[11 May 2024] The Hindu Op-ed: Freshwater Quest, the Likely New Gold Hunt

PYQ Relevance:

India is well endowed with fresh water resources. Critically examine why it still suffers from water scarcity. (UPSC IAS/2015)

Q What are the maritime security challenges in India? Discuss the organizational, technical, and procedural initiatives taken to improve maritime security. (UPSC IAS/2022)

Q ‘Climate change’ is a global problem. How India will be affected by climate change? How Himalayan and coastal states of India will be affected by climate change? (UPSC IAS/2017)


Prelims:  Non-renewable sources;

Mains: Non-renewable sources in India; Non-controversial legislative;

Mentor comment:  Healthy freshwater environments supply water for drinking, growing crops, manufacturing, energy, and transport. They also help to prevent erosion, dispose of waste, and provide natural protection from flooding. But we’ve been careless with this vital resource. In addition, 10% of the world’s animal species live exclusively in freshwater habitats, many of which are currently threatened with extinction. Now in this Climate changing world, can you imagine that huge volumes of freshwater exist under the saline ocean? And what if this Saline Ocean becomes an opportunity as the ‘largest freshwater resource’?

Let’s learn


Why in the News? 

A team of scientists from Vietnam and other countries have discovered underwater sources of Fresh water in the Oceanic body, previously, a river under the sea was discovered at the bottom of the Black Sea.


  • In the 1960s, the U.S. Geological Survey drilled boreholes off the New Jersey coast and unexpectedly struck freshwater.
    • According to the present researchers, this river appears to be 100 feet deep and has a flow rate of about 4 miles per hour; about 22,000 cubic meters of water passes through this channel.
    • It would count as one of the largest rivers in the world when compared to land-based rivers.
  • Freshwater is a depleting resource and countries will begin exploring for and exploiting freshwater from above or under their ocean bed, within their maritime zones. Eventually, they will try to expand their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) as given in Part XI of UNCLOS.
    • India can take the lead in shaping Non-controversial Legislative text that addresses the gaps in the laws of the sea, especially in exploratory activities that concern freshwater extraction
About UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea):

It is an international treaty adopted in 1982 (in force since 1994) that sets out the legal framework for all marine and maritime activities.
While UNCLOS is a comprehensive text governing oceans, customary international law remains significant in shaping maritime law.  As of 2024, 168 parties have ratified the treaty.
Exploration and Exploitation of the “Area”: UNCLOS governs the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources in the Area, which includes solid, liquid, or gaseous mineral resources beneath the seabed. The International Seabed Authority regulates activities in this regard.
“Minerals”: While UNCLOS defines “resources” as including solid, liquid, or gaseous mineral resources, it’s unclear if this includes freshwater.
International Seabed Authority (ISA): The ISA administers and controls activities in the “Area” under UNCLOS, ensuring compliance with regulations and procedures. However, it does not have jurisdiction over states’ parties to the Geneva Conventions.

About Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea, 1958: 

These conventions cover many issues addressed by UNCLOS and are often based on customary international law.
Article 311 of UNCLOS states that UNCLOS prevails over the Geneva Conventions, among state parties. This means that UNCLOS applies to signatory states over the Geneva Conventions.
The United States is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions but not UNCLOS, creating complexities in its adherence to maritime law.
Non-signatory states are not bound by UNCLOS and may not recognize concepts like the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or the “Area” beyond 200 nautical miles.
There is ambiguity regarding the regulation of state parties to the Geneva Conventions, especially concerning mining and exploratory activities in the “Area.”

Challenges for India in the “Zone of Exploration”:

  • Water Scarcity and Conflict: Anticipation that future wars may be fought over water due to its increasing scarcity and value, highlighting the importance of freshwater resources.
  • The potential of the “Area” for Freshwater: With freshwater becoming scarce and expensive, the “Area” could qualify as a potential zone for freshwater exploration and extraction, similar to oil exploration.
  • Lack of Legislation: Currently, there is a lack of specific legislation and terminologies governing the exploration and extraction of resources beyond national jurisdiction, particularly freshwater.
  • Complexities in Governance: The governance of activities beyond national jurisdiction, such as freshwater exploration, is complicated by multiple legislations governing the law of the sea.

Silver Lining for India:

  • Opportunity for Legislative Development: There is a need for the international community to develop laws of the sea, particularly concerning exploratory activities related to freshwater from the “Area.”
  • Sustainable Development Goals: The effort aligns with the global agenda of SDG 14, emphasizing the importance of sustainable resource management beyond national jurisdictions.
  • Potential Role for India: India is suggested to take a lead role in addressing these legislative challenges and advancing exploration activities in the “Area,” which could benefit mankind significantly.
  • Human Priorities Over Space Exploration: It advocates for prioritizing efforts to secure freshwater resources on Earth over investing in space exploration, highlighting the immediate and pressing need for water security.

The way for India to shape the “Non-controversial” Legislative text:

(The Non-controversial legislative text means the laws that are passed without an actual voice or recorded vote but by unanimous consent.)

  • Diplomatic Leadership: India can leverage its diplomatic influence and engagement with other nations to initiate discussions and negotiations on developing new legislative frameworks for freshwater extraction in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
  • International Partnerships: India can forge partnerships with like-minded countries, international organizations, and stakeholders to collaboratively draft and promote legislative proposals addressing gaps in the laws of the sea related to freshwater extraction.
  • Expertise and Research: India can contribute its expertise in marine science, technology, and legal studies to inform the development of non-controversial legislative text. Investing in research and studies on freshwater resources can provide valuable insights for legislative discussions.

Conclusion: India needs to work towards involvement in amending existing conventions like UNCLOS or drafting new agreements tailored to address the unique challenges of freshwater resource management.

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