The Big Thirst

Asia’s New Battle Ground
Brahma Chellaney
Georgetown University Press, $29.95, 384 pp.

Water has no substitute. With that maxim, Brahma Chellaney begins his bracing interdisciplinary study of potential conflicts over this most necessary, beautiful, and elusive substance.

Asia, the world’s largest, most populous landmass, extends from Turkey and Israel to Japan, from Russia south to the Maldives. Chellaney’s scholarly, extensively footnoted study touches on all of the continent’s diverse cultures and peoples. A former adviser to India’s National Security Council, Chellaney has published five earlier books. He has also taught at Harvard and Johns Hopkins, and is now on the staff of New Delhi’s independent Center for Policy Research. In Water he blends elements of hydrology, international law, geography, climatology, culture, and international relations, arguing for the need to create peaceful means of reconciling international water disputes, particularly among India, Pakistan, China, and their neighbors. Though hampered by a serpentine and repetitive approach, Water will undoubtedly cause most readers to look at the world differently.

The scarcity of fresh water is a chronic problem across much of Asia, a dilemma that will only grow as Asian populations continue to balloon and the demand for better food and more manufactured goods increases. In turn, these demands will inevitably lead to the accelerated depletion of regional aquifers and to the drying up...

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About the Author

Patrick Jordan is a former managing editor of Commonweal.