The Indus basin civilization (3000–1500 BC) is thought to have collapsed due to the Indus river shifting its course, and unchecked salinization of the irrigated land. Though modern irrigation practices in the Indus basin do not have to worry about the river shifting its course, a priority concern should be the basin's salt profile. Despite attempts to deal with the problem since the 1960 s, the net result is still an increasing salt balance which threatens the system's sustainability. This paper explores what it means to manage risk, and then applies these insights to a narrative history of the Indus basin. Particular focus is placed on the basin's current management since it will shape how irrigation is managed in the future. A key lesson to derive is that given the short-term nature of decision-making in the basin, any significant change has to address the political reality whereby politicians exert influence over water allocations in order to safeguard their political lives.

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