Monday, September 12, 2011

Cooperation And Wise Diplomacy Required For Hydropolitics

Withdrawal of upstream water of the river Teesta by India has drastically reduced its flow in the past 25 years spelling disaster for people living in the downstream in the northern region of Bangladesh. Massive shoals are now visible in the middle of the Teesta at Kaunia upazila in Rangpur as the river's downstream keeps on shrinking fast.

Although both India and Bangladesh have an arrangement to share 75% of the water, according to available information, flow of water in the Teesta downstream dwindles to 1,000 cusecs from around 5,000 cusecs (cubic feet per second) during the dry season. From December to March, the volume of water drops steeply as India holds back almost all the water during the said period. The minimum flow in February used to be 4,000 cusecs before India built the Teesta river barrage at Gazoldoba in the upper stream in 1985. This barrage exclusively controls the amount of water flow to the lower riparian state of Bangladesh.

According to expert view, exclusive control, if badly used, could lead to floods during the rainy seasons and droughts in dry ones, thereby causing immeasurable harm to the people of the lower riparian state. Too much or too little water would adversely impact over 63% of the total cropped area. This would also disrupt agricultural production, create health hazards, change the hydraulic character of the river and dangerously alter the ecology of the region. The United Nations, for instance, recognised scarcity of water in the Ganges as the reason for severe food shortages in Bangladesh during 1982.

Though a signatory to the 1997 UN Watercourse Convention, which stipulates a "no-harm principle" in the use and conservation of trans-boundary rivers, India takes up most of the Teesta waters during the lean period, gravely affecting the lives of the people in the land downstream, press reports said here. Besides, during the rainy season also there is no respite in the untold sufferings of the people since too much water is released from the upstream causing floods in the northern districts. Of the total 300 rivers in Bangladesh, 57 are trans-boundary. And of these 57 rivers, 54 flow through India and 3 through Myanmar.

Originating in the Indian portion of the Himalayas, the Teesta enters Bangladesh at Kaliganj village under Satnai union of Dimla upazila in Nilphamari district. It courses 45 kilometres through Nilphamari, Rangpur, Lalmonirhat and Gaibandha districts before meeting the Brahmaputra in Kurigram.

The Teesta river has become a hot topic of public discussion in Bangladesh, as there were high expectations that an agreement would be reached on water sharing during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka on 6-7 September. As the deal fell through at the eleventh-hour, the news initiated sharp political debates in the Bangladesh media. If Paschim Banga Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had felt that the interests of her state and her popularity would be endangered by a 50-50 share of the Teesta water which made her take the u-turn, can we blame her? No. In fact we should admire her for putting her state's interests before everything else. Similarly, the people of Bangladesh also expect that our government would make certain that this country and its people's interests are not hampered by any bilateral treaty. It is widely felt that the government should have kept the civil society and opposition parties of Bangladesh as well as the media better informed all through the prolonged negotiations and discussions leading Manmohan Singh visit to Dhaka. Details of the negotiations should have been clearly disseminated while the complex issues at stake discussed and explained in the media for benefit and better understanding of the general people. This is standard practice in a democracy, particularly when two Prime Ministers meet. Apart from the people's right to know, constant contact, clarifications and exchange of information between the media and the government would only help to promote a healthy and beneficial relationship between the governments and the people at large.

In this 21st century, it has become a necessity to better manage and make sustainable use of the ever-valuable water resource since demand for water is on the rise while resources are becoming limited. A spirit of cooperation and wise diplomacy is what is required for dealing with hydropolitics &ndash a fast emerging area of international diplomacy.

BY :Naseem Firdaus.