Tuesday, February 28, 2012

River-linking by India 'Saline death' for half the country

Impact assessment report sees ecological disaster in Bangladesh; Teesta, 3 other rivers to perish; experts fear damage may go far beyond the forecast.


Sea water will intrude Manikganj, Kushtia, Goalanda, Bhairab and beyond, travelling 280 kilometres if India implements its controversial river-linking project. 

And, biodiversity of almost half of the country, including the mangrove forest Sundarbans, will be ruined, experts say.

A study conducted five years ago by Bangladeshi experts to know the project impacts assessed that about 30,000 square kilometres of Khulna and Barisal divisions and parts of Rajshahi and Dhaka divisions including the capital would be severely affected. 

“We basically conducted a qualitative study based on information we got from several sources. The effect could be even worse,” said a senior hydro and geo-environment analyst. 

There will be no flow in the north-western rivers -- the Teesta, Mahananda, Dharla and Dudhkumar -- during the monsoon as water will be diverted to the river Fulhar through Mechi.

The mega plan that involves linking 30 major rivers and diverting the Ganges and the Brahmaputra has remained highly contentious since it was first devised in 1980. 

Environmentalists and neighbouring countries were against it, saying the scheme would wreak havoc on ecology of the entire region. 

India maintains the Rs 5,000-crore project will increase its irrigation coverage from 120 million hectares to 160 millions and boost up crop production. 

The issue drew attention of Bangladeshi and Indian media again after the Indian Supreme Court on Monday ordered quick implementation of the project and appointed a high-powered committee to put it into action.
Biodiversity, agriculture and industry of the Ganges dependable area (GDA) -- both sides of the river Padma -- and parts of the Meghna river bank will be badly hit. GDA alone covers 20 percent of the country and is home to around 30 million people. 

“Life of residents in a large area would be devastated due to lack of sweet water,” said M Inamul Haque, chairman of Water and Environment, a non-government organisation. 

The river-linking project aims diverting river water from Indian north-eastern region, an area with high rainfall (3,500mm a year) to its west, a region with low rainfall (700 mm), causing a very high-cost environmental degradation not only in Bangladesh but also in some parts of India, he said.

“It would destroy the biodiversity in half of the country's plain land and wetland.” 

The assessment report of Bangladeshi experts echoed the view of Inamul Haque. They forecast several impacts that include reduction in river flows, rise in salinity of soil, surface and groundwater, damage of agriculture, fisheries, navigation routes, coastal biodiversity and fisheries, increase in river erosion, decrease in sedimentation and ruining.

The experts who conducted the study do not want to be names at the moment. 

The say if the Indian project is implemented, water from the Bay would travel in 280km through the Madhumati, Dhaleshwari, Padma and Meghna rivers.

The mighty Brahmaputra, which is known as the Jamuna and which meets up two-thirds of the country's demand of water during the dry seasons, will loose navigation. 

The flows of some other rivers -- Gorai, Madhumati, Nabagnaga, Ichhamati-Mathabhanga, Kapotakkhya, Betna, Meghna, Surma, Kushiara, Old Brahmaputra, Dhaleshwari, Buriganga, Shitalakkhya, Arial Kha and Turag -- will be reduced. 

The scheme would require construction of large barrages to store water for lean period. India will have to release water during the monsoon. As a result, floods in Bangladesh would be prolonged, said a young hydrologist who also conducted a portion of the study. 

The report also says the river project would cause water inundations in Barisal and Noakhali districts.