If India Can Rethink Indus Treaty, China Too Has Water as a Weapon

Chinese dams in Tibet directly or indirectly affect over two billion Asians who are dependent on those rivers.

3 min read
China has 87,000 dams, many of them are in Tibet and India is downstream from them. (Photo: Reuters)

With China having 87,000 dams, many in Tibet, with strategic benefit against India, experts on Friday urged the “downstream” Asian nations to unite and force Beijing to sign a trans-border water sharing treaty to counter its massive damming policies.

Tibet is the source of ten major Asian rivers upon which 25 percent of the world population depends on.

Beside having environmental issues, those dams in Tibet can be disastrous for us. They can unleash their fury during earthquake, accidents or by intentional destruction can easily be used against India during a war.
Prof Milap Chandra Sharma, a Glaciologist at JNU

He further added that this is the “right time for India to raise the Tibet issue internationally”.

A dam in Henan province, China. (Photo: iStock)
A dam in Henan province, China. (Photo: iStock)

Part of the “Tibet’s Rivers, Asia’s Lifeline” campaign which started in March 2015 by “Students For a Free Tibet-India”, experts and activists from India, Thailand, Bangladesh and Tibet said that by either blocking or releasing water, Chinese dams in Tibet are already directly or indirectly affecting over two billion Asians who are dependent on those rivers.

When it comes to diplomacy, China uses rivers as a bargain chip.
Tanasak Phosrikun, a Mekong river activist from Thailand

Activists say that China has built about seven dams on the upstream and total 21 dams on Mekong, 24 on Salween or Nu river, two on Indus and 11 on the Yarlung Tsangpo or Brahmaputra river.

We don’t know if India would ever use water as a weapon against Pakistan but China would not hesitate doing that against India. It would be surely used as a weapon and that is another major reason for the downstream countries of the 10 Tibetan rivers to come together and force China into a water treaty.
Tempa Gyaltsen, researcher at Tibet Policy Institute, Central Tibetan Administration

He referred to the report which states that India’s water demand per capita would increase to 1.5 trillion cubic meters to the present 740 billion cubic meters.

Zangmu Hydropower Dam on Brahmaputra river at a strategically important location, Lianghekou Dam on Yalong river and the under construction Suwalong dam on Salween and Mekong rivers are already affecting life and economy of millions of people in the downstream countries.
A Chinese dam. (Photo: iStock)
A Chinese dam. (Photo: iStock)

Adding that a lot of resources are being taken away from Tibet but none compensated for, he also referred to the incidents of catastrophe related to Chinese dams, including the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and Shimantan Reservoir Dam in 1975.

Most of those dams are in close proximity of many petroleum and mine projects in Tibetan plateau. Many lakes get poisoned and international organisation have no access for environment assessment. Locals often protest there.
Jyotsana George, Tibetan activist

She added that Tibetans send the videos and pictures at the threat of their lives.

Tanasak Phosrikun highlighted crisis due to the Chinese dams on Mekong river having direct and indirect consequences over the people in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia.

The 4,900 km Mekong river feeds 70 million people. About 40 million are dependent on the fishery and many more to the agriculture at the bed. It has significant cultural identity and beliefs. This is being taken up by China
The Brahmaputra river in Nyingchi, Tibet. (Photo: iStock)
The Brahmaputra river in Nyingchi, Tibet. (Photo: iStock)

Fearing damage, China often opens its dams during heavy rains leading to flash floods causing extreme scarcity of food and life security in the lower Mekong region.

Further pointing out the ladder streams constructed by China which blocks fish, Phosrikun said that without democracy neither human rights nor environment justice is possible.

“You don’t inherit rivers from you ancestors, you borrow them from your children,” said Phosrikun.

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