Defining the Geopolitics of a Thirsty WorldSM
Water: Asia’s New Battleground

Two recent reviews of Water: Asia’s New Battleground, a book by Brahma Chellaney.

First, via The Financial Times:

“…In Water: Asia’s New Battleground, Chellaney points out that the rise of an Asian middle class, combined with urbanisation and global warming, is putting an enormous strain on Asia’s supply of water. Taken together, China and India are “home to 37 per cent of the world’s population, but have to make do with 10.8 per cent of the world’s water”. India’s position is particularly vulnerable because so much of its water flows into the country from the Tibetan plateau that lies within the borders of the People’s Republic of China. As Chellaney points out, this is not an issue that concerns India alone: “The big issue in Asia … is whether China will exploit its control of the Tibetan Plateau to increasingly siphon off for its own use the waters of the international rivers that are the lifeblood of the countries located in a contiguous arc from Vietnam to Afghanistan.” The giant dams that China is building on the international rivers flowing out of Tibet are a particular source of anxiety.

Chellaney laments what he regards as India’s folly in recognising Chinese sovereignty (as opposed to de facto control) over Tibet. This, he believes, has gravely damaged India’s ability to mount legal objections to China’s water projects. Under the circumstances, this rather hawkish commentator is left advocating “preventive diplomacy” as the best way of avoiding “water wars” in Asia.

The second, via Amazon, is as follows:

The battles of yesterday were fought over land. Those of today are over energy. But the battles of tomorrow may be over water. Nowhere is that danger greater than in water-distressed Asia. Water stress is set to become Asia’s defining crisis of the twenty-first century, creating obstacles to continued rapid economic growth, stoking interstate tensions over shared resources, exacerbating long-time territorial disputes, and imposing further hardships on the poor. Asia is home to many of the world’s great rivers and lakes, but its huge population and exploding economic and agricultural demand for water make it the most water-scarce continent on a per capita basis. Many of Asia’s water sources cross national boundaries, and as less and less water is available, international tensions will rise. The potential for conflict is further underscored by China’s unrivaled global status as the source of transboundary river flows to the largest number of countries, ranging from India and Vietnam to Russia and Kazakhstan; yet a fast-rising China has declined to enter into water-sharing or cooperative treaties with these states, even as it taps the resources of international rivers. “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” is a pioneering study of Asia’s murky water politics and the relationships between freshwater, peace, and security. In this unique and highly readable book, Brahma Chellaney expertly paints a larger picture of water across Asia, highlights the security implications of resource-linked territorial disputes, and proposes real strategies to avoid conflict and more equitably share Asia’s water resources.


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