Asia's phenomenal economic rise has drawn a lot of attention in policy circles. But less well publicized has been the sharpening water competition this growth has triggered. Asia is the world's most dam-dotted continent: It has more dams than the rest of the world combined.
Numerous new dam projects in Asia show that the damming of rivers is still an important priority for Asian policymakers. While dam building has largely petered out in the West, it continues in full swing in Asia. Like arms racing, "dam racing" has emerged as a geopolitical concern, as riparian neighbors compete to appropriate resources of shared rivers. As a result, relationships between upstream and downstream states are often characterized by mutual distrust and discord. So, how can the rising geopolitical risks be stemmed? This talk will underscore the imperative for Asian states to build institutionalized water cooperation, based on transparency, information sharing, equitable distribution of benefits, dispute settlement, pollution control, and a mutual commitment to refrain from any project that could materially diminish transboundary flows.
Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. He has held appointments at Harvard University, the Brookings Institution, Johns Hopkins University, and Australian National University. He is the author of Water: Asia's New Battleground (Georgetown University Press, 2011) along with five previous books, including Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India, and Japan (HarperCollins, 2010). His scholarly articles have appeared in numerous journals including International Security, Orbis, and Survival. He is a regular op-ed contributor to the International Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, and the Japan Times, and an occasional contributor to the Financial Times and the New York Times.