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"Let the Teesta flow its natural course"
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"Let the Teesta flow its natural course"

Mehzabin Ahmed new

Many across India and Bangladesh were affected as the Teesta river swelled above the danger level. However, dry seasons downstream tell a different tale as man-made obstacles stem the flow of the once-mighty river, writes Mehzabin Ahmed, 29, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The Teesta, a river that used to hold water throughout the year, now dries up just after the monsoon.

A series of barrages and dams have been erected by India upstream in West Bengal and Sikkim for irrigation and electricity. There is an urgent need for a water-sharing agreement between the co-riparian countries of India and Bangladesh.

Geologists warn that the weight of sediments that pile up as a result of these interventions could trigger earthquakes in the seismically active area.

“Reasonable sharing of Teesta water is the only way to improve the ecological situation in the area,” says environmental activist Golam Mostafa. “But it is still to be achieved despite a few meetings between the Bangladesh and Indian governments,” he said.

After building of the Gojaldoba barrage in Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, India started unilaterally withdrawing water from the river to irrigate agricultural land in their part during the dry season. With insufficient water flow in Teesta, water level in its tributaries and other small rivers in the area have fallen down alarmingly. The river beds continue to dry up. As a result, Bangladesh’s Teesta Barrage Irrigation Project remains ineffective.

The Teesta River running through Bangladesh’s poor and Monga (hunger) prone regions in the north has been featured in National Geographic’s “8 Mighty Rivers Run Dry from Overuse”. It is alleged that India uses the barrage to divert the river’s natural flow.

The Bangladesh rivers and tributaries downstream, however, swell with flooding and experience erosion when India opens all the gates of Gojaldoba barrage upstream to release water pressure during heavy rainfall and during the onrush of water from the hills.

Critics argue that lack of river excavation or dredging has contributed to worsening the situation and has put irrigation and fish projects at stake.

Due to shrinking water levels that disturb fish breeding, many species of local fishes have become extinct. Many fishermen and boatmen along the river basins have given up their ancestral profession to look for alternate livelihoods. People have been displaced and local agriculture is being destroyed.

The region has also been seeing fewer numbers in the arrival of migratory birds from the Himalayan and Siberian regions at these water bodies in recent years.

Bangladesh Water Development Board sources said water levels started falling last September, creating several sandy shoals on the riverbed that have had an adverse effect on agriculture, communication and livelihoods. Vast tracts of land along the riverbank remain uncultivated for a lack of fertility.

“What’s more, once the 23 hydel-power projects start operating by 2013-end (in India), the flow of water would further reduce during the daytime and affect irrigation downstream. Plus, the river biodiversity, water table and its ecological flow would go for a toss,” river expert Kalyan Rudra shares.

Environmentalist and journalist Nazrul Islam has termed the Teesta river, as “Dead river, damned river.”

“The Teesta is going to embrace the fate of the Aral Sea Project in Russia and Irtsh-KaragandaCanal in Kazakhtan which have been proved to be ecological disasters of water management. The mighty river, flowing and replenishing its surroundings for thousands of years, is going to be almost vanished within a decade due to human interference with its natural course to accomplish their greed,” Nazrul Islam says.

Locals in Bangladesh want the government to enter into a water sharing agreement with India on an urgent basis, and revive the region’s dwindling water supply.

Bangladesh, the largest river delta in the world, shares 57 trans-boundary rivers with India. There are many livelihood and ecological issues at stake that Bangladesh and India need to resolve through consultations, dialogue, and water sharing agreements. The adverse effects of India’s Gojaldoba and Farakka barrages as well as on India’s proposed Tipaimukh dam are the prominent issues haunting Bangladesh right now in this regard.

Bangladeshi government scientists say that even a ten per cent reduction in the water flow by India could dry out great areas of farmland for much of the year. More than 80 per cent of Bangladesh’s 50 million small farmers depend on water that flows through India.

Scarily, more than 400 hydroelectric schemes are planned in the Himalayan mountain region, mostly by China and India. This could be a massive disaster for the environment, and put our existence at stake.

It is about time that we started viewing “right to water” as a fundamental universal human right that needs to be ensured for peaceful coexistence across borders. We must rid ourselves of the fencing boundaries of politics, and move towards achieving common good and justice for humanity.  

“Let us not flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory, nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which too often cancel the first.” – Fredrick Engels

photo credit: International Rivers via photopin cc

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About me:

“I come from Bangladesh, home to the Royal Bengal tigers and the longest natural beach in the world. I am passionate about working for sustainable solutions to development. I currently work as a development practitioner in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I am also a freelance journalist and a novice debater.

“I am bilingual in Bangla and English. I love learning new languages, and am a keen but elementary student of French. What I have learnt from wise words and life experiences is that, “If you want others to change, you have to be willing to change yourself as well”. Feel free to call me Simi.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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