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The Indus Basin: The Potential for Basin-Wide Management Between China and Its Himalayan Neighbours India and Pakistan

Part of the Water Security in a New World book series (WSEC)


Despite the presence of huge water resources, several factors are contributing to water security issues in Asia in general and southern Asia in particular. From this region flow some of the major rivers in Asia, such as Yangtze, Yellow, Indus, Yarlung Zangbo/Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Irrawaddy and others. These rivers drain several million square kilometres and have become lifelines for the food security of billions, apart from transporting goods and services and for industrial development. Countries such as China, India and Pakistan sit on enormous water reserves in this part of the world, and these are in the recent period triggering securitisation of water-related issues due to a number of reasons. China has the fourth largest freshwater reserves in the world. However, due to increasing demands over water use, such resources are being increasingly and extensively exploited for economic purposes. These issues have triggered wide debate among officials, lawmakers, scholars, environmentalists and others. In order to address water scarcity issues, China recently launched several initiatives and programmes such as the South-to-North Water Diversion Project (SNWDP), construction of either water diversion dams or hydropower dams and the like. It is argued in this chapter that while in the overall water discourse of China, the Indus River takes a marginal seat in comparison with other major rivers, China has followed a two-pronged approach, namely, stop-gap understandings on water sharing or, more accurately, water measuring with the immediate lower riparian states, including India, while actively exploring cooperative efforts with the lowest riparian state, Pakistan, in regard to dam construction and hydroelectricity generation, including even eventual protection of these facilities with China’s paramilitary/military forces in the longer run. Thus, cooperative efforts do exist in the Indus basin between China and Pakistan, while in the case of China and India, both cooperative and competitive elements are forthcoming.


  • Indus basin
  • Water sharing
  • China-Pakistan cooperation
  • China-India competition

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-32845-4_9
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  1. 1.

    In August 2002, China revised the 1988 water-related legislation into a law. It stated that the state owns the water resources of the country. In the supplementary provisions (article 78), this law suggested that the international understanding of China on water issues supersedes the domestic law (Water Law of the PRC 2002). As a part of border dispute resolution with its neighbours, China has also considered the transboundary river waters, but many of these are in the domain of management issues. For instance, with Bangladesh, an MoU was signed for hydrological information in 2008; with India in 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2015 for hydrological information; water quality on Irtysh River in 2011; joint diversion on Horgos in 2010; exchange of hydrological information and disaster prevention with Kazakhstan; commercial navigation in 2000, transportation in 1994 and law enforcement on Mekong in 2011; management with Russia in 1962, 1988, 1994 and 2010; and so on (Chen et al. 2013; Zhifei 2015, chapters 3 and 5; China International Water Law).

  2. 2.

    According to the Indian Central Water Commission report of 2015, up to the Indian border, the average annual water resources potential (billion cubic metres) of the Indus River is 73.3 (as compared to 537.2 for the Brahmaputra River); and in 2010 there was an estimated population of 57 million people living in the Indian-administered regions served by the Indus waters. These population figures are expected to increase to 69.2 million in 2025, to 81 million in 2050. Consequently, the estimated per capita average annual water availability (thousand cubic metres) is estimated to decline from 1,270 in 2010 to 1,059 in 2025 and 900 in 2050 (Indian Central Water Commission 2015: 31).


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Correspondence to Srikanth Kondapalli .

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Kondapalli, S. (2017). The Indus Basin: The Potential for Basin-Wide Management Between China and Its Himalayan Neighbours India and Pakistan. In: Adeel, Z., Wirsing, R. (eds) Imagining Industan. Water Security in a New World. Springer, Cham.

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