Navigating the Indus Waters Treaty: Climate Change and Pathways to Sustainability


Recognizing climate change as a shared vulnerability, there’s a growing call to shift focus from managing rivers to holistic basin management for sustainability. The 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, facilitated by the World Bank, remains pivotal but faces challenges. India’s recent push for treaty amendments reflects dissatisfaction with dispute resolution, notably concerning Pakistan’s objections to hydroelectric projects like Kishenganga and Ratle.

Impact of Climate Change

Climate change exacerbates these issues, with the Indus basin ranked as one of the world’s most stressed aquifers. Around 31% of its flow originates from climate-affected glaciers and snow melts, intensifying seasonal variability. This affects vital sectors like agriculture, which heavily relies on the Indus, contributing over 90% to Pakistan’s agricultural output and a quarter to its GDP.

Contentions and Challenges

Contentions often revolve around infrastructure impacts on downstream flows, compounded by deep-rooted mistrust. Pakistan’s concerns over projects like the Shahpurkandi barrage reflect broader tensions, despite legal provisions within the treaty. Bridging these gaps requires a more integrated approach, treating the basin as a cohesive unit.

Integrated Basin Management

Key steps include integrating ecological perspectives, such as Environmental Flows (EFs), into the treaty framework. EFs ensure sufficient freshwater for ecosystems, aligning with global water conventions. Addressing climate impacts and enhancing data-sharing between India and Pakistan are crucial for effective management.


Ultimately, prioritizing sustainability can transform the Indus treaty into a beacon of cooperation amid bilateral challenges, setting a precedent for global transboundary climate efforts.


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