Himalayan dams pose threat to Bangladesh

India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan have planned a total of 552 hydropower projects in Himalayan region, of which some have already been built and some are under construction, that may have far-reaching impacts on downstream Bangladesh, informed sources said.

Himalayan region is the centre point from where scores of small and large Asian rivers originated and run through. The Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Irabati are some of those. Bangladesh shares water of 54 rivers with India and 3 with Myanmar.

“If those upstream countries divert normal water flow through these dams, it will dry up many Bangladeshi rivers ruin irrigation system, kill lives in the water bodies. On the other hand, if they do not manage water properly it will inundate a big part of the country during rainy season,” Joint River Commission (JRC) Member Mir Sajjad Hossen told The New Nation.

A study of the ‘International Rivers’, an US based non-governmental organisation that protects rivers and defends the rights of communities, revealed that India has already built 74 dams, Nepal 15, Pakistan 6 and Bhutan 5 in Himalayan region in the recent years. It also found that 37 Indian, 7 Pakistani and 2 Nepalese dam are under construction in that area. The study also identified that India has planned to build 318 dams, Nepal 37, Pakistan 35 and Bhutan 16 more dams in this region to add over 1,50,000 Megawatts (MW) of additional electricity capacity in the next 20 years.

Sajjad Hossen said that the proposed and under construction dams, Tipaimukh dam is one of those, will change downstream flows, affecting agriculture and fisheries and threatening livelihoods of many people in Bangladesh.

“These countries are supposed to share information with Bangladesh before taking any such step of building new dams, but they are not doing so. We have asked them for information. What we can do if they do not obey the river interlinking rules,” said Hossen expressing helplessness against upstream powerful countries.

Former vice-chancellor of University of Dhaka Prof Moniruzzaman Miah said the attempts to build and already under construction dams and barrages in the Himalayan region is the part of India’s plan to dry Bangladesh and turn it to desert.

He said nearly 15 rivers in the southeastern region of Bangladesh already become dry due to the dams built in Himalayan region. Existing dames and construction of newer dams will be disastrous for downstream Bangladesh.

The author of the ‘Mountains of Concrete: Dam Building in the Himalayas’ Shripad Dharmadhikary wrote: “If all the planned capacity expansion materialises, the Himalayan region could possibly have the highest concentration of dams in the world. This dam building activity will fundamentally transform the landscape, ecology and economy of the region and will have far-reaching impacts all the way down to the river deltas.”

Bhutan is planning a capacity expansion of about 10,000 MW in the next 10 years. Among the projects being planned for the near future are the 1,095 MW Puntansangchu-I and the 600 MW Mangdechhu projects.

Nepal is planning to install hydropower capacity of 22,000 MW in the coming years. For its own needs, Nepal plans to add 1,750 MW by the year 2020-2021, mostly through small and medium projects. Rest, mainly from the bigger projects, is planned for selling power to India. Pakistan has plans to add 10,000 MW through five projects by the year 2016. Another 14 projects totalling about 21,000 MW are under study for construction by 2025. The government is pushing for the immediate implementation of the massive 4,500 MW Diamer-Bhasha project.

India declared its intentions with the launching of the “50,000 MW Initiative” on May 24, 2003. This initiative fast tracked hydropower development by taking up time-bound preparation of the Preliminary Feasibility Reports (PFRs) of 162 new hydroelectric schemes totalling around 50,000 MW. India has plans to build this capacity by 2017 and then, in the 10 years following, to add another 67,000 MW of hydropower. Construction is ongoing for many of the projects including the 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri project, the 400 MW Koteshwar project and the 1,000 MW Karcham Wangtoo, to name a few. Many of these projects are already under construction.

Due to various obstacles of dams, barrages and hydropower projects in Himalayan region, the source of water of rivers, Bangladesh get lesser water in rivers flowing throughout the country. The lean water flow in the rivers has already cast negative impact on ecology, aquatic life, and irrigation.

According to the Ganges treaty, signed in 1996, Bangladesh and India will equally share water if water flow is up to 70,000 cusec or less in the Farakka barrage point. Bangladesh will get 35,000 cusec of water and India will get the rest if water at Farakka point is between 70,000 and 75,000 cusec.

If water at Frakka point reaches more than 75,000 cusec, India will get 40,000 cusec and Bangladesh will get the rest. But India never followed these terms and conditions of the accord and released meagre quantity of water for Bangladesh, it was alleged.

The JRC statistics shows that Bangladesh did not get its proper share of water since signing of the treaty. In 1999 Bangladesh got 1,033 cusec of water at Teesta barrage point against its normal requirements of 10,000 cusec of water. After JRC meeting in 2000 the water flow rose to 4,530 cusec, in January 2001 it reduced to 1406 cusec, in January 2002 to 1,000 cusec, in January 2003 to 1,100 cusec, in November 2006 to 950 cusec, in January 2007 to 525 cusec and in January 2008 to 1,500 cusec.

Due to less quantum of water supply through Teesta barrage thousands of acres of land in the country’s northern districts lack irrigation posing threat to Boro rice cultivation. Around 15 small rivers are also drying up and about to die due to the same reason. The Teesta River itself becomes a thin canal for less volume of water supply from the upper riparian Indian part. The rivers include: Kortoa, Dudhkomol, Jingira, Dhorla, Bangali, Ghaghot, Atrai, Akhira, Manas, Katakhali, Ichamoti, Punorvoba, Burighora and Dhauk also drying due to less water supply. WDB officials said sustainability of these rivers is impossible unless India supplies adequate water through the barrage.

Executive Engineer of Water Development Board (WDB) Atiqur Rahman said they need 10,000 cusec of water to run smooth irrigation but at present they are getting only 1 thousand to 1.5 thousands cusec of water at the barrage point.

Source: The Daily New Nation, 09 March 2009


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