Not to be outdone, China, which borders
Arunachal Pradesh, is involved in a major dam building programme on its
side of the border, also using the waters of the Brahmaputra – which it
calls the Yarlung Tsangpo.
The dam building programme is highly
controversial: critics say it not only ignores geological and ecological
factors – it also fails to take into account the impact of climate
change in the region.
The Brahmaputra, 10 kilometres wide in
places, is one of the world’s major rivers, winding for nearly 3,000
kilometres from the Tibetan Plateau through China, India and Bangladesh
before joining with the Ganges and flowing out into the Bay of Bengal.
It is an extremely volatile, tempestuous
river system: the Brahmaputra’s waters rise dramatically during monsoon
season, causing widespread flooding, erosion and misery for many
thousands of mostly subsistence farmers.
Ashwini Saikia is a farmer on the banks of
the Brahmaputra river, in the small settlement of Rohomoria in northern
Assam. Even now, in pre monsoon season when the river is low, there is
the “plop, plop” sound of land falling into the waters.
“Each year the river has eaten away more
and more of my land. Then in 2010 the waters rose so much I lost my
house for the fifth time in the last 15 years” says Ashwini.
Ashwini has given up farming and is now
being forced to move with his family and livestock - to where he’s not
Dr Partha Das is an Assamese academic who
has been studying the Brahmaputra for several years. He also runs
Aaranyak, a locally based environmental NGO.
“The dam building programme has many
question marks hanging over it including the fact that the northeast is
a highly seismic region, with an earthquake in 1950 completely altering
the geological structure of the Brahmaputra river basin.
Climate change impacts
“Then there is the whole question of
climate change, which has scarcely been mentioned by the planners.
Already we’re seeing an increase in intense rainfall events that are
accelerating the high rate of soil erosion and landslides in mountainous
regions. And as temperatures rise and glaciers melt on the Tibetan
Plateau and in the Himalayas, river flow levels - at least in the short
term - are likely to increase.”
The Indian government defends its dam
building programme, saying the power generated will mean that the
country will be able to wean itself off its dependence on coal for
energy, most of it low quality and extremely polluting.
But many in the northeast, who have long
felt cut off from the rest of India and neglected by central government,
are unconvinced by New Delhi’s arguments.
There are accusations that the mostly
privately backed dam building projects are money making exercises for
the wealthy: most of the power produced will be exported to other parts
of India and not used to build up local industries.
The northeast is a tribal area: indigenous
peoples say the influx of labourers from elsewhere in India is
threatening local culture. They say the dams will also lead to more
deforestation – and threaten some of India’s most important wildlife
Opponents of the dam building say no
proper overall plan has been put in place: though India and China
recently reached agreement on sharing various river resources, there is
no specific deal on managing the Brahmaputra’s waters.
Protests about the dams has been growing,
with work on what is India’s biggest dam construction project to date –
the 2,000MW Lower Subansiri dam on one of the Brahmaputra’s tributaries
- repeatedly held up.
Climate News Network