In 2011 Anatol Lieven wrote that the ‘greatest source of long-term danger to Pakistan’ was dependence on the river Indus and climate change in general. Lieven was in no doubt that water security was a far greater than that of Islamic extremism. The politics of water, one of the major aspects of water security, are complex, far reaching and highly conflictual across Asia. Many issues are tied to China because so many of South and South East Asia’s major rivers originate in the Tibetan Highlands of China. Upstream irrigation projects, hydroelectric and damming schemes and industrial pollution have major implications on those downstream, whether that be from China to India, India to Pakistan, or within countries (such as between Punjab and Sindh in Pakistan or conflicts over the River Cauvery in Southern India).

For China, while aware that its actions have the potential to cause conflicts with downstream neighbours, water is a crucial domestic issue in a country where floods and droughts have been the bane of farmers’ lives for centuries. As the China modernizes, huge efforts have been invested in infrastructure like the Three Gorges Dam and North-South Water Transfer to mitigate the effects of flooding, increase water supply to the arid north and generate electricity to feed the country’s great urbanization project.

In short, water security affects the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people in Asia and control and use of water resources are a vitally important domestic issue with international ramifications.

Reflecting the importance of water security in Asia and the centrality of China to the region’s resources, the Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies (IAPS) and the China Policy Institute (CPI) have organised this special issue as part of an ongoing commitment to exploring the links and conflicts between China and its downstream neighbours. IAPS and the CPI are collectively organising a new interdisciplinary research strand over the next few months to probe the domestic and international ramifications of this issue across Asia. The collection of posts by renowned specialists from around the world are a valuable starting point. The line-up includes:

Christine E. Boyle (Portland State University)
Katherine Morton (Australian National University)
Sam Geall (University of Sussex)
Darrin Magee (Hobart and William Smith Colleges)
Pichamon Yeophantong (Princeton University)
Uttam Kumar Sinha (IDSA),
Robert Wirsing (Georgetown)

IAPS and the CPI will hold an invitation only workshop in the new year. Interested academics and other professionals working on water security in Asia are welcome to contact Dr Jonathan Sullivan with EOI.

Image credit: CC by runner PL/Flickr