South Asia

SOUTH ASIA 2017: MISS YOU, RIVERS & FISH! As Dams and Water sharing dominate

India-Bangladesh-Myanmar face big quake threat A giant fault in the earth’s crust in one of the world’s most densely populated areas could kill tens of millions of people, scientists have warned according to a new paper in the journal Nature Geoscience. Researchers placed hundreds of highly accurate GPS receivers in locations across India, Bangladesh and Myanmar and monitored them over a ten-year period. Now the scientists fear the location is home to a mega-thrust fault which could unleash a 8.2-9.0 magnitude earthquake. More than 140 million people live within a 60-mile area of the potential disaster zone in Bangladesh. The scientists, led by Dr Michael Steckler from Columbia University published their findings in the journal Nature. This is also a warning against major interventions in the North East India. http://www.indiaspend.com/cover-story/india-bangladesh-and-myanmar-face-big-quake-threat-99557, July 19, 2016, http://thenortheasttoday.com/earthquake-of-9-0-magnitude-could-be-unleashed-anytime-from-a-major-fault-underneath-bangladesh/, July 22, 2016, http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ngeo2760.html 

CSOs form common platform of GBM basins The first Regional Consultation Workshop on a CSO Vision for Cooperative Trans-boundary Water Resource Management in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna River Basins was organised in Kathmandu last week to draft the regional platform. Participants from the premises of three trans-boundary rivers from five countries Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and China had agreed to form regional platform for sharing common issues as well as working on future plans and programs. https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/csos-decide-form-common-platform-ganga-brahmaputra-meghna-river-basins/, March 28, 2017

BANGLADESH Farakka Barrage is hurting India and Bangladesh It is heartening to see that Indian politicians and river experts themselves are now asking for the demolition of the Farakka barrage. The failure of Farakka is an example of the inappropriateness of structural interventions in rivers in general. It is also important for Bangladesh to take lessons from the Farakka experience in deciding about the proposed Ganges barrage to be built inside Bangladesh. The author advocates ecological approach to rivers, signing of the 1997 UN Convention, and opposition to the proposed Ganga Barrage of Bangladesh, in addition to decommissioning of Farakka barrage.  http://www.thedailystar.net/perspective/farakka-barrage-hurting-bangladesh-and-india-1374838

Ban on fishing in Padma, Meghna begins A two-month ban on catching, selling and transportation of all types of fish from the Padma and Meghna rivers began on March 01, 2017 to ensure safe spawning and protect fish resources. The ban will remain in force till April 30. This is indeed a HUGE step Bangladesh has been taking, coupled with provision of foodgrains to fisherfolk. They deserve applause and support for this brave step. http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2017/03/01/ban-fishing-padma-meghna-begins/

Eating more fish but getting less nutrition It turns out that, in Bangladesh, local species from capture fisheries are generally much more nutritious than the species being farmed. Capture fisheries in the country are dominated by nearly 300 species of “small indigenous fish”, which are often consumed whole, including head and bones. Nutrition powerhouses, these small fish are rich sources of important micronutrients including iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin A, as well as high-quality protein. Aquaculture, on the other hand, is dominated by a handful of large fish species, both indigenous and exotic. Only the flesh of large fish is normally eaten, which is a rich source of high-quality protein, but generally has lower micronutrient content. As diets have shifted towards more farmed fish, nutrient intakes from fish has declined. And this has serious implications for a country suffering widespread malnutrition. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-04-bangladesh-people-fish-nutrition.html, April 2017

Industrial pollution killing fish in Shitalakkhya River Over past 7 years, fishermen of Bandar area of Narayanganj, has been facing hard time for lack of fish in the Shitalakkhya river as pollution has forced fish to disappear from the river. Many are now thinking of leaving the occupation and many have already lost. Locals say a large number of unplanned factories were set up on the banks of the Shitalakkhya and those are discharging waste into the river making the water extremely polluted and putting aquatic animals at stake. http://www.thedailystar.net/city/shitalakkhya-river-pollution-killing-fish-1377625, March 18, 2017

Dying rivers of Dhaka Dhaka is more than 400 years old, but the govt is yet to install an environmentally sustainable sewerage system. The Dhaka Sewerage Authority can treat only 20% of the city’s sewerage and the rest is dumped into the four rivers. Also local polluting textile and tannery industries dump untreated industrial effluents into the rivers. Worse, powerful and influential people have gradually taken over the river banks and basins to set up factories as industrial land ran out. https://www.thethirdpole.net/2017/06/26/can-new-protections-save-dhakas-dying-rivers/

Hasina stalls Padma barrage  PM Sheikh Hasina on April 11, 2017 said her govt had postponed the construction of the Padma River barrage because of design flaws and that India will become a party to the project after some improvements are made. Terming the current proposal as suicidal, the premier said the barrage will now be set up jointly with India after corrections are made to the design. The proposed dam would span 2.1 kms between Habashpur of Rajbari district and Lalkhan of Shujanagar upazila under Pabna district, around 98 kms downstream from the Farakka Barrage. http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2017/04/12/hasina-stalls-suicidal-padma-barrage/

TEESTA Ecology, livelihood under threat as Teesta loses flow Once mighty Teesta river has turned into a thin flow at the beginning of the dry season, due to withdrawal to water from upstream in India. Livelihoods of a large number of boatmen, fishermen and farmers of the river basin villages in the district are under threat due to the situation. http://www.thedailystar.net/country/ecology-livelihood-under-threat-teesta-loses-flow-1337698, Dec 30, 2016

W Bengal not consulted, water and flood concerns unaddressed According to a W Bengal State Govt official, CM Mamata Banerjee remains unconvinced over the Teesta Water Sharing pact particularly with regard to the situation in north Bengal. The CM is not keen about the deal because the Centre has made not attempts to reach out and address the twin issues of water scarcity and flooding in the area. Damming of the Teesta in Sikkim is another issue that the state complained to the Centre about. The Sikkim govt has a number of hydro electric projects on the Teesta river. Sikkim releases water during the rainy season which leads to flooding in north Bengal and during the dry season, there is water shortage in north Bengal due to the hydropower dams. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/teesta-water-sharing-pact-west-bengal-chief-minister-mamata-banerjee-bangladesh-prime-minister-sheikh-hasina-4586947/, March 27, 2017

As per another report, Centre is working hard to conclude the Teesta water sharing agreement with Sheikh Hasina’s govt, even ready to discuss with Mamata Banerjee. MEA spokesperson Gopal Baglay has said stakeholders would be consulted at the right time in the spirit of “cooperative federalism”. Banerjee said that she was told the signing of the Teesta treaty would be on May 25, 2017 following the visit of Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina on April 7-10. Other northeastern CMs had been invited to the signing but not her. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-rigid-on-indus-treaty-change-but-pushing-for-teesta-deal/articleshow/57845999.cms, March 27, 2018

Apart from Teesta, CM moots plan with 3 other rivers In a bid to find a solution to the logjam over sharing the Teesta’s waters, the Mamata Banerjee govt is learnt to have made a counter-proposal to the Centre: why focus on the Teesta system alone, “water could be obtained from other river systems”, too. A source close the Mamata said that the CM had “made a suggestion that instead of being focused on the Teesta river, the two governments could look at the possibility of sharing water from other river systems in Bengal, which are also close to the border”. The three rivers that Mamata suggested be studied as possible alternative to the Teesta were Torsa, Sankosh and Raidak. This is so seriously problematic. The plan would destroy more rivers. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/why-focus-just-on-teesta-didi-moots-plan-with-3-other-rivers-mamata-banerjee-india-bangladesh-4605722/ April 9, 2017

Bangladesh hydrology expert Dr Ainun Nishat interview Strangely no mention of environment, biodiversity, climate change or silt in the river. https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/environment/2017/03/31/india-rights-teesta/ March 31, 2017

Why India needs to urgently sign Teesta Treaty: Swarajya magazine The Teesta’s floodplains span a vast 2750 sq km in Bangladesh and support the livelihood of 10 million people engaged in fishing and farming. Bangladesh complains that over one lakh hectares of land in Rangpur – its rice bowl – cannot be cultivated for winter crops due to excessive drawl of water from the Teesta by India and has been demanding a fair share of the river’s waters during the dry season.

– India controls the Teesta’s flow into Bangladesh from the Gazaldoba barrage that is part of the ambitious Teesta Barrage Project (http://ssresearcher.com/journals/pdf/137_2.pdf). This project, launched in 1976, involved construction of barrages across the Teesta and canals to carry water to irrigate a total of 9.22 lakh hectares of farmland in five district of north Bengal. But the project now manages to irrigate only 66,000 hectares of farmland. A miniscule portion of the work has been completed, but, nonetheless, India has been using the barrage to divert waters of the Teesta and deny Bangladesh its fair share of waters.

– Experts and bureaucrats of the two countries have been holding parleys since then and in 1983, an ad-hoc agreement on sharing the waters of the Teesta was reached. Under this, Bangladesh got 36 per cent share of the river’s waters, India got 39 per cent share while the remaining 25 per cent remained un-allocated. But India never honoured this agreement and Bangladesh’s share of the river waters, especially during the dry season, has been steadily decreasing with India diverting more and more waters from the Gazaldoba barrage.

– Bangladesh presented a draft agreement on sharing the waters of the Teesta in 2000. Under this agreement, India would get 42.5 per cent of Teesta’s waters and Bangladesh would get 37.5 per cent while the remaining 20 per cent would flow unhindered in order to maintain a minimum water flow of the river. India accepted this formula with some minor changes and a treaty on sharing the waters of this river was scheduled to be signed during then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka on September 2011.

– Mamata’s reason for opposing the agreement: she construed the draft agreement as giving a whopping 57.5 per cent of Teesta’s waters to Bangladesh whereas this was not the case. Though 57.5 per cent of the river’s waters would flow into Bangladesh, the latter would have been able to utilize only the agreed portion of it for irrigation and power-generation purposes. Mamata was willing to allow only 35 per cent, or at best 40 per cent, of the Teesta’s waters to flow into Bangladesh.

– India’s case against China on the flow of the Brahmaputra river gets very weak due to the denial of the legitimate rights of Bangladesh as a lower riparian state in the case of the Teesta river. Just as Bangladesh is a lower riparian state in the case of Teesta, India is also a lower riparian state in the case of the Brahmaputra. https://swarajyamag.com/world/why-india-should-immediately-seal-the-teesta-water-sharing-deal-with-bangladesh April 4, 2017

India, Bangladesh fighting over a trickle? According to a report prepared for the W Bengal government, Teesta has only about 100 cumecs water in dry season between Feb and May, when demand for farmers from India and Bangladesh is 1600 cumecs. So even if India were to release half of available water, it wont help Bangladesh, and it will create more problems in N Bengal. A Parliamentary delegation to visit Sikkim to assess the impact of eight hydro projects there on the flow of Teesta. http://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/power/teesta-india-bangladesh-fighting-over-a-trickle/58214850 April 17, 2017

Teesta’s deep water dilemma From its source till Gazaldoba in Jalpaiguri, Teesta has water even in this dry season, but then things change. On one side of the Gazaldoba dam, the river is brimming with water, but on the other side sandbars have emerged. After flowing hard and fast over all obstacles, Teesta loses its force at this point. This narrowed-down sluggish Teesta then enters Bangladesh. The West Bengal government controls the Teesta barrage. However, the official contacted there refuses to provide any information. India began construction of the Teesta barrage in 1976 at Gazaldoba, Jalpaiguri. Water is being blocked at Gazaldoba and diverted to the river Mahandanda. At Fulbari, the Mahananda barrage has been constructed and water diverted for irrigation purposes. Then there were plans to construct Dauk barrage (North Dinajpur) on the Mahananda canal at Chopra and the Tangon barrage (South Dinajpur) downstream near the Bangladesh border. The Dauk barrage has been made, but not the Tangon barrage. Detailed narration of what Bangladesh journalists found when they travelled along Teesta in April 2017. http://en.prothom-alo.com/bangladesh/news/148421/Teesta%E2%80%99s-deep-water-dilemma

Bangladeshis won’t accept anything short of Teesta treaty The Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh between 2007 and 2009, Mohammed Touhid Hossain a well-known authority on Bangladesh-India relations spoke to thethirdpole.net on the aftermath of PM Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Delhi, especially about the failure to finalise the Teesta water sharing agreement between Bangladesh and India. The interview makes some clear statements about Teesta water sharing, Ganga water sharing and lack of progress about water sharing from other rivers between India and Bangladesh. https://www.thethirdpole.net/2017/04/25/bangladeshis-wont-accept-anything-short-of-teesta-treaty/ April 25 2017

MoU for fairway development on Kushiyara and Jamuna river signed On April 05, 2017, the Union Cabinet chaired by the PM Modi has approved MoU between India and Bangladesh for fairway development of Ashuganj-Zakiganj stretch of Kushiyara river and Sirajganj-Daikhawa stretch of Jamuna river in the Indo-Bangladesh protocol route by undertaking necessary dredging jointly by the two countries. It says: “The MoU will considerably reduce the logistics cost of cargo movement to North Eastern India.” http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=160556 April 5, 2017

India eyes waterways with Bangladesh As per Mansukh Mandviya, Union Minister, India will dredge the Brahmaputra river on its side and the Bangladesh will dredge the river on their side. Govt expect that within the next one year the new waterway would be operational and it would boost the trade and people to people contact.

According to Tripura Transport Secretary Samarjit Bhowmik, the state govt had submitted proposals to develop waterways between Tripura’s Gomati and Howrah and Bangladeshi rivers. The Shipping Ministry has recently sanctioned Rs 120 million and asked the state government to submit detailed project reports to develop waterways between Tripura’s Gomti and Bangladesh’s Meghna rivers.

Since 1972, four inland water routes between India and Bangladesh are currently operational: Kolkata-Pandu (in southern Assam) via Bangladesh, Kolkata-Karimganj (in southern Assam) via Bangladesh, Rajshahi (in Bangladesh)-Dhulian (in southern Assam) and Karimganj-Pandu-Karimganj via Bangladesh. India has taken16 waterway projects, mostly involving Bangladesh. The two countries have a 2,979 km land border and 1,116 km of riverine boundary. They also share 54 common rivers. http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/2017/07/23/77751/India-eyes-new-waterway%C2%A0with-Bangladesh-soon

Sundarbans People facing sea level rise & cyclones The Sundarbans straddle the Bangladesh-India border. The Indian part has around five million people living in it. Nilanjan Ghosh, an ecological economist who is a consultant for Observer Research Foundation and WWF India, has led a study that shows 1.5 million of these people will have to be permanently relocated outside the Sundarbans, because sea level rise will make it impossible for them to live there or earn a livelihood.

– At one edge of the Sundarbans – the world’s largest mangrove forest – Mousuni used to have an embankment along Baliara to hold back the rising sea. That collapsed during the 2009 Cyclone Aila. Since then, there have been three attempts to build sea walls, all of which have collapsed against the power of the sea. Scientists say seas around the world are rising due to climate change, but the Bay of Bengal is rising twice as fast as the global average.

– At the confluence of the Muriganga – a distributary of the Ganga – with the Bay of Bengal, Mousuni is a bustling island of about 5,000 households. But over 2,000 of them are in Baliara, and they are under a sentence of displacement or death.

– Where will they go? Salma is not clear, while Jasimuddin says he knows nothing except paddy and freshwater fish farming, so what will he do elsewhere for a living? Over 150 families in Baliara have already left permanently. They could not sell their land, because nobody was interested in wasteland. They just left.

– In contrast, the plight of people in the Sundarbans is not even mentioned in international climate talks, not even by the Governments of Bangladesh or India.

– The problem is far more fundamental than the solutions attempted so far. Apart from sea level rise due to climate change, the entire Sundarbans is sinking because dams and barrages in the Ganga and its tributaries upstream hold back the silt that forms the soil that forms the delta. No policymaker in New Delhi shows any interest in even starting to address that problem.

– Is there a solution at all? Go around 2,000 kilometres from the Sundarbans, down India’s east coast to Pichavaram in Tamil Nadu, and you will see one with potential. Mangroves have been cut down all along the coastlines of South Asia, but there was still a large strand standing at Pichavaram when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit the entire region from Indonesia to East Africa. Coastal villages to the north and south of Pichavaram were devastated, killing many. But the 16 villages shielded by the Pichavaram mangroves from the tsunami wave escaped with very little damage. The mangroves tempered the wave.

– There have been some sporadic attempts to plant mangroves in the Bay of Bengal facing islands of the Sundarbans, but neither the authorities nor the residents seem to be aware it may be the only effective wall against a rising sea. https://www.thethirdpole.net/2018/01/15/rising-sea-swamps-island-along-bengal-coast/

BHUTAN Power of the River movie trailer an adventure documentary from the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. This little Buddhist nation, home to the world’s most ambitious commitment to protect nature, faces urgent pressure to dam every river. A man named “Good Karma” guides an expedition into the unknown to keep his country’s mightiest river wild and free.

NEPAL Activists braving threats and State apathy to save a river A group of 15 has been defending the Trishuli river from exploitation by sand miners, but with little success, over the last 15 years. They have eschewed fund-raising, focussing on the core work of activism. Despite this, a few of their friends have bargained with the sand miners and are now shareholders. Although riverbed mining has been banned in Nepal since 1991, the ban exists only on paper. Despite a barrage of complaints from the locals, the authorities are either silent, or take little action. With the destruction of the river, the fish population has declined severely. Story of Trishuli Bachao Abhiyaan in Nepal, now going on for 15 years, the river originating in Tibet. https://scroll.in/article/832514/in-nepal-volunteers-are-braving-threats-and-state-apathy-to-save-a-river-but-its-a-losing-battle May 31, 2017. Also see, Ill designed rural roads causing landslides http://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2017/03/29/nepal-rural-roads-1/

Transboundary water management program launched The ‘Transboundary Rivers of South Asia’ (TROSA) a five year program is launched in Kathmandu on May 25, 2017 to promote improved policies and practices that protect the rights of communities along the Ganges, the Brahmaputra-Meghna and the Salween river basins. Funded by the Government of Sweden the project will be implemented by Oxfam and regional and national partners in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The TROSA project will engage relevant stakeholders to produce knowledge that supports decision makers in balancing economic growth, social justice and resilient ecosystems. It aims to strengthen capacity of river basin communities and civil society to have their voice heard in trans-boundary water resource management. https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/oxfam-launches-transboundary-water-management-programme/ May 27, 2017

Another landslide associated with a hydropower project  Various media outlets have reported a landslide near Righa in Baglung district, Nepal, which briefly blocked the Daram River (although the blockage soon cleared).  This landslide appears to have claimed the life of a local woman. A landslide due to under construction Dharamkhola Hydropower project blocks the river, and the flood resulting from release of water from the landslide dam kills a person. http://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2017/03/06/righa-1/

PAKISTAN Sindh People March to Protect Indus River In continuation with the PFF’s yearly campaign for the restoration for River Indus and Indus Delta, the PFF organized Sindh Awami Caravan in the form of a 14-Day long campaign from March 1-14, 2017 to culminate in the form of a massive people’s assembly participated by thousands of peoples fishing and peasant communities, civil society members, academia, government officials, media and other stakeholders. The 2017 Sindh Awami Caravan was carried out under the theme; Protection of our rivers and delta. Taking into consideration the aims and objectives of the Caravan, the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum highlighted the restoration of rivers in general in the River Indus in particular, the fresh water flow of 35 MAF Kotri downstream, the protection of Indus Delta and provision of fresh water in all the inland fresh water natural lakes. The PFF demands that the natural flow of rivers especially River Indus be restored.

Pakistan world’s top groundwater exporter Pakistan is the world’s largest exporter of groundwater through its grains export. India is the third largest. The parts of both countries from which most grains are exported are seriously water-scarce. This seems to give only partial picture. India is possibly the biggest exporter of groundwater. https://thewire.in/131613/pakistan-worlds-top-groundwater-exporter-india-third/ May 3, 2017

Sawalkot dam Experts have also voiced their concern over the construction of the 1856 MW project, which would be tantamount to ecological destruction. Proposed on Chenab river, to be managed as per Indus Treaty. There will be a massive displacement of population and the land needed for the dam will sweep away large areas of forest cover. Moreover, the Sawalkot dam is close to the Himalayan Boundary Thrust Zone, where a number of earthquakes have been recorded. This article raises some sharp questions. https://thewire.in/117410/sawalkot-dam-india-pakistan/ March 20, 2017

Chinese firm awarded Dasu dam contracts The WAPDA on March 08, 2017 have awarded Rs 180 billion worth of two contracts to China Gezhouba Group Company for carrying out main civil works in the first stage of the Dasu hydropower project. Signing the contract Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) said that the first phase of project would have installed capacity of 2,160 MW and would be completed in 2021. The 4,320 MW Dasu hydropower project is being constructed on the River Indus upstream of Dasu town in Kohistan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The World Bank is partially providing funds for the construction of stage-I of the project, while a major chunk of the finances are being arranged by Wapda from its own resources and with the sovereign guarantee of the govt of Pakistan. https://www.dawn.com/news/1319342, http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/pakistan-gives-chinese-firm-contracts-for-dam-construction-on-indus/story-QWH4oIcWuJvn47UyFEwkNI.html, http://www.wapda.gov.pk/index.php/newsmedia/news-views/211-dasu-hydropower-project-wapda-signs-two-contracts-worth-rs-180-billion-for-main-civil-works, March 8, 2017

Compiled by SANDRP (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

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