India must act responsibly and consider solutions for its water woes that are less damaging to neighboring countries.
India must consider solutions for its water woes that are less damaging for the neighboring countries.
Water, an essential component of life and regeneration, is becoming a source of strife the world over. As the population of the world grows - uncontrollably in some places - so do the demands for clean drinking water. The countries blessed with enough resources – and, more importantly, foresight – have managed to plan their future water needs and are acting according to plans. Others have only recently woken up to the reality of providing water for millions of people as well as for industrial and agricultural use in the face of decreasing sources of fresh water.
India, with its gigantic population and dependence on monsoon rains for water supply, is one of the countries trying to come up with new ways to meet the growing demand for water.
The incumbent Indian government has unearthed a proposal - that was shelved years ago - to build barrages and links between rivers to regulate water supply and reduce the disastrous effects of floods and droughts that are a frequent occurrence in the country. The project was not taken up by previous governments because of its potentially disastrous consequences for the environment.
The plan includes the construction of 16 additional barrages on the Ganges River. Among other problems the project could cause is the profoundly negative effect it will have on the water treaty signed between India and Bangladesh to share the waters of the Ganges. The agreement addresses only surface level issues and is said to favor India’s interests more than those of Bangladesh. However, the building of additional barrages would divert water from the Ganges in a manner not agreed upon between the two countries.
The subcontinent, with its complicated history and interconnected geographical features, forces neighboring countries to work together and share natural resources in a manner that is, to put it mildly, inconvenient. India has water treaties with Pakistan and Bangladesh and both the smaller neighbors have often complained regarding India’s callous disregard for their needs in order to meet its own.
Environmentalists in India and Bangladesh have raised concerns over the project that would see barrages built at every 100km along the length of the Ganges from Allahabad to Haldia. This will reduce the flow of water to Bangladesh to appallingly low levels. The ‘Waterway Project’, as it is coming to be known, has been resoundingly criticized by various environmental organizations which have labeled it as the last nail in the coffin of the Ganges.
Bangladesh has had a persistent water crisis for many years. A populous country, it faces serious challenges in supplying clean drinking water to both its urban and rural population as well as sufficient quantities of water for agriculture. Up to 92 percent of the country’s water supply comes from rivers originating in China and India. The rest is accounted for by rainfall. The rural population is highly dependent on groundwater and often relies on tube wells.
However, the reduction in water supply from rivers has resulted in the shortage of surface as well as groundwater. Furthermore, the water that the Bangladeshis have access to is not always clean. Industrial growth and urbanization has contributed to the contamination of water resources leading to diseases as well as additional costs of healthcare and water purification. Water shortage is also having negative consequences on the country’s environment. Groundwater levels are consistently declining. In coastal areas, salinity caused by the inward flow of seawater is putting the disaster prone communities under
Barrages built at every 100km along the length of the Ganges from Allahabad to Haldia will reduce the flow of water to Bangladesh to appallingly low levels.
The water shortage also has dire social implications. According to reports, women in rural communities suffer in particular as they are forced to travel great distances to reach wells which may or may not contain clean drinking water.
In a country faced with an acute shortage of water, the consequences of a further reduction in water supply will indeed be serious. The agriculture industry in particular and the economy in general would suffer greatly as would the population in both rural and urban areas. Bangladesh simply cannot afford a further reduction in its water supply. However, without any comprehensive agreement in place with India over the distribution of water, the country is left vulnerable.
With plans for the construction of barrages well underway, it is imperative for concerned groups in India and Bangladesh to stand up and be heard. The governments of both countries need to come up with a better water sharing treaty than the one signed in 1996 since it has left Bangladesh with serious concerns about the way water is distributed. As the lower riparian, it is at the mercy of India when it comes to water distribution, a situation that is often pointed out by opposition groups in Bangladesh.
No matter how much the countries of the subcontinent may wish that their fates and resources were not so intricately joined together, it happens to be so and will remain so. Geographical features are not dependent on manmade boundaries, which means rivers will take the directions they must. South Asian nations have undergone rapid population growth and urbanization at their own peril. In hindsight, the disregard for limited resources and the inability to fully cooperate in these matters is a huge mistake that will continue to haunt all those involved if timely steps are not taken to rectify the situation.
South Asia is one of the regions of the world that is most likely to be affected by climate change. Its effects are already being felt through changing weather patterns and frequent occurrence of natural disasters. The next stage of this process is prolonged droughts. In such conditions, if any one country has total control over water, the lower riparian countries will suffer. Perhaps that is why it is said that a third world war will be fought over water.
As an emerging regional power, India must act responsibly and consider solutions for its water woes that are less damaging for the environment as well as its neighbors. As for Bangladesh, unless the country decides to act now and carefully plans the future water distribution and sharing projects, it is looking at a bleak, dry future. The writer is a business graduate. She has interest in political and social issues.