Damn the Dam: Chinese govt’s approval on three more dams on Brahmaputra


Though the Indian authority keeps on saying that it would commission extensive study on the impact of dam building and behavioral changes in the Brahmaputra, it seems, such studies have hugely delayed in the wake of China's plan to build three more dams on the river.

Union Water Resource Minister Uma Bharti, in a reply to a question in Loksabha on Friday, has said, "The recently released Outline of the 12th Five Year Plan of National Economic and Social Development of the People's Republic of China, indicates that three more hydro power projects on the main stream of Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra river in the Tibet Autonomous region have been approved for implementation by the Chinese Authority."

Reportedly, the dams are to be constructed into at Dagu, Jiacha, and Jiexu on the Brahmaputra in the Tiber region.

About 100 dams are in various stages of construction or planning on the Yangtze and its tributaries — the Yalong, Dadu, and Min. Two dozen more will be built on the Lancang, called the Mekong in Southeast Asia, and still more on the last two of China's free-flowing rivers — the Nu, called the Salween in Burma, and the Yarlung Tsangpo, known as the Brahmaputra in India and the Jamuna in Bangladesh. All these rivers flow off the Tibetan Plateau, a geologically unstable region that averages 4,500 meters (14,800 feet) high. As they flow down through the soft, sedimentary rock, the rivers carve steep canyons, many deeper than the Grand Canyon.

The Chinese government is now engaged in a new expansion of dams in great staircases, reservoir upon reservoir — some 130 in all across China's South-west. By 2020, China aims to generate 120,000 megawatts of renewable energy, most of it from hydroelectric power.

Probe International, a Canadian NGO, warned in April 2012 that almost half of China's new dams are in zones of high to very high seismic risk, and most of the remainder in zones of moderate hazard.

India has a Indus water treaty with Pakistan under which the two countries share information and corporate on the matter while a Ganga treaty with Bangladesh establishes a 30 year water sharing arrangement and recognize the neighboring countries rights as a low level riparian.

The UPA government in the year 2013 had long pressed for a joint monitoring mechanism further with Beijing too. This mechanism to address concerns in India, which has been exacerbated by reports that China was going to build three more dams on the river but China has turned down the proposal for the mechanism to deal with the water issues to ensure transparency in China's construction activities on the river despite PM Manmohan Singh himself taking up the proposal.

The existing existing joint expert-level mechanism is limited to sharing of hydrological data only and does not cover all issues related to trans-border rivers. China doesn't have a water-sharing agreement with any lower riparian country. China maintains that the dams being constructed on the Brahmaputra are essentially run-of-the-river projects that won't impact the flow of water.

But, large Chinese dams on the Mekong River have been blamed for disrupting water flows into countries such as Thailand and Vietnam, while Chinese dam-building projects in places such as Burma and Cambodia have been criticized for displacing people and causing environmental havoc.

Moreover, from the Yangtze to the Mekong and now the Brahmaputra, Chinese dam-building follows a well-established pattern that starts with small dams on a river's upper reaches and eventually moves to mega-dams downstream. There are 12 small dams on the Brahmaputra's upper reaches and tributaries and one medium-size dam under construction on the river predicting that the next step will be larger dams in spots where the river picks up huge amounts of water and momentum nearer the Indian border.

Those dams could not only affect water flows but also remove nutrient-rich silt that helps nourish agriculture downstream.

(By Syeda Ambia Zahan)

The views reflected in this piece are that of the author and need not necessarily be that of TNT-The Northeast Today