By: AFP

Source: Economic Times (India)

Testing waters

Several hundred metres underground, thousands of labourers grind away day and night on a mammoth hydroelectric project in contested Kashmir, where India and Pakistan are racing to tap the subcontinent’s diminishing freshwater supplies.

The arch rivals have been building duelling power plants along the banks of the turquoise Neelum River for years.

Digging deep

The two projects, located on opposite sides of the Line of Control are now close to completion, fuelling tensions between the neighbours with Pakistan particularly worried their downstream project will be deprived of much-needed water by India.

70-year conflict

The Himalayan region of Kashmir is at the heart of a 70-year conflict between the nuclear-armed foes.

The rivalry on the Neelum is underlined by both countries’ unquenchable need for freshwater, as their surging populations and developing economies continue to stress already diminished waters tables.

Wider region only exacerbates the problem

This situation represents a serious challenge to Pakistan’s food security and long-term growth, its central bank recently warned in a report.

Kishanganga power station

On the Indian side, the Kishanganga power station is also in its final phase, but has delayed its late 2017 completion date, according to an official, in part because of ongoing unrest in the Kashmir valley.

Pakistan has filed cases at the World Bank against India and the Neelum dam, which it says will unfairly restrict the amount of water headed downstream.

Ultra-sensitive borders

The Indus River — into which the waters of the Neelum ultimately flow — is one of the longest on the continent, cutting through ultra-sensitive borders in the region.

It rises in Tibet, crosses Kashmir and waters 65 percent of Pakistan’s territory, including the vast, fertile plains of Punjab province — the country’s bread basket — before flowing into the Indian Ocean.

Indus Water Treaty

The Indus Water Treaty, ratified in 1960 under the auspices of the World Bank, theoretically regulates water allocation between the countries and is considered a rare diplomatic success story amid a bitter history.

It provides India with access to three eastern rivers (the Beas, Ravi and Sutlej) and Pakistan with three in the west (the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum), while setting the conditions for water usage.

Hydroelectric projects on the Neelum River

According to the plant’s director Nayyar Aluddin, the production of electricity could shrink by 10-13 percent because of the Indian project.

But the hydroelectric projects on the Neelum River are only one of several points of friction between the two countries as the Indus Treaty faces increasingly pressing disputes.