Confluence of the Indus and Zanskar Rivers – photo by Baldiri (source: Wikimedia Commons)

In some Asian countries clean water is an increasingly scarce and politically charged resource – and climate change will only make things worse.

Pakistan and India, both reliant on the shared waters of Indus River for irrigation and hydroelectric power, face problems including floods, water shortages, chronically high levels of unsafe drinking water as well as conflicts between and within both nations. Unsafe drinking water in urban centers remains a huge problem for Kamal Nath and the Indian Urban Development Ministry. The countries of the Amu Darya basin – Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – experience similar problems and conflicts of interest. Take Afghanistan – a war-torn country that suffers from an abysmal infrastructure, internal population displacement, local conflicts, water contamination, droughts and resultant food shortages.

From an article featured on China Dialogue:

Climate change will dramatically raise the challenges in central and south Asia. By the middle of the century, increasing temperatures and growing water stress may lead to a 30% reduction in crop yields. In central Asia, reduced rainfall and runoff will cause increased heat stress, drought and desertification and lead to increasing migration. Yet no mitigation and adaptation strategies are in place.

Regardless of any inaccurate data on the melting rate of India’s glaciers published in the IPCC report, the glaciers of the Hindu Kush-Karakorum-Himalaya mountains are shrinking due to increasingly warmer temperatures. This crisis will affect hydroelectric power generation, agricultural food production and contribute to poverty and inequality.

According to Michael Renner, a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, DC and senior advisor to the Institute for Environmental Security in Brussels, the countries of central-south Asia are not big greenhouse gas contributors, but are exceptionally vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Their efforts will have to therefore focus on adaptation to cope with water scarcity and other climate-related hardships. Water use efficiency and regional political cooperation must improve in order to meet these challenges. Help from European and UN programs may offer some hope.

Summary and full report – Water challenges in Central-South Asia by Michael Renner, Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre