Water Scarcity and Regional Security in India

As India’s population has increased, so have its water requirements. Before India was partitioned in 1947 into two countries, its population was around 390 million: 330 million in India and another 60 million in what later became Pakistan. By 2016, the population of India had increased to 1.33 billion, with another 193 million in Pakistan and 163 million in Bangladesh (Pakistan was divided into Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1971). By 2050, India is expected to have some 1.7 billion people, Pakistan 344 million, and Bangladesh another 202 million.

Compared with the total population of 390 million in 1947 undivided India, by 2016, these three countries have a combined population of 1.686 billion. By 2050, the total population of these countries is estimated to reach 2.206 billion. Also by 2050, India is expected to be the most populous country in the world, overtaking China by around 2022. The three countries that were part of India in 1947 are expected to become three of the 10 most populous countries of the world by 2050, with India at number one, Pakistan at number six, and Bangladesh at number eight.

Increases in population, in the absence of serious and sustained efforts to improve water use efficiencies, have become a major driver of water requirements in the country. India’s neighbors—Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh—are facing similar problems. This is an important consideration because many of the major rivers of the subcontinent are shared by two or more countries.

By Cecilia Tortajada, Udisha Saklani and Asit K. Biswas, Chapter of the book: Water, Security and U.S. Foreign Policy, edited by David Reed, 2018, Routledge, New York, pages 237-252.

Chapter online