Water waters are escalating between Pakistan and India. But why, in particular, is the water in Kashmir so important? And what does water stress have to do with us, on the other side of the planet?
Jeff Nesbit, author of “This Is the Way the World Ends”—a book that explains how climate-change-driven conflicts over water are creating global insecurity, driving unprecedented migration, and creating conditions for war and terrorism—explained Thursday in a Vox podcast.
4,000 years ago the Indus River Valley was immensely fertile. But when the climate changed, the civilization started to collapse.
The Indus River starts in Tibet and China, works its way through the Himalayas, then flows down into Pakistan and into India. Right in the crosshairs is the fertile Kashmir region, which is controlled by India but supports the majority of both countries’ food and water needs.
The Indus now is broken into six different rivers, established by treaties—three controlled by India, three controlled by Pakistan. But with climate change provoking long-term drought, both countries are growing desperate for water.
Chennai, India’s city of 11 million, has almost empty water reservoirs due to its severe heat wave and monsoon rains not yet arriving. Over 12% of India’s population—163 million people of 1.3 billion—live under “Day Zero” conditions, with no access to clean water near their home.
As panic escalates, India may abandon its treaty or build dams, just like China is doing at the headwaters of the Indus. If that happens, Pakistan will have no water. They have nowhere else to get it from.
With both countries pushed to the brink, water wars are likely to happen. As Nesbit says, Chennai is “a true cautionary tale right now of what major cities in the world, including Los Angeles, Beijing, and others are up against.”