice in our dealings with India.


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