Bangladesh must strengthen its river diplomacy

Published: 00:00, Dec 03,2020


SUCCESSIVE governments have not been able to effectively ensure an equitable share of the water and aquatic resources of trans-border rivers. There are, therefore, reasonable grounds to be concerned about the construction of large-scale dams on the River Yarlung Zangbo, which flows as the Brahmaputra through India and the Jamuna through Bangladesh, for hydropower. India has already raised concern that the project upstream in China may hurt the interests downstream in India. Some also suspect that China could use the project as a tool to serve its political strategy in the region. India also considers building a hydropower plant in Arunachal Pradesh to mitigate the adverse impact of the Yarlung Zangbo dam project that could trigger flash flood or create water scarcity in the region. The projects of India and China, as Bangladesh government experts suggest, may hurt the river’s ecology and people dependent on the Jamuna and the Brahmaputra for their livelihood. Bangladesh should, therefore, immediately raise the issue with China, saying that such projects involving trans-border rivers require dialogues and support of all riparian states.

The proposed dams could have a grave impact on the river ecology by way of water scarcity, siltation and the loss of biodiversity if India and China plan to withdraw or redirect the water of the river. Experts are concerned that Bangladesh is kept in the dark about the plans and insist that the government should immediately make an impact assessment of the proposed dams. They have also warned the government of its past failure in water diplomacy. The way India built the Farakka Barrage close to the Bangladesh border has gravely impacted the river system. With a huge quantity of water being diverted, the River Gorai in Bangladesh is now filled with silt at the Kumarkhali railway bridge as the flow towards Bangladesh drops suddenly in October. Experts say that 123 rivers in Bangladesh have died around the area, causing Tk 30,000 crore in annual losses. India has, meanwhile, left hanging the Ganga Barrage proposal, meant to deter Farakka dam impacts, for years. Green activists in Bangladesh have also demanded that India should decommission the Farakka Barrage considering its adverse impact, but to no avail. It is largely because of the India appeasement policy of successive Bangladesh governments. Bangladesh’s lenient foreign policy to attract Chinese investments and secure its political support has also contributed to the situation.

International laws and conventions on trans-border water cooperation say that all riparian states are entitled to the natural flow of a river system and all countries must be informed beforehand of any project that could impact common waters. Bangladesh must, therefore, raise the issue with China and India that they have taken up the projects in a clear breach of relevant conventions and demand that they should share their plans with Bangladesh for a proper impact assessment.

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