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Posted on on February 9th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Bernard Schwartz Book Award Luncheon.


Water: Asia’s New Battleground, by Brahma Chellaney, was named winner of the 2012 Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Book Award for its outstanding contribution to advancing the understanding of contemporary Asia.

In his timely and insightful book, Dr. Chellaney describes water stress as Asia’s defining crisis of the 21st century, creating obstacles to continued rapid economic growth, stoking interstate tensions over shared resources, exacerbating long-time territorial disputes, and imposing further hardships on the poor.

23 January 2013
12:00pm – 2:30pm

725 Park Ave
(at East 70th Street)
New York, NY

Honoring 2012 Winner, ‘Water: Asia’s New Battleground,’ by Brahma Chellaney

I read that Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.
Looking up the list of our postings on I found that in effect we have quite a few postings by him or about him.
These include:
Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011
Saturday, February 6th, 2010
Tuesday, November 17th, 2009
Tuesday, April 8th, 2008
Thursday, August 31st, 2006

This is an amazing versatility and I was glad to have the chance to listen to him in person at the Asia Society event.

Looking at the internet I found that Professor Chellaney is a Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, an independent think-tank; a member of the Board of Governors of the National Book Trust of India; and a nonresident affiliate with the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London. He has been a Fellow at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, which through the Nobel Committee awards the Nobel Peace Prize annually. He was formerly a member of the Policy Advisory Group headed by the External Affairs Minister of India.

Professor Chellaney is widely regarded as one of India’s leading strategic thinkers and analysts, and is also a well-known newspaper and television commentator on international affairs. Stanley Weiss in the International Herald Tribune, for example, called him “one of India’s top strategic thinkers,” while The Guardian has described him as “a respected international affairs analyst and author.” He is very well known as a commentator on regional and international issues in the field of strategic affairs, including larger Asian strategic issues and non-traditional subjects like water security, energy security and climate security.

He is one of the authors of India’s nuclear doctrine and its first strategic defense review. Those contributions came when Professor Chellaney was an adviser to India’s National Security Council until January 2000, serving as convenor of the External Security Group of the National Security Advisory Board, as well as member of the Board’s Nuclear Doctrine Group.

Now Professor Chellaney became the first Bernard Schwartz awardee – an Asia Society prize – living outside the Anglosphere. The topic of his book is:

China’s Hydro-Hegemony – and this translates into the clear vision that as the Tibetan Plateau is source for most rivers in Asia, and water is resource more important then oil, China is destined to be the most important power in Asia. As simple as that.

“Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (L) by Brahma Chellaney (R).
China's grip
Map © Brahma Chellaney, “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press)
Mr. Chellaney, in his travel to publicize this last book published the following article about China in the International Herald Tribune: February 8, 2013, just several days after a posting of January 31, 2013 – “Neighbours leave India high and dry for its water supply.” Then we understand that Mr. Chellaney is already working on another volume – “ “Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.”

ASIA is the world’s most water-stressed continent, a situation compounded by China’s hydro-supremacy in the region. Beijing’s recent decision to build a slew of giant new dams on rivers flowing to other countries is thus set to roil riparian relations.

China — which already boasts more large dams than the rest of the world put together and has unveiled a mammoth $635-billion fresh investment in water infrastructure over the next decade — has emerged as the key obstacle to building institutionalized collaboration on shared water resources in Asia.

In contrast to the bilateral water treaties between many of its neighbors, China rejects the concept of a water-sharing arrangement or joint, rules-based management of common resources.

For example, in rejecting the 1997 United Nations convention that lays down rules on shared water resources, Beijing placed on record its contention that an upstream power has the right to assert absolute territorial sovereignty over the waters on its side of the international boundary — or the right to divert as much water as it wishes for its needs, irrespective of the effects on a downriver state.

Today, by building megadams and reservoirs in its borderlands, China is working to re-engineer the flows of major rivers that are the lifeline of lower riparian states.

China is the source of transboundary river flows to the largest number of countries in the world — from Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to the states in the Indochina peninsula and southern Asia. This pre-eminence resulted from its absorption of the ethnic-minority homelands that now make up 60 percent of its landmass and are the origin of all the international rivers flowing out of Chinese-held territory. No other country in the world comes close to the hydro-hegemony that China has established.

Since the last decade, China’s dam building has been moving from dam-saturated internal rivers to international rivers. Most of the new megaprojects designated recently by China’s state council as priority ventures are concentrated in the country’s seismically active southwest, which is largely populated by ethnic minorities. Such dam building is triggering new ethnic tensions over displacement and submergence.

The state council approved an array of new dams on the Salween, Brahmaputra and Mekong rivers, which originate on the Tibetan plateau and flow to southern and southeastern Asia. The unveiling of projects on the Brahmaputra evoked Indian diplomatic concern at a time when water has emerged as a new Chinese-Indian divide, while the Salween projects end the suspension of dam building on that river announced eight years ago.

The Salween — known in Chinese as Nu Jiang, or the “Angry River” — is Asia’s last largely free-flowing river, running through deep, spectacular gorges and glaciated peaks on its way to Burma and Thailand.

Its upstream basin is inhabited by at least a dozen different ethnic groups and rated as one of the world’s most biologically diverse regions, home to more than 5,000 plant species and nearly half of China’s animal species. No sooner had this stunning region, known as the Three Parallel Rivers, been added to the World Heritage List by Unesco in 2003 than Beijing unveiled plans for a cascade of dams near the area.

The international furor that followed led Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to suspend work. The reversal of that suspension, significantly, comes before Wen and President Hu Jintao step down as part of the country’s power transition.

The third international river cited by the state council in its new project approvals has already been a major target of Chinese dam building. Chinese engineers have constructed six megadams on the Mekong, including the 4,200-megawatt Xiaowan, and a greater water appropriator, the 5,850-megawatt Nuozhadu, whose first generator began producing electricity last September.

Asia needs institutionalized water cooperation because it awaits a future made hotter and drier by climate and environmental change and resource depletion. The continent’s water challenges have been exacerbated by growing consumption, unsustainable irrigation practices, rapid industrialization, pollution and geopolitical shifts.

Asia has morphed into the most likely flash point for water wars. Several countries are currently engaged in dam building on transnational rivers. The majority of these dams are being financed and built by Chinese state entities. Most Chinese-aided dam projects in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar indeed are designed to pump electricity into China’s southern electricity grid, with the lower riparians bearing the environmental and social costs.

But it is China’s dam-building spree at home — reflected in the fact that it boasts half of the 50,000 large dams in the world — that carries the greatest international implications and obstructs the development of an Asian rules-based order.

China has made the control and manipulation of natural-river flows a fulcrum of its power and economic development. Although promoting multilateralism on the world stage, it has given the cold shoulder to multilateral cooperation among basin nations — as symbolized, for example, by the Mekong River Commission — and rebuffed efforts by states sharing its rivers to seek bilateral water-sharing arrangements.

Beijing already has significant financial, trade and political leverage over most of its neighbors. Now, by building an asymmetric control over cross-border flows, it is seeking to have its hand on Asia’s water tap.

Given China’s unique riparian position and role, it will not be possible to transform the Asian water competition into cooperation without Beijing playing a leadership role to develop a rules-based system.


Neighbours leave India high and dry for its water supply.

Posted on January 31, 2013 by

Brahma Chellaney

The National, February 1, 2013

Of all the natural resources on which the world depends, the supply and demand situation is most critical for water.
There are replacements for oil, but no substitute for water, which is essential to produce virtually all the goods in the marketplace.

Asia, not Africa, is the world’s driest continent. The gap between demand and supply is growing in China, India, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia.

This raises a question: can Asia remain the locomotive of the global economy if it cannot mitigate its water crisis?

India faces greater water distress than China. China’s population is not even 10 per cent larger than India’s, but its internally renewable water resources (estimated at 2,813 billion cubic metres per year) are almost twice as large as India’s. In aggregate water availability, including inflows (which are sizeable in India’s case), China has virtually 50 per cent more resources than India.

In 1960, India signed a treaty setting aside 80 per cent of the Indus-system waters for downstream Pakistan, in the most generous water-sharing pact in modern history. And its 1996 Ganges treaty with Bangladesh guarantees minimum cross-border flows in the dry season – a new principle in international water law. That treaty divides the flows of the Ganges almost equally between the two countries. And now India is under pressure to reserve about half of the Teesta River’s water for Bangladesh.

But India is downriver from China. About a dozen important rivers flow into India from the Tibetan Himalayas. Indeed, one third of India’s yearly water supply comes from Tibet, according to United Nations’ data. Nations from Afghanistan to Vietnam receive water from the Tibetan Plateau, but India’s direct dependency on Tibetan water is greater than any other country’s.

But Beijing, far from emulating India’s water munificence, rejects the very concept of water sharing and is building large dams on rivers flowing to other nations, with little regard for downriver interests. An extensive Chinese water infrastructure in Tibet will have a serious effect on India.

So India faces difficult choices. Its ambitious plan to link up its major rivers has remained on paper for more than a decade. The idea was to connect 37 Himalayan and peninsular rivers in a pan-Indian water grid, to fight shortages.

Although the grid was ridiculed by the ruling party’s heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi as a “disastrous idea”, the Supreme Court ordered last year that it be implemented in “a time-bound manner”. Will that really happen?

The experience of the Supreme Court-overseen Narmada dam project in Gujarat doesn’t leave much room for optimism. India has struggled for decades to complete Narmada, and yet it is designed to produce less than 7 per cent as much hydropower as China’s Three Gorges Dam, completed last year.

With water increasingly at the centre of inter-provincial feuds in India, the Supreme Court has struggled for years with water cases, but the parties keep returning to litigate again on new grounds.

Plans for large water projects in India usually run into stiff opposition from influential non-government organisations, so that it has become virtually impossible to build a large dam, blighting the promise of hydropower.

Proof of this was New Delhi’s 2010 decision to abandon three dam projects on the Bhagirathi River, a source stream of the Ganges in the Himalayas. One of these was already half-built; hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted.

The largest dam India has built since independence is the 2,000 megawatt Tehri on the Bhagirathi. Compare that with China’s 18,300 megawatt Three Gorges. China’s proposed Metog Dam, almost on the disputed border with India, is to produce nearly twice as much power as Three Gorges Dam. China is also building on the Mekong River.

Meanwhile India’s proposed river-linking plan seems like a dream: a colossal network to handle 178 billion cubic metres of water transfers a year in12,500km of new canals, generating 34 gigawatts of hydropower, creating 35 million hectares of irrigated land and expanding inland navigation. This is the kind of programme that only an autocracy like China can implement.

Government agencies say that by 2050 India must nearly double grain production, to over 450 million tons a year, to meet the demands of prosperity and population growth. Unless it has more irrigated land and adopts new plant varieties and farming techniques, India is likely to become a net food importer before long – a change that will roil world food markets.

More fundamentally, growing water shortages threaten to slow Indian economic growth and fuel social tensions. The government must fix its disjointed policy approach and develop a long-term vision for water resources.

India must treat water as a strategic issue and focus on three key areas. One is achieving greater water efficiency and productivity gains. Another is using clean-water technologies to open up new supply sources, including ocean and brackish waters and recycled wastewater. The third is expanding and enhancing water infrastructure to correct regional and seasonal imbalances in water availability, and to harvest rainwater, which can be a new supply source to ease shortages.

Boosting water supplies demands tapping unconventional sources and adopting non-traditional approaches, as well as improving the old ways of water-supply management.


In the discussion that followed the January 23rd presentation at the Asia Society it became clear that these presentations had one major flaw. Mr. Chellaney, though clearly in full knowledge of the topic, in his eagerness to present water and the fact that we waste water, and grab water from our neighbors, did not present the technologies that will help us overcome such shortages in the future.

In fact, if we do not talk about new technologies of water desalination, and of water saving, it is as if we were saying that when talking about energy – that it is all about oil.
In reality it is new forms of energy supply that will save the day in the energy area, and desalination projects will help us overcome the described water shortages.

Nevertheless, the book and the presentations are valuable because they describe the magnitude of the problem and send us off to look for possible solutions before the shortages hit us with full force.

We will get back to this point in another posting that will deal with A UNESCO newly established Graduate School in Delft, Holland, that will be training development professionals with knowledge in water technologies as well.

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