LAHORE, PAKISTAN – A group of regional leaders including eminent diplomats, scholars, government officials, and environmental advocates called on India and Pakistan broaden and take forward the work of  the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) during the Rights of Rivers Seminar at the PC Hotel Lahore on March 24, 2013.

The treaty, signed in 1960, negotiated water resource disputes between India and Pakistan over the Indus River and ensured that citizens of both countries would have access to water resources even in times of conflict.

Since the agreement, however, new issues have cropped up that require further cooperation and regulation between the two nations, especially disputes over the management of the Ravi River across the India-Pakistan border and cleaning up pollution that resulted from the mishandling of sewage and waste.

“I urge leaders to treat water as a collective resource for the improvement of the entire region,” said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. He also noted the report of the September 2012 Lahore meeting of the India-Pakistan Track II on water cooperation had recognized that the original IWT included many grey areas still open to dispute, such as the minimum flow of the eastern rivers in the Indus River System, and fails to address for more recent problems related to climate change, diminishing water levels in ground aquifers, flooding, and disaster management.

 Former foreign secretary and ambassador to the United Kingdom Shaharyar Khan also weighed in on the treaty, noting that while the deal was a fair compromise at the time of agreement, mismanagement of the western river resources by Pakistan has generated new problems for the region. Ambassador Khan stressed the importance of bilateral negotiation of these disputes for the betterment of the region, and named several key points of discussion for better managing river resources, including a more significant role for the Kashmiri people in the debate over sharing resources, China’s role in managing resources in the river basin, and the adoption of modern technology and increased data sharing.  

Advocate Ahmed Rafay Alam presented on the public health risks posed by pollution of the Ravi River, noting that the government of Pakistan spends three percent of GDP on health care but takes no measures to address the high level of toxic waste in the Ravi, a major vector for disease in South Punjab. Mr. Alam also stressed that the rivers must be treated as legal entities and allocated certain rights, most notably the rights to life and flow.

Nausheen Fazal, deputy director of the Punjab Irrigation and Drainage Department also presented on rising levels of pollution and diminishing water levels in the Ravi. The Ravi, she noted, has become a “sludge carrier” that is toxic to the river’s ecosystem, especially local wildlife and fauna. Ms. Fazal blamed the lack of industrial regulation along the river, citing that ninety-nine percent of industrial and municipal waste deposited in the river is untreated.

This seminar was co-sponsored by Madadgar Trust for Research and Development and the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center as part of its India-Pakistan Water Cooperation Project.  It was supported by the Ploughshares Fund.

For more information, please contact Atlantic Council South Asia Center Director Shuja Nawaz at 202.778.4983.