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The Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra: A Political Ecology of Water

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In International Relations, ”Hydropolitics” denotes competing interests of states over trans-boundary water resources such as rivers or aquifers. However, the traditional focus on nation states as the central actors tends to ignore the intrastate dimension of conflicts over waters. Stakeholders on different scales, from small farmers and pastoralists to local governments and international corporations, often aim at radically different development objectives. In the theoretical perspective of political ecology, conflicts over water are often shaped by power asymmetries in the context of the capitalist world systems. The analysis applied in this paper aims at critically combining International Relations perspectives with a historically-informed political ecology. Trans-boundary water resources have manifold aspects on different scales: Agricultural, industrial, spiritual, public health, strategic and political dimensions that overlap, and thus structure the character of competition over these resources. The Brahmaputra will serve as a case study for a multi-scalar analysis of water conflict arising over hydroelectric dams and irrigation schemes. The Brahmaputra is part of one of the largest river systems in Asia. It springs from Autonomous Region of Tibet in the People’s Republic of China, runs through the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, and joins the Ganges in Bangladesh, emptying in the Bay of Bengal, changing its name several times in the course. The Brahmaputra has sparked hydropolitical tensions between China and India, but also between tribal societies in North-Eastern India and India’s national authorities. Northeast India and Tibet are sites of ethnic group conflicts, and India and China are among the nations with the largest numbers of large dams. Bangladesh, due to its situation, is highly vulnerable to increasingly volatile floods. Climate change and rapid infrastructure development are prone to intensify hydropolitical conflicts in the region in a mid-term perspective.
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Sören Köpke M.A., Fellow, Chair for International Relations,
Braunschweig Institute for Technology (TU Braunschweig), Germany
ENTITLE Conference “Undisciplined Environments“, Stockholm, March 22, 2016
The Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra:
A Political Ecology of Water
Source: lacitadelle (flickr)
March 22, 2016 | Sören Köpke | Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra | Page 2
The Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra
1.Hydropolitics in International Relations Theory
2.The Case: Brahmaputra River Basin
3.Securization of Waterscape and Mountain Regions
4.Historical Constructs
5.The Promise of Treaties
6.A Matter of Scales: The Political Ecology of Modernization in the GBM
7.Conclusion
March 22, 2016 | Sören Köpke | Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra | Page 3
Hydropolitics in International Relations Theory
Term “Hydropolitics” coined by
JohnWaterbury (1979) in “Hydropolitics
of the Nile Valley”
Referring to trans-boundary water
conflicts between nation states
Hydropolitics – on different scales, not
only interstate dimension
A look at the politics of water
distribution, access and control from a
political ecology perspective
Source: Waterbury/ Whittington 1998
March 22, 2016 | Sören Köpke | Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra | Page 4
Main theoretical schools in IR Theory
Realism
Constructivism
Structuralism Idealism
Source: After U. Menzel (2001)
March 22, 2016 | Sören Köpke | Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra | Page 5
The Brahmaputra River Basin
Source: Pfly (CC-BY-SA 3.0)
March 22, 2016 | Sören Köpke | Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra | Page 6
Hydroelectricity Development
Source: The Economist (2014)
March 22, 2016 | Sören Köpke | Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra | Page 7
Dam construction plans in the PR China
Source: http://www.meltdownintibet.com/f_maps_hydrochina.htm
March 22, 2016 | Sören Köpke | Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra | Page 8
Dam construction plans in the PR China
Source: http://tibetanplateau.blogspot.com
March 22, 2016 | Sören Köpke | Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra | Page 9
Securization of Waterscapes and Mountain Regions
The Himalayan Region: Intensely
contested
1962 Sino-Indian War over Ladakh/
Aksai Chin and NEFA (today Arunachal
Pradesh)
Ethnicized conflicts in Tibet, nationalist
separatism in all of India‘s Seven Sister
states of the Northeast, Burma,
Bangladesh‘s Chittagong Hill Tracts
The region is heavily militarized
Rebels from the National Socialist Council of
Nagaland.
Source: FT.com
March 22, 2016 | Sören Köpke | Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra | Page 10
Historical claims and security dilemmas
Source: India Today/ Reuters
PR China insists that parts
of Arunachal Pradesh
belong to its territory as
“South Tibet” & issued map
accordingly (in 2014)
In Realist theory, PR China
and India face a security
dilemma where each side
wants to achieve
dominance
Non-zero-sum-game over
water resources?
March 22, 2016 | Sören Köpke | Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra | Page 11
Historical constructs
Borderlines are indeed a product of
imperialist history – a construct
Deliminations stem from Simla Accord
between the British Empire and Tibet in
1914
China has never accepted the so-called
McMahon Line drawn by British India‘s
foreign secretary Henry McMahon
McMahon Line gives India control over the
crest of the Himalaya in Arunachal Pradesh
Source: wikimedia, quora.com
March 22, 2016 | Sören Köpke | Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra | Page 12
The Promise of Treaties
IR literature on water conflicts points to
prevalence of cooperation over aggression
Virtually no contemporary case of war over
water (but water as an important resource in
violent conflict – e.g. in struggle against
Daesh),
Hundreds of bilateral and multilateral treaties
worldwide - e.g. Indus Water Treaty
Call for treaty over Tsangpo/ Brahmaputra
Water as medium of the Idealists?
March 22, 2016 | Sören Köpke | Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra | Page 13
Appeals to reason?
Source: Twitter.com
March 22, 2016 | Sören Köpke | Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra | Page 14
The Political Ecology of Modernization on the Brahmaputra
The Northeastern Indian periphery faces
rapid modernization through Indian
center
Hindu-nationalist Mission (RSS) vs.
Christian evangelicals
Integration into cash economy, esp. of
Hill people (cf. Scott 2009)
Pressure to abandon Jhum cultivation,
modernization of agriculture
Contestation over construction of HydrEl
PP; land belongs to Scheduled Tribes
March 22, 2016 | Sören Köpke | Hydropolitics of the Brahmaputra | Page 15
Conclusion
In order to understand hydropolitical conflicts, we must shift attention to
scales beyond nation states as actors
We should conceptualize the hydropolitical implications of neo-liberal
globalization
Climate change is likely to be perceived as a game changer, increasing
competition over water resources (in a self-fulfilling prophecy manner)
Political ecology should continue to undiscipline hydropolitics and water
politics
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Article
Los diez sistemas de ríos principales del continente asiático nacen en el Himalaya, la gran mayoría, en la enorme meseta tibetana. China es uno de los países con más ríos transfronterizos en el mundo, solo superado por Rusia y Argentina. La torre de agua de Asia se encuentra en una posición que le confiere un enorme poder e influencia, y las decisiones que adopte en el campo de sus relaciones hidráulicas con el resto de países tiene un alcance regional, continental y, posiblemente, global. La gestión de sus 16 ríos transfronterizos puede afectar la disponibilidad de agua de muchos países río abajo, con afectación directa al acceso a los recursos hídricos de 14 países en el continente asiático y de casi tres billones de personas, es decir casi la mitad de la población mundial El objetivo del presente artículo es analizar el comportamiento hidráulico chino en el complejo del Himalaya, a partir de dos casos de estudio: las relaciones de China con Nepal e India. Se pretende así contribuir al debate sobre, por una parte, los factores explicativos del comportamiento hídrico de la potencia asiática, prestando especial atención a la importancia de la meseta tibetana y, por el otro, al debate académico sobre la estrategia china en relación con uno de los recursos más apreciados del planeta, el agua. China cuenta hoy en día con unas 90.000 infraestructuras hidráulicas, contando presas, diques y proyectos de desvío de agua, y sus intereses hídricos abarcan tanto ríos internos —que acusan la escasez y la sequía con más gravedad, como el Amarillo o el Yangtzé— como los ríos transfronterizos internacionales, lo que conlleva de inmediato una amenaza para los países con los que comparte estos ríos —como el Brahmaputra. El principal argumento es que la política china en el Himalaya es un eslabón más en el intento chino de consolidar su presencia política y estratégica en diferentes partes del mundo. Las relaciones hídricas chinas se deben analizar en el contexto de la política exterior del gigante asiático en la última década, marcada por su expansionismo, su cristalización como gran potencia mundial, y su estilo de política exterior a escala global El artículo se estructura de la siguiente forma. El primer apartado contiene el marco teórico y analítico del articulado, empezando por el paraguas conceptual que nos ofrece la hidropolítica para entender el comportamiento en términos hídricos de China en el espacio del Himalaya, en base a dos conceptos principales: hidrohegemonía e hidrodominación. El segundo apartado contiene una disección analítica del Himalaya como complejo hídrico y el estudio de los casos relevantes para entender el comportamiento de China en el sistema himalayo; Nepal e India. El análisis de los factores explicativos de la política hídrica china, a nivel endógeno y exógeno, así como la estrategia seguida por Pekín, sustentan el tercer apartado del documento. Las conclusiones y consideraciones finales cierran el presente artículo.
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