Water insecurity anticipates the ample threat to livelihood, economy, development, environment, peace, security, and poverty reduction efforts in South Asia. This study has attempted the analysis of accords, treaties, and water policies in the region to assess the relationship of water security, environmental security, and conflict in a national (Pakistan) and regional (South Asia) context using multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA). Twenty-four technical, economic, social, environmental, and political criteria have been selected to present the relationship logically in terms of obligations of international water laws. The results express various gaps in the selected criteria which were the probable cause of environmental damage, conflicts, and mistrust. Moreover, environmental diplomacy has been endorsed as a tool for dispute settlement due to its non-aggressive and flexible characteristics. Dispute settlement and cooperation on shared water resources can foster sustainable development, poverty reduction, and environmental sustainability.

Water is an irreplaceable, unique, and scarce resource for sustaining life, environmental security, and economic development (Bekchanov, 2014). According to the United Nations, transboundary water resources (surface or groundwater) distribution, located on geographical boundaries of two or more states, are feeding the majority of the population worldwide. There are 276 international river systems, covering 45% of land surface, and 23 basins among them are shared by 4 to 12 countries. It has been estimated that 145 countries share international river basins, with 75% of the population located within international basin systems and 21 countries receive more than 50% freshwater supply from upstream. Furthermore, 1,814,600 bilateral and multilateral agreements are managing international basin systems (De Stefano et al., 2012). Assefa et al. (2019) refer to water security as the capacity of communities to safeguard sustainable access to acceptable quality of water in an adequate quantity for well-being, socio-economic growth, sustaining livelihood, conserving environment, protecting the people from water-borne pollution, considering climate change, and ensuring political stability in the context of the sustainable development goals (SDG 6). The water-scarce areas are habitated by about one-fifth of the global population. It has been projected that more than two-thirds of the population will live in areas with physical or economic water scarcity by 2025 (UN Water, 2007). The four major transboundary Himalayan rivers are sustaining livelihood, food, and irrigating water-stressed South Asia. At the same time, burgeoning population, industrialization, agricultural expansion, climate change, and environmental degradations are enduring adverse impacts on water and environmental security in South Asia (Hassan et al., 2017). Water scarcity is impairing ecosystems by affecting photosynthesis, vegetation activity, biological species evolution, and forest growth, which ultimately reduce carbon sinks and mitigate climate change (Freire-Gonzalez et al., 2017). Water scarcity has also distinct socio-economic and environmental impacts including divesting effects on income, livelihood, domestic requirement, and capital growth of various sectors (energy, agriculture, industry, livestock, and water supply). Meanwhile, water scarcity is considered as a basis for threats to development, environmental and national security, as well as volatilizing local and regional conflicts (Koch & Stivachtis, 2019). The water conflicts between upper and lower riparian zones have commonly existed in South Asia. These conflicts are the source of intra- and interstate concerns and national security issues (Hassan et al., 2017). Hence, conflicts about water resources are likely to affect about eight billion people around the globe, threatening the development, peace, environmental and national security of many countries. However, conflicts are creating opportunities to bring nations closer together through negotiations and cooperation by using neutral tools. In the current scenario, environmental diplomacy (neutral tool) can contribute in a paradigm shift from a nexus of water scarcity and conflicts to environmental security, regional peace, development, livelihood improvement, and poverty reduction. The envisioning of environmental diplomacy and peace-building can spill over into cooperation among regions, presenting a win-win solution and leading to futuristic decision-making. This study has rationalized the relationship of water and environmental security with conflicts and development in South Asia through multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) technique. Twenty-four technical, political, and sustainability criteria have been established to rationalize the nexus of water and environmental security with development. The quantitative analysis of water policies in the region and regional water treaties has been conducted to envisage this relationship logically. Meanwhile, this study has also identified and envisioned conflict management through environmental diplomacy to foster peace, economic growth, and sustainable development.

Water is a communal property (an economic, social, and environmental heritage) belonging to society, a basic human right, maintains the lifestyle of society, contributes to national economy without appearing in national fiscal accounts and sustains the environment (Calvo-Mendieta et al., 2017). The global water extraction was tripled from 1960 to 2010 due to increasing demand. If the same pattern of withdrawal continues, a further 50% upsurge (4,000 km3 to 6,000 km3) is projected by 2100 (Wada & Bierkens, 2014). Water is a scarce resource and branding of every drop of water is worthwhile to obligate water resources management in a sustainable way (Pisaniello & Tingey-Holyoak, 2017). The change in water availability is likely to affect human health, scarcity, development, and the environment (Karabulut et al., 2018). Water availability, demand, and use in South Asia (Figure 1) are attracting the attention of leaders and decision-makers due to the rising regional risk of water crises over the next decade (Grafton, 2017). Water resources vulnerability refers to functional complexities of water resources systems in socioeconomic and environmental contexts (Huang & Cai, 2009). It also measures potential threats and sensitivity of the water resources (Cai et al., 2017). Many regions (Asia, Eastern Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa) and large river basins (Yangtze, Niger, and Indus) are impeded by vulnerability and uncertainty, complicated decision-making, challenging improvements, degrading basins and environment (Greve et al., 2017). Asian water resources are sustained by more than 50,000 glaciers of Hindu-Kush Himalaya (HKH) (Qiu, 2010). However, the climate change has inflicted natural disasters (extreme rainfall and drought), transboundary water issues, conflicts, economic loss, glacier melting, reduction in available water, demographic impacts, social, environmental and water insecurity in South Asia. The vulnerability and environmental insecurity have been triggered in Eastern Brahmaputra (Bangladesh and India), Koshi (Nepal), and Indus (Pakistan) rivers due to climate change (Gerlitz et al., 2017). The low riparian zones (more than 1.3 billion people) are at high risk due to their reliance on river networks for freshwater, agriculture, industry, hydropower, and environmental sustainability (GOP, 2010; Rasul, 2014). The water of many rivers including the Colorado, Murray-Darling, Yellow, Rio Grande, Brahmaputra, and the Indus hardly reach the sea due to the divesting impacts of climate change (Singh, 2017). Many animals and plant species are becoming endangered and face a decline in population due to climate change and increasing water scarcity. According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, 30% of fish stocks and 50% of freshwater of wetlands have decreased in the last century (WWF, 2015). Besides, water is a well-known economic good, and contemporary use of every drop of water should contribute to the economy (Njiraini et al., 2017). The demand and supply balance of water in various sectors (agriculture, industry, commercial, domestic, and environment) is a core component of development, economic growth, water, and environmental security (Hoekstra, 2016). At the same time, a huge quantity of water is lost due to evapotranspiration, inefficient use, and flowing directly into the sea (low storage capacity). Water loss results in billions of dollars of economic damage, water scarcity, and environmental insecurity (Jia et al., 2017). It has affected water availability, use, environmental flow, biodiversity, and ecosystem (Liu et al., 2017). Water scarcity and depletion of water resources in addition to climate change, has thereby enhanced competition among various sectors over natural resources, kindling tension and conflict between upper and lower riparian areas as well as threatened trade, economy, and environmental security (UNDP, 2016; Feitelson & Tubi, 2017). People have recognized water as a commodity for future development and an economic resource in the current era. Climate change and increasing demand have hampered the competition between different users, livelihood, and environment. This increasing competition has led to water exploitation, pressure on resources, water scarcity, and conflict among different water use sectors. The conflicts of diverse nature ranging from immense environmental degradation, socio-economic concerns, right of ownership, and political instability to national insecurity and regional armed conflicts may arise at sub-national, national, and regional level. It has attracted the environmentalists, social scientists, economists, hydrologists, water resources managers, and policymakers as an important criterion for sustainable management of scarce water resources at local, national, regional, and global level. Badran (2017) assimilates water crises with the crises of water management due to inappropriate policies and lack of political will in developing countries. Loucks (2017) stresses how developing countries show and generate political will in policies and action to overcome water crises because many people in these countries are living without an adequate supply of water. Besides political will, Reyers et al. (2017) refer to the use of imperative directions of SDGs to conceptualize sustainable development in policies and decision-making. Woodhouse & Muller (2017) and Kotir et al. (2017) emphasized considering water availability, allocation, navigation, monitoring, storage, and hydropower development for biodiversity conservation, energy security, trophic interaction of the terrestrial food web, hydropower development, water use, supply, distribution, allocation access, economic growth, and ecosystem sustainability. De Stefano et al. (2017) and Ruhl (2017) argued that apportionment must be equitable based on flow variability in order to avoid conflicts. Ge et al. (2017) argued that fair and efficient use of water depends on the allocation of water rights at principal, national, and regional level. Pisaniello & Tingey-Holyoak (2017) suggested storing water in the form of dams for reliability, fairly shared, equitable use in industry, agriculture, environment, domestic, commercial, hydropower development, and reducing the impacts of climate change, particularly in droughts. Pfister et al. (2017) rated water demand and uses very important in water resource policy and planning due to substantial damage to the environment, public health, and economy in case of scarcity. Ruiz-Villaverde & García-Rubio (2017) proposed engaging stakeholder participation for social acceptance, equitable distribution of water resources, improvement in public awareness, better utilization of knowledge, reduced litigation, cover delays, inefficiencies, transparent decision-making, and ownership of each stakeholder. It may be synthesized from the above review of the literature that water scarcity, mismanagement of water resources, inadequate water policies, inefficient legislation, in addition to climate change and enhanced competition among various sectors have kindled tension and conflict at local, national, and regional level which has threatened trade, economy, and environmental security. Therefore, decision-making in water resource management, negotiation, diplomacy, and cooperation are the most important requirements to influence future sustainable development, water, and environmental security. This study has focused on the analysis of water policies in the region, rationalized water security, conflict, and the environmental security nexus. Meanwhile, the study has attempted to conceptualize environmental diplomacy as a tool for conflict management and peace-building.

Fig. 1.

Infographic of water profile of South Asia.

Fig. 1.

Infographic of water profile of South Asia.

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Pakistan and other regional states have their own social, economic, political, and environmental goals related to water resource development, conservation, and management. This study entails the goal to analyze the relationship between water security, environmental security, and development in national and regional contexts. The application of MCDA for water resource policies, treaties, and transboundary water conflict management is evident from various studies (Messner et al., 2006; Ganoulis et al., 2008; Hajkowicz & Higgins, 2008; Ma et al., 2008; Connelly et al., 2016). Hence, MCDA was suggested to analyze national and regional water resource policies, treaties, relationship between water security, environmental security, and development. Safavi et al. (2016) refer to evaluation of economic, social, technical, environmental, and political criteria for balance and fair water resource policy and treaties. These criteria are skillfully dealt with in numerous research studies (Messner et al., 2006; Ganoulis et al., 2008; Hajkowicz & Higgins, 2008; Ma et al., 2008; Bekchanov, 2014; Connelly et al., 2016; Safavi et al., 2016) and United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization-International Hydrological Programme (UNESCO-IDH) water resource policy guidelines (UNESCO, 2014) (Figure 2). A weight was assigned to each criterion for evaluation of relative importance. Each criterion was weighted in terms of significance ranking and existing ranking. The significance ranking refers to how the criterion's consideration is important in the policy or plans, while existing ranking means how much the states have conferred on the criterion in the current policy or plan. Simple multi-attribute rating technique (SMART) was employed to assign weight, rank, and normalize each criterion. The experts from various fields, being representatives of different stakeholders (water resource management, academia, international relations, environmentalists, non-governmental organizations, and government officials), were asked to dispense significance out of 100. They have to assign a minimum rating of at least 10 to considered criterion and increase the ranking with accruing significance (Onu et al., 2017). Additionally, Pearson correlation was applied to results to assess the statistical relationship between significance and consideration of each criterion.

Fig. 2.

Evaluation criteria for analysis of water policies.

Fig. 2.

Evaluation criteria for analysis of water policies.

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Technical criteria

The technical criteria in planning implicitly promote efficiency, equitable allocation, environmental security, and integrated water resource management. It is extended to water availability, allocation, navigation, monitoring, storage, and hydropower development. The experts ascribed exceptional significance ranking to water availability (C1) in national and regional contexts. The results demonstrated that the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) accord of Pakistan (an accord among the provinces on water sharing) undermined water availability but National Water Policies of India and Pakistan were compliant with per capita availability only. However, Bhutan Water Policy (2007), Water Resource Management Policy of Nepal (2009), and National Policy on Protection, Conservation of Water Resources, their Catchments and Reservations in Sri Lanka (2014) have exclusively covered the water availability from all resources including glaciers, rain, rivers, lakes, and groundwater in policy documents. Meanwhile, all regional water treaties did not consider the water availability, which, perhaps affects the implementation of treaties. The inadequate evaluation of water availability might impede development, equitable water access, allocation, and distribution as well as damage the ecosystem, eventuating in social unrest, environmental and water insecurity.

The rivers flow downhill across the provinces and states, offering an opportunity to sustain development and environment. The apportionment (C2) refers to a quantity of water that must flow downhill across lines. The major rivers that emanate from the Himalayas are nurturing crops and livelihoods in water-stressed South Asia across the borders. Therefore, the apportionment must be equitable based on flow variability at national or regional level. International water law (The Helsinki Rules 1966 (Article 4, Chapter 2); Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of the International Watercourses 1997, Article 5, Part II), international environmental law, and international human rights law privilege the equitable water apportionment as a cardinal principle to assure use, benefits, human well-being, and environmental security in all riparian states (ILA, 1967; UN, 2014). The water policies usually do not mandate apportionment, that is the part of accords or treaties between provinces or states. The water treaties explain the mechanism of water apportionment among stakeholders worldwide in two ways, including fixed apportionment and joint mechanism. The fixed apportionment entitles a fixed apportionment of water to riparian states, while joint mechanism stipulates flow variability, multiple social, economic, political, and environmental factors. The first type of mechanism is facing conflicts due to weak interpretation, increasing water demand, climate change, environmental factors, massive expansion in industry and agriculture. However, the second type of mechanism is recommended by the Helsinki Rules 1966 (Article 5, 7, and 29) as well as Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of the International Watercourses 1997 (Article 8, Part II) and has found to be productive in recent decades (ILA, 1967; UN, 2014). The results showed that all water policies in the region had not pondered the equitable water apportionment in perspective policy documents. Meanwhile, water treaties in the region had endorsed water apportionment based on different models. The IRSA accord has been designed on flow variability (C3) and joint mechanism. The results showed that the Treaty of Mahakali and Treaty on Sharing of Ganges Water are also designed on joint mechanism, flow variability, and incorporated environmental factors according to international law. However, the Indus Water Treaty had been commenced on fixed apportionment rather than flow variability. The Indus Water Treaty had depicted a weak interpretation of increasing water demand, climate change, environmental factors, and massive expansion in industry and agriculture. Perhaps, this weak interpretation is a cause of consistent water conflict between India and Pakistan, particularly in the dry season, damaging the ecosystem and threatening environmental security in low riparian zones due to poor justification of the treaty. The experts pointed out that the treaty was designed before the Helsinki Rules 1966 and Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of the International Watercourses 1997, therefore, it might have some poor interpretations of recent challenges. The environmental conditions of low riparian zone might be affected due to variation in the quantity of water, as well as the duration and frequency of the dry season.

Article 12 of the Helsinki Rules 1966 mandated the riparian states to navigate, monitor, and meter the transboundary water to ensure equitable use. Article 7 of international law confines the basin states to not use a reasonable share of each other (ILA, 1967). Moreover, Article 21 (Part IV) of Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of the International Watercourses 1997 stresses monitoring, preventing, reducing and controlling water pollution (UN, 2014). It is worth noting that monitoring and metering (C4) was addressed in the IRSA accord (only metering of river flow) and National Water Policy of Pakistan (water pollution and metering of river flow). The regional water treaties order the monitoring and metering of river flow only to justify the agreed water quantity, but omit the monitoring of water pollution and its control in the jurisdiction of each state. Any adverse activity in upper riparian is likely to damage the environment in low riparian with transboundary water pollution enduring adversely the environmental security of low riparian. However, water policies of all South Asian countries mediated monitoring and metering of river flow and pollution. However, the South Asian countries failed to establish an adequate water governance structure, monitor the pollution, and provide the resources to prevent the pollution which has threatened environmental security.

Hydropower is recognized as a low carbon, cheaper energy resource, and fosters climate change mitigation commitment by the international community and agreements like the Paris Agreement. It clinches an opportunity for energy security, reliability, efficiency, accessibility, environmental protection, and economic development. Consequently, it is a remarkable criterion in water policy and planning because it is a renewable energy source, substitute for fossil fuel, and valuable economically. The experts assigned an outstanding significance ranking to water storage and hydropower development (C5) in both national and regional contexts. The IRSA accord had included the only storage and availed low existing ranking by the experts. Although, the National Water Policy of Pakistan had comprehensively addressed both water storage in dams and hydropower development to foster sustainable growth in the country, the lack of new large dams and low storage capacity is increasing water scarcity, stress, and environmental insecurity in lower riparian provinces of Pakistan as well as fueling the inter-provincial conflict. However, the water policies in the region have assimilated the focus of the National Water Policy of Pakistan on water storage and hydropower development, except for the National Water Policy of Bangladesh which paid comparatively less attention to hydropower. Among the water treaties, the Treaty of Mahakali did not render storage of water but briefly discussed energy transfer between both countries. However, the Treaty on Sharing of Ganges Water and the Indus Water Treaty pondered the mechanism for water storage and hydropower development. Although, Article 7 (not use co-riparian water), Article 8 (construction on international basin) of international law along with Part 2 (not cause harm low riparian) and Part 4 of Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of the International Watercourses provide the mechanism for development (dams and hydropower), information exchange, notification of adverse effects and negotiation. These laws discourage upper riparian zones to undertake development unless informing the lower riparian (ILA, 1967; UN, 2014). Unluckily, South Asia is acknowledged as a region of eminent water conflicts between upper and lower riparian zones. Water disputes on Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (Bangladesh, India, and Nepal), the Indus River (India and Pakistan), and the Kabul River (Afghanistan and Pakistan) have threatened development, peace, water, and environmental security (Uprety & Salman, 2011; Hassan et al., 2017). Interestingly, all regional conflicts are relevant to water storage, rights, and hydropower development. The main reasons are late exchange of information, no prior intimation, violation of technical design, increasing demand, inappropriate interpretation in dry season, water insecurity, demarcation of boundaries without headwater at the time of independence, low storage capacity, unplanned extensive hydropower project on shared basins, and climate change. The most prominent disputed projects include Wullar Barrage (Talbul Navigation Project), Kishanganga Hydroelectric Power Project (Neelum), and Uri-II Hydroelectric Power Project on the Jhelum River, Baghihar Hydroelectric Power Project, Dul Hasti dam, Rattle Hydroelectric Power Project, Bursa, Kiru, Pakdul and Kwar dam on Chenab and Chutak, Nimo Bazgo and Dumkar Hydroelectric Power Project on the Indus (Akhtar, 2010). The Indian actions are violating Article 3 (right on Western Rivers), Article 4 (maintenance of water channels), criteria in Annexure E and Paragraph 8, Annexure D (design, height, reduction in run-off, and gated spillways) of the Indus Water Treaty. The lack of cooperation on these projects eventuated in loss of billions of rupees as well as drastic reduction in Western Rivers flow. Further consequences are water stress, insecurity, ecosystem and environmental damage in low riparian zones. The environmental insecurity might have an intimidating effect on agriculture, economic activities, development and livelihood of people.

Tables 13 impart the Pearson correlation between significance ranking and existing ranking of selected technical criteria in both national and regional contexts. Figures 3 and 4 depict technical criteria in the national and regional contexts. The environmental security, ecosystem, and socioeconomic dynamics are threatened beyond the borders in South Asia. It is essential to scrutinize the technical aspects and rethink them for environmental security, sustainability, poverty alleviation, and development in the region.

Table 1.

The correlation between significance ranking and existing ranking of selected criteria of water in national context.

CriteriaIRSA accordNational Water Policy
Technical −0.64 0.22 
Economic 0.21 
Environmental 0.7* 
Social −0.32 0.62 
Political/Institutional −0.31 0.26 
CriteriaIRSA accordNational Water Policy
Technical −0.64 0.22 
Economic 0.21 
Environmental 0.7* 
Social −0.32 0.62 
Political/Institutional −0.31 0.26 

***p < 0.01, **p < 0.05, *p < 0.1. (Very weak = 0.00–0.19, Weak = 0.20–0.39, Moderate = 0.40–0.59, Strong = 0.60–0.79, Very strong= 0.80–1.0.)

Table 2.

The correlation between significance ranking and existing ranking of selected criteria in regional water treaties.

CriteriaThe Indus Water TreatyTreaty on Sharing of Ganges WaterTreaty of Mahakali
Technical −0.42 −0.84* −0.84* 
Economic 0.55 0.55 −0.55 
Environmental −0.5 −0.8** −0.6 
Social 0.92 0.9 0.9 
Political/Institutional 0.19 −0.16 0.62 
CriteriaThe Indus Water TreatyTreaty on Sharing of Ganges WaterTreaty of Mahakali
Technical −0.42 −0.84* −0.84* 
Economic 0.55 0.55 −0.55 
Environmental −0.5 −0.8** −0.6 
Social 0.92 0.9 0.9 
Political/Institutional 0.19 −0.16 0.62 

***p < 0.01, **p < 0.05, *p < 0.1. (Very weak = 0.00–0.19, Weak = 0.20–0.39, Moderate = 0.40–0.59, Strong = 0.60–0.79, Very strong= 0.80–1.0.)

Table 3.

The correlation between significance ranking and existing ranking of selected criteria in regional water policies.

CriteriaBangladeshBhutanIndiaNepalPakistanSri Lanka
Technical 0.20 0.73 0.50 0.86** 0.37 0.83* 
Economic −019 −0.32 −0.10 −0.35 0.18 0.11 
Environmental −0.24 0.2 0.8** −0.11 0.68* 0.08 
Social 0.10 0.20 0.30 0.05 0.12 0.24 
Political/Institutional 0.17 −0.14 −0.63 −0.22 0.49 −0.20 
CriteriaBangladeshBhutanIndiaNepalPakistanSri Lanka
Technical 0.20 0.73 0.50 0.86** 0.37 0.83* 
Economic −019 −0.32 −0.10 −0.35 0.18 0.11 
Environmental −0.24 0.2 0.8** −0.11 0.68* 0.08 
Social 0.10 0.20 0.30 0.05 0.12 0.24 
Political/Institutional 0.17 −0.14 −0.63 −0.22 0.49 −0.20 

***p < 0.01, **p < 0.05, *p < 0.1. (Very weak = 0.00–0.19, Weak = 0.20–0.39, Moderate = 0.40–0.59, Strong = 0.60–0.79, Very strong = 0.80–1.0.)

Fig. 3.

Ranking of technical criteria in water policy and accord in Pakistan.

Fig. 3.

Ranking of technical criteria in water policy and accord in Pakistan.

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Fig. 4.

Ranking of technical criteria in water policies and regional water treaties.

Fig. 4.

Ranking of technical criteria in water policies and regional water treaties.

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Economic criteria

The natural resource policy which comprehends operational economy and equity is liable to appeal to community, ensure appropriate allocation, justify community preferences, and benefits. The economic narratives encompass a balanced mix of uses, income, low cost, equitable distribution, compensation, and incentives. The experts conferred to balance demand and use in different sectors (municipal, agriculture, environment, industry, and energy) (C6). The IRSA accord did not apprehend the water demand and use in different sectors except for the primary focus on water requirements for irrigation in major cropping seasons (Rabi and Kharif) during apportionment. The accord merely considers industry, domestic and commercial use as well as ignoring the water requirements for environment and ecosystem services. The one-dimensional approach in this accord is affecting provincial water rights and fueling conflicts due to variable demand. The National Water Policy of Pakistan has identified all major consumers including municipal, agriculture, environment, industry, and energy, but the policy did not rationalize the actual demand and requirement for each sector. The Treaty of Mahakali and Treaty on Sharing of Ganges Water discussed water demand and use for municipal, agriculture, environment, industry, and energy. The Indus Water Treaty had also considered the water for municipal, agriculture, industry, and energy use except environment and ecosystem services. Like the National Water Policy of Pakistan, other water policies in the region also only recognized municipal, agriculture, environment, industries and energy sectors as potential consumers, but omitted to provide actual figures of water demand for each sector. The vague picture of actual demand and use in South Asian states is aggrandizing overexploitation of water resources and exalting the threat to economy, development water, and environmental security.

Income per capita and expanded productivity are prominent features of 20th century economic transformation. The IRSA accord did not consider income generation (C7) against the use of water. This criterion would not only justify efficient use of water but also reconcile dispute settlement. The National Water Policy of Pakistan incorporated water income through the concept of more crops per drop in agriculture, hydropower development, and dams. However, the regional treaties did not consolidate the income generation aspect of water resources. The water policies in the region are moderately equipped with income from water resources through demand management, cost recovery, and polluter pay principle, except for Bangladesh and Sri Lanka who pay less attention to this criterion. It was noted that all water policies in the region did not undertake the concept of water resources accounting and water footprint. It may affect the workability of water resource policy, economic and environmental sustainability.

The experts refer to considering water loss (C8) in both national and regional contexts. Unfortunately, water loss was found to be scant in the IRSA accord, National Water Policy of Pakistan, regional water treaties and policies except for Bhutan National Water Policy which paid little attention to water loss. Water loss endorses floods during monsoon while enduring water and environmental security in dry seasons due to over-abstraction, less availability, ecosystem damage, and conflicts.

The administrative, operation and maintenance costs require financing for long-term viability and sustainability of water resources. The administrative cost covers investment for new dams, cost of infrastructure, abstraction of groundwater, supply cost, wastewater disposal, and treatment (Slavíková et al., 2017). Traditionally, cost recovery is limited to supply and sanitation services. It is essential to integrate relevant costs, financing, and recovery with public policy like water resources policy and planning (OECD, 2010). The results divulged that the IRSA accord did not regard administrative cost (C9) as well as operation and maintenance cost (C10). The National Water Policy of Pakistan contemplated partially both costs and their recovery by the concept of polluter pay principle and maintenance of resources. However, not all regional water treaties considered administrative cost, operation, and maintenance cost. The existing ranking of all water policies had demonstrated the consideration of administrative cost, operation, and maintenance cost. The polluter pay principle and billing from the domestic as well as agriculture sector mainly reflected the focus of most policies for cost recovery. Water pricing is appealing to policymakers as an instrument for cost recovery, water, and environmental security. Water pricing provides fiscal incentive, support for future water services, efficient use of water, and socio-economic value of water (Expósito & Berbel, 2017). It was noticed that the national water policies of Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Pakistan had addressed water pricing in various sectors but the policies of India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka did not mandate water pricing, leading to over-abstraction, inefficient use of water, and environmental insecurity. The economic criteria in national and regional contexts are illustrated in Figures 5 and 6. The results represent different Pearson correlation between existing ranking and significance ranking of economic criteria in a national regional context (Tables 13).

Fig. 5.

Ranking of economic criteria in water policy and accord in Pakistan.

Fig. 5.

Ranking of economic criteria in water policy and accord in Pakistan.

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Fig. 6.

Ranking of economic criteria in water policies and regional water treaties.

Fig. 6.

Ranking of economic criteria in water policies and regional water treaties.

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Environmental criteria

The increasing demand is putting pressure on natural resources, leading to unsustainable use and damage to the environment. Article 6 (factors in deciding equitable share) of Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of the International Watercourses decrees the obligation of water for environment and ecosystem to sustain life (UN, 2014). It is important to speculate water resource vulnerability in the policy for sustainable functioning of water resources and environment. The IRSA accord and regional water treaties did not decree water resource vulnerability (C11). Unlike treaties, all water policies in the region cogitated on the vulnerability of water resources. The lesser remuneration of water resource vulnerability in water treaties might affect decision-making, supply, equity, and water resources management and threatened environmental security.

The Hindu-Kush Himalaya (HKH) region has experienced greater temperature rise than the global average which has conferred divesting impacts on the environment, particularly negative mass balance, glacial melting, and water scarcity (Yao et al., 2012). The cross-sectoral integration of climate change and water resources policy can confront the impacts of climate change on water resources. The experts also pointed out climate change-induced vulnerability of water as an eminent concern and stressed integrating water resource policy with climate change (C12). The IRSA accord, the Indus Water Treaty, Treaty of Mahakali, Treaty on Sharing of Ganges Water, National Water Policy of Bangladesh, and Water Resource Policy of Nepal did not contemplate climate change under their provisions, which intensify the impact of climate change, water scarcity, environmental concerns, and vulnerability of the region to climate change. The other water resource policies (Bhutan, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) had visualized the threat of climate change to water resources and the struggle to adapt and mitigate the impact of climate on water resources.

The environment and ecosystems are imperiled due to the current aggravated situation of water bodies. Part 4 (protection and preservation of ecosystem) under Article 20 (protection and preservation), Article 22 (introduction of new species), and Article 23 (protection of marine environment) of the Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of the International Watercourses was commenced to ensure water availability for conservation of ecosystems (UN, 2014). The effective water policy covering the relationship between water and ecosystem conservation is key to environmental security and sustainable development. The IRSA accord, all regional treaties, the water resources policies of Nepal and Sri Lanka did not recognize the ecosystem services and effects of water scarcity on ecosystems (C13). This approach fosters exploitation, devalues the ecosystem and its services, as well as threatening environmental security. However, the existing ranking demonstrated that other water policies in the region conceded the significance of ecosystem services and water security, which will eventually play a positive role in environmental sustainability.

SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) particularly focuses on sustainable management of water, provision of clean water, and sanitation for all (UN, 2015). The South Asian countries had adopted the SDGs and the government of Pakistan has declared SDGs as Pakistan Development Goals (PDGs). The experts perceive the SDGs (C14) as a key pillar in water policies and planning to attain sustainable development, water, and environmental security. The existing ranking represents that the IRSA accord did not consider SDGs. However, the regional water treaties and water policies of Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka had examined partially SDGs while other water policies (Bhutan, India, and Pakistan) considered SDGs in terms of accessibility, affordability, and integrated water resource management.

Water scarcity and depletion have been recognized as constraints to socio-economic development as well as a threat to livelihood and the environment worldwide. The experts granted exceptional significance to water resource depletion and scarcity (C15) in both national and regional contexts. The existing ranking reflected that the IRSA accord and regional water treaties had not discussed the water scarcity and depletion, hence, charged with regional water conflicts, tension, and environmental insecurity. However, water policies in the region, except the water resource policy of Nepal considered the water scarcity and depletion as a challenge to water and environmental security.

Water conservation (C16) is a requisite for a sustainable environment and development because of increasing water scarcity, pollution, and climate change. Meanwhile, Articles 9 and 10 (monitoring and prevention of pollution) of international water law and Article 21 (prevention, reduction, and control of pollution) of Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of the International Watercourses clearly stated that basin states shall make efforts to prevent, monitor, and control pollution (ILA, 1967; UN, 2014). Water shortage, low availability, uneven distribution of water resources, environmental insecurity, and fragile water ecology hampers the need for water conservation. The results expressed that the IRSA accord and regional water treaties had exhibited mere consideration of water conservation. The modest attention to water conservation is likely to increase use and transboundary pollution in addition to damage to the environment of low riparian states, while the water policies in the region are intended to conserve water through increase in storage capacity, efficient use, water cycling, pollution prevention, and wastewater treatment. The environmental criteria in national and regional contexts are depicted in Figures 7 and 8. The results indicated diverse Pearson correlation between significance ranking and existing ranking of environmental criteria in national and regional contexts (Tables 13). The environment, ecosystem services, biodiversity, health of water bodies, and public health might crumble due to water scarcity and insecurity.

Fig. 7.

Ranking of environmental criteria in water policy and accord in Pakistan.

Fig. 7.

Ranking of environmental criteria in water policy and accord in Pakistan.

Close modal
Fig. 8.

Ranking of environmental criteria in water policies and regional water treaties.

Fig. 8.

Ranking of environmental criteria in water policies and regional water treaties.

Close modal

Social criteria

The social dimensions of water policy cover social acceptance, equity, benefits, employment, accessible and affordable supply. The results expressed that the IRSA accord and regional water treaties had not thought about social acceptance and benefits (C17) to avoid conflicts. However, water policies in the region had entertained social acceptance and benefits which might enhance their credibility. Environment-friendly strategies promote green economic growth and green jobs. Water resources conservation and management have the potential of many employment opportunities. Infrastructure development, dams, hydropower, water treatment, water distribution, and supply creates plenty of job opportunities. The experts also consider water source management as a potential field for employment opportunities and emphasized regarding this criterion in water policy, as it will intensify the value of water resources. The experts granted high regard to the significance to incorporating employment opportunities (C18) created by sustainable water resource management in national and regional water policies and planning. The results indicated that the IRSA accord, regional treaties, and all regional policies did not consider employment opportunities created by the integrated water resource management. This indicated less attention to vital social criteria which might devalue the water resources, decrease ownership, metamorphize sustainable development, and threaten environmental security.

Many countries in the world are facing challenges to provide water supply in sufficient quantity and acceptable quality. Goal 6 of the SDGs accentuates the responsibility of governments to ensure clean water for all. Therefore, governments are responsible to take regulatory initiatives for a secure sustainable water supply. However, all South Asian countries have failed to secure sustainable water supply (C19) at the grassroots level, which is posing adverse effects on public health, ecosystem, and environment. The social criteria are depicted in Figures 9 and 10. The results had indicated weaker or moderated Pearson correlation between significance ranking and existing ranking of social criteria in the national context (Tables 13). The social criteria are important drivers of environmental and water conservation as well as legitimatization of water resource policy at grassroots level. There is a dire need to rationalize the social criteria with public expectations and attributes of environmental sustainability in both national and regional contexts.

Fig. 9.

Ranking of social criteria in water policy and accord in Pakistan.

Fig. 9.

Ranking of social criteria in water policy and accord in Pakistan.

Close modal
Fig. 10.

Ranking of social criteria in water policies and regional water treaties.

Fig. 10.

Ranking of social criteria in water policies and regional water treaties.

Close modal

Political criteria

The policy discourse of water resource management must focus on both sustainability and political aspects in the recent era to ensure equitable demand and supply. The political aspects support financial mechanism, stakeholder involvement, and environmental sustainability. The experts awarded outstanding significance to political will (C20) in both national and regional contexts. The results demonstrated the documentation of political will in all accords, treaties, and policies in the region. However, the experts pointed to the dearth of political will and commitment in the actions and efforts of all regional governments. They argued that there is no significant increase in the population which has secured access to clean water and control of pollution in the last decade in the South Asian region.

The international water law (the Helsinki Rules 1966 (Article 8)) and Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of the International Watercourses (Articles 9 and 11–14) addressed the exchange of data and response to a notification by co-riparian states (ILA, 1967; UN, 2014). The experts also consider commissions' (C21) exchange of data (C22) as a means of trust, confidence, and conflict control. The results reflected that the IRSA accord, regional water treaties, and water policies in the region comprehended the exchange of data, and as well, commissions are working at both national and regional level in South Asia. As mentioned above, late sharing of information between India and Pakistan on various projects augmented conflict. Furthermore, late information sharing affects the prior planning to manage environment and ecosystems in the case of extreme weather events.

The access to clean water is a basic human right and an instrument to rationalize other human rights (UN, 2010). The Helsinki Rules 1966 (Article 4 (apportionment), Article 5 (criteria for determination of equitable share (did not cover use for environment)), and Article 7 (not use the water of riparian)) and Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of the International Watercourses (Article 5 (equitable use of water), Article 6 (factors in deciding equitable share) and 32 (no discrimination in water use)) covers allocation of water rights (ILA, 1967; UN, 2014). The experts conceived water rights (C23) to be a crucial element for water resources management and policy. The results had expressed the consideration of water rights in the IRSA accord, regional treaties, and policies. The states own the water rights in South Asia, the royal or federal government allocate the water apportionment to provinces and users. As discussed above (Figure 2, water apportionment and flow variability under Technical), there is a need to revisit water apportionment criteria in the IRSA accord, and the Indus Water Treaty. Figures 11 and 12 present selected political criteria in the national and regional context. Tables 2 and 3 provide correlation.

Fig. 11.

Ranking of political criteria in water policy and accord in Pakistan.

Fig. 11.

Ranking of political criteria in water policy and accord in Pakistan.

Close modal
Fig. 12.

Ranking of political criteria in water policies and regional water treaties.

Fig. 12.

Ranking of political criteria in water policies and regional water treaties.

Close modal

Diplomacy (C24) on water resources provides a mechanism to manage conflicts, negotiate the matters or treaties for allocation and management of international basins at national and regional levels (Earle & Neal, 2017). The cross-cutting dynamic nature of water conflicts and tensions have placed them at the heart of national security, thus proximity linked to environmental security, economic development, geopolitical concerns, poverty alleviation, social issues and emerged as top policy agendas (Patrick et al., 2014).

The water conflicts among the provinces of Pakistan are backdated to before independence in 1947. Unfortunately, the conflicts are still pending settlement. The main conflicts are on royalties, dam constructions, and ownership between Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) as well as on water quantity between Sindh and Punjab. Furthermore, water resources management became a provincial subject after the 18th amendment in the National Constitution of Pakistan, which has enhanced the autonomy of provinces without considering underlying causes of conflicts and future impacts. The change in governance structure will complicate the attributes of allocation, equity, rights, and conflicts. Meanwhile, increasing demand, change in governance structure, excessive pressure on water resources, fragile governance, and climate change have escalated the scarcity and conflicts. The IRSA accord has insufficient capacity to reconcile conflicts and manage water resources due to its technical, economic, environmental, social, and political limitations. These conflicts are challenging socio-economic development, livelihood, access to clean water, distribution, national security, peace, poverty alleviation, and environmental security. Therefore, there is the need to provoke a comprehensive mechanism or accord to settle inter-provincial conflicts.

Besides intrastate conflicts, the lack of cooperation on international basins in South Asia is eliciting conflicts. The paucity of cooperation on the management of The Ganges–Brahmaputra–Meghna river basins among Bangladesh, India, and Nepal and the Indus river basin between India and Pakistan is producing mistrust, conflict, tension (Uprety & Salman, 2011), underdevelopment, and poverty. Meanwhile, conflict on the Kabul River between Afghanistan and Pakistan is leading to tension and mistrust. The paradigm of conflict, water, and environmental security in South Asia postulates cooperation, understanding of benefits and diplomatic negotiation to decree with international water law, ensure equity, development, and environmental security (Hassan et al., 2017). The ‘common environment of South Asia’ is at a risk due to water scarcity and climate change, which have the potential to cause environmental crises and threats to human rights and sustainability. Despite conflicts and political agendas, South Asian states must utilize a new track of diplomacy to explore opportunities for cooperation, co-existence, shared use of resources, and prefer cooperation over conflicts, but conventional diplomacy is contrived by political agenda and interests and incertitude in the region due to geopolitical context. Therefore, environmental diplomacy can make the conflicts more straightforward to its soft, non-aggressive characteristics based on basic human rights, sustainability, and environmental conservation. Historically, the Indus Water Treaty, Treaty of Mahakali, and Treaty on Sharing of Ganges Water Treaty were the products of successful diplomacy. The environmental diplomacy will predict the availability of water, reduce uncertainty, value of the ecosystem services, build knowledge, secure socio-economic benefits, negotiate political agenda, consider and adapt climate change. In the current scenario, there is a dire need for communities in the region to be aware about the consequences of increasing water scarcity, visualize access to safe water as a basic human right, and engage them to conserve natural resources for political and environmental security.

It is important to mention that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), being an important regional forum, did not mandate the water resources and cooperation. However, the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP) can provide the platform for cooperation on environmental issues, data sharing, flood warnings, climate change mitigation, and water security. Other global institutions, which historically had an effective role in dispute settlement, the World Bank and United Nations, can provide a negotiation forum for environment diplomacy. Similarly, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics (SANDEE), International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Asian Development Bank (ADB) in association with forums, the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), Association of South East Nations (ASEAN), and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) can expeditiously engage disputed parties through environmental diplomacy for active participation, negotiation, dispute settlement, and cooperation.

Water scarcity is damaging Pakistan as well as South Asia more than a war in the form of social, economic, and environmental damage. It has challenged our civilization, food security, environmental security, ecosystem services, energy security, water for industry, transportation, and economic development. The IRSA accord had limited capacity to tackle water and environmental insecurity at national level due to scant consideration of water availability, hydropower development, royalty, demand and use in sectors (domestic, industry, energy, and environment) other than agriculture. Similarly, the IRSA accord has paid least attention to compensation, water loss, administrative costs, environmental aspects (vulnerability, scarcity, conservation, climate change, and ecosystem services), social aspects, preferences, negotiations, change in governance structure, and dispute settlement mechanism which have reduced its effectiveness. The effectiveness of the Indus Water Treaty had abated over the last few decades due to condoning the flow variability, environmental factors, and some socioeconomic attributes. Furthermore, geopolitical tension is also affecting the cooperation on water. The Treaty on Sharing of Ganges Water had omitted water availability, dispute settlement mechanism, some socioeconomic and environmental aspects. The Treaty of Mahakali had overseen water availability, some socioeconomic and environmental aspects. The environmental factors like climate change, vulnerability, and scarcity of water resources are overlooked in all treaties. They are an enduring threat to sustainable development, environmental and water security in the region. However, water policies had adhered to most of the selected criteria but inadequate procedures, poor governance, insufficient institutional capacity, and low political commitment is hindering the effectiveness and implementation of policies. Overall, comprehensive system water management strategies equipped with scientific, technical, social, economic, political, and environmental wisdom are required to meet SDGs, a win-win situation, water, and environmental security in both national and regional contexts.

The following implications could innovate water security and sustainability:

  • Revise the IRSA accord, ensure implementation of the National Water Policy of Pakistan, and structure the water governance in provinces according to the 18th amendment.

  • Understand the consequences of water scarcity and insecurity, value the ecosystem services, recognize the worth of water resources, and build a new reservoir in the Indus River Basin as soon as possible.

  • Engagement of Pakistan and Afghanistan on settlement of water disputes.

  • Initiate environmental diplomacy and revisit the Indus Water Treaty, ensure data exchange in time, measure the capacity of commissions for cooperation, and comply with the provisions of water treaties and neutralize the mistrust.

  • Collaboration and cooperation on water resource management.

This research article is part of Mr Haasan's PhD dissertation entitled, ‘A Study on the Relationship of Development with Environmental Security in National and Regional Context: The Case of Environmental Diplomacy for Pakistan’ conducted at the Department of Environmental Science (DES), International Islamic University (IIU), Islamabad. There is no conflict of interest regarding this study.

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