Pushing plans for regional water management
One remembers in this connection the proposal made by Bangladesh in the seventies through its eminent water management expert, late B M Abbas, that urged the Indian authorities in particular to agree to regional management of the water resources of South Asia for the ample benefits of all.
Bangladesh at that time proposed storage dams of water in appropriate places in Nepal for storing there water in the rainy season. The stored waters would be released to increase water flows of the common rivers of India and Bangladesh, specially into the Ganges, during the dry season when enough water availability for satisfactory sharing between the two countries according to their needs and water sharing agreement, is not found. But this sound prescription from Bangladesh to improve water availability was spurned at that time.
But after decades of bitter experiences, winds of change in attitude are blowing. India has a thirty years water sharing treaty with Bangladesh over the Ganges. But already both countries are finding that not enough water is available for sharing at Farraka point between the two countries during the dry season. Thus, release of water at Farakka point has been decreasing making difficult the observance of terms of the treaty for water sharing. Indian authorities say that adequate flows of water are not available in the dry season in the Ganges to be able to meticulously observe the provision of water sharing as per the provisions of the Ganges treaty.
Although there are charges that Indian authorities have tended to divert disproportionate amount of water from the Ganges in the dry months, the facts also are that less and less amounts of water have been found in the Ganges at this time of the year indicating the requirement of augmenting its flows.
According to reports, the Indian minister for water met his Bangladeshi equivalent sometime ago at a global conference in Turkey devoted to water management. The Bangladesh minister proposed afresh to his Indian counterpart the building of storage dams in Nepal and this time, the idea was favourably received and responded. Thus, the possibility is stronger now that after the holding of the national elections in India, a meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) of the two countries would be held to discuss how Bangladesh and India would become parties for building of storage dams in Nepal.
There are many sides to the building of these dams. The dams can be used effectively to store rain waters during the monsoons and this could be very useful also to regulate excess flow of waters in the rivers leading to flood control. The dam projects can also be utilized, apart from augmenting water flows in the dry season, to produce ample hydro-electricity for sharing between Nepal, Bangladesh and India.
The projects are likely to be generously aided by the World Bank (WB) and other donors. Therefore, fund constraints will not likely to be a frustrating factor. The main requirement is sustaining the will by the leaders of the three countries to implement it all the way. It was estimated that waters from two storage dams to be built by Bangladesh out of the proposed seven , will create additional water availability of 45 thousand cusecs of water for Bangladesh when under the Ganges treaty Bangladesh gets some 35 thousand cusecs on average only in the dry season. Thus, the additional water would extend a new lease of life to a major part of the Bangladesh economy and ecology which are threatened by the present state of acute water scarcity.
Bangladesh needs to maintain the initiative to ensure the progress towards establishment of the storage dams in Nepal. Simultaneously, the plan to build the Ganges barrage project within Bangladesh should be expedited to create a further alternative to maintain good flow of water in its dead and dying rivers throughout the year. A national plan for harvesting rain water also should be implemented at the fastest for mid and longer term water security.