Monday, August 8, 2011 Transit in exchange for rivers?
Nazrul Islam River water sharing and transit are two major issues for the upcoming Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh. So far, these two issues have been kept separate, and Bangladesh is focusing on duty, fees, etc. while considering the transit issue. This is a wrong approach. Transit is a strategic issue. Bangladesh should aim at some strategic gain in exchange for transit. Bangladesh should offer a historic compromise of giving transit facilities to India in exchange for full flow of all shared rivers.
The argument for such a compromise is very strong. It is geography that allows India to withdraw river water from Bangladesh. Similarly, that same geography allows Bangladesh to withhold transit from India. By agreeing to the "transit in exchange for rivers" formula, India and Bangladesh can trade their respective geographical advantages.
The most prominent example of withdrawal of water is Farakka. Since 1974, India has been diverting Ganges water towards the Bhagirathi-Hoogly channel. As a result, the rivers in the south-western region of Bangladesh are dying.
Another prominent example is the Gajoldoba barrage built on Teesta. India has constructed similar water-diversionary structures on Dudkumari, Khoai, Someshwari, Monu, Gumti, Muhuri, Dharla and many other rivers. The flow of Surma, Kushira, and Meghna will decrease if the water-diversionary Fulertal barrage is built in combination with the Tipaimukh dam. In fact, India has built, is in the process of building, or is contemplating to build water-diversionary structures on almost all major shared rivers. Thus restraining India from withdrawal of river water is an urgent task for Bangladesh.
Further more, three ways in which climate change will affect Bangladesh are submergence, salinity intrusion, and destabilisation of rivers. Restoration of full flow of Bangladesh's rivers is a must to resist these effects. Rivers here over time have brought in about 2 billion tons of sediment, which has raised its surface by about 2 millimetres each year. Continuation of this sedimentation process is a must for Bangladesh to withstand the submergence effect.
Yet, by withdrawing water India is also withdrawing sediment flow, which has already decreased to about 1.5 billion tons. Also, full flow of rivers can help resist salinity intrusion and full winter flow can mitigate the river destabilisation effect of climate change.
It is in India's own interest to help Bangladesh survive climate change. The millions of Bangladeshis displaced by submergence will not swim to the shores of America or Australia. Instead, they will head towards where they can reach by foot. No barbed fence will withstand the pressure of millions of desperate people.
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