Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database | Publications

Alam, Undala Z. 1998. Water Rationality: Mediating the Indus Waters Treaty. University of Durham. Ph.D. dissertation.

Fresh water is vital to the economies and societies of countries, especially to those in the arid realm. The issue of scarcity in certain regions of the world, notably the Middle East , has led to an expectation of international conflict, even war, based upon increasing competition for shared water. However, what is emerging is the improbability of this expectation. In fact what is becoming ever more apparent is evidence to support international cooperation as the norm, even between hostile countries.

One example of such international cooperation over shared water is the Indus Waters Treaty, signed in 1960 by India and Pakistan . It is an international water treaty signed by two enemies, and that has lasted through two Indo-Pakistani wars to the nuclear era, in 1998, in the Indian Subcontinent. The intervention of the World Bank, as good officer, was critical to the process that finally led to the Treaty.

One explanation for such international cooperation is water rationality. This concept, coined in this thesis, expects cooperation because war does not lead to long term national water security. Such security is only possible through good water management at the national and international levels. And such is the need for fresh water, that countries will cooperate with their co-riparians whatever the public rhetoric used by the politicians.

The most important factors leading to the Treaty are the fact that the disputants had the space to explore cooperative measures safely, and the governments' political will to compromise and reach a settlement. Obviously, if the governments in question are willing to explore ways to cooperate, then cooperation will be more likely. Technical, legal and environmental factors are second to political will.

Furthermore, if direct bilateral negotiations are proving unsuccessful, the intervention of an impartial mediator can assist communication between the disputants. Lastly, even enemy countries are more likely to enact policies that are ‘water rational' than go to war with their co-riparians in an effort to make their water dispute more manageable.