Tipaimukh Dam FAQ : Effects and Politics
Of late I have been reading about Tipaimukh dam and a lot more about dams themselves. I have gathered a lot of information about that dam in particular. I would like to share it with the readers. If anyone is afraid of reading the whole article, he/she can get a short form of the same from a Bangladesh expert – published in 2006 in the Daily Star and an article by an independent economist published in The Independent BD in 2009. My latest article on this is available here.
Where is Tipaimukh Dam located?
Tipaimukh is located at South-Western Manipur bordering Mizoram. Most of the people living here are actually of minority Hmar tribe. The proposed Tipaimukh dam is to be located 500 meters downstream from the confluence of Barak and Tuivai rivers. It is a huge earth dam (rock-fill) having an altitude of about 180 M above the sea-level with a average reservoir capacity of 15.5 BCM. (Proposed dam site at Wikimapia)
What is the technical purpose of the dam?
There are a couple of basic purposes – flood control and hydropower generation. It has been projected as a hydropower dam because of political purposes. Most of the inundation is in Manipur and Mizoram states, whereas it would moderate floods in lower Assam. To ensure fare share of benefits to those two states, hydropower generation is also taken into account. The states in North-East are having severe power shortage over years (peak shortage upto 25% in Arunachal). Once Arunachal starts producing hydroelectricity from giant Subansiri projects, the North-East India will become energy sufficient. On the other hand, there are no alternative to dams for flood-control of a rainfed river. Incidentally, both flood-control and hydropower generation reservoirs work in similar way – they retain water during Monsoon and release more during lean season, i.e. reservoir is filled up during rainy season and used up in dry season.
The Barak valley, consisting of three of the forty highly flood prone districts in India, goes under water three to four times (2002, 2004, 2007) in a decade. In 1995, plan for flood control Dam in Tipaimukh and reactions in Bangladesh were reported. Very often Barak flood is more devastating than that of Brahamaputra. A detailed assesment (2007 flood report) of floods in Assam can be found here. It has long been alleged that North-East has been neglected in terms of development and lack of flood control is one of the evidences.
The Tipaimukh dam is planned to produce 450MW in lean season and 1500MW in peak. All three states would have 12% share of the electricity and rest would go to the North East grid.
What are the objections to this dam in Indian side?
- Displacement of people especially of vulnerable minorities
- Vast forestland to be inundated along with the biodiversity
- Dams are not fruitful solution to any problems
- Possible earthquake could have devastating effect
What are the objections to this dam in Bangladesh?
- Possible river drying and devastation of wetland (Haor)
- Possible flood in summer/winter in lowlands causing damage to agriculture
Are Dams bad?
There is a widespread belief in India that dams are useful. On the other hand, the World Commission on Dams report on Indian dams has shown that they do more harm than help.
The report has a lot of loopholes in it. While reading, I saw it projects loss of Government (for example – tax on irrigated land did not produce as much revenue as projected) after building the dam as one of the key factors. However, in India, these are calculated as subsidies, i.e., where Government pays on behalf of its citizens. Also, it undermines the food security that has been obtained through irrigated land. It categorizes the agricultural land in two major divisions – rain-fed and irrigated. It shows that irrigated land has little contribution (~20%) to overall growth production. I don’t know how they classify land in West Bengal, where most of the agricultural land uses rainwater in in rainy season and irrigation in winter.
The Central Water Commission report praises dam-oriented water planning and plans for building more dam to hold onto monsoon water in big reservoirs. The purpose is to reuse the precious freshwater resource in dry season and moderate flood in rainy season.
Both of these reports fail to discuss in length the alternative of dams for these purposes and a comparative analysis of dams vs other methods of achieving the benefits. Hence, the entire policy calls for a widespread survey and comparative analysis.
One example of the above set of suggestion is to replace dam based hydroelectricity with a “run-of-the-river” type project. The former does not require a dam to hold water and depends on natural river-current. The problem with that in India is very low flow in the lean season and virtually no water flows through them during that period. The former projects are only feasible to work during rainy season and not over the year.
For flood control, the alternative proposal is to dredge the river and maintain the depth. While the dredging itself is a costly affair, this could also add to the lower riparian problems. If river channels are deep in India, the lower riparian Bangladesh would face the floodwater since the river needs land to dissipate its additional water. It’s the see-saw climate in India that makes the dams viable, not in other countries.
There are reports that advanced nations are not interested anymore in building dams. This is actually true. But this does not necessarily be replicated by India. Most of those advanced nations also have abundant resources. By resources I do not only indicate alternative sources of energy and water, but also per capita land availability and skills required to effectively utilize these. India gets only 1800 cubic meter water per person per year. India has already over 4000 large dams. The only comparable country with similar resources is China, who has built 22,000 of them. At the same time, there is a significant decrease in dam building efforts in India. Between 1971 and 1990, the number of large dams constructed was 2256 and the same after 1990 is only 695. Nowadays, the dams are built only if there is a compulsion for it.
Does the Dam reduce water flow in the river?
Not necessarily. If the dam also have one or more reservoirs attached to it and they actually hold the excess water during rainy season and release them in the dry season, then the dams don’t actually change the total water released.
A picture taken when the dam is not releasing water can be daunting to the lower riparian and is a material of propaganda. The picture of the Shasta Dam, California shows the case. Although this dam augments lean season flow, the picture projects it as a “take all” dam.
One proposal from Bangladesh (when Farakka was being built) was to add a reservoir dam in Nepal to augment the flow of Ganges during the lean season. It would generate electricity also. Water experts from Bangladesh are still in the view that it is the best possible solution for problems in lower Ganges in dry season. If dams were such that they always reduce water flow, they would not have proposed it.
To counter the propaganda, I had to post a separate article on this very topic.
What’s the possibility that Tipaimukh would end up drying the Surma-Kushiyara rivers?
It’s highly unlikely. The dam can be used in its full potential without withdrawing any river water. A dam with a reservoir actually augments the flow of a river during dry season, while it withdraws the same during rainy season. One typical flood control dam outflow graph is shown in the picture.
Also, to consider Hydropower generation, a limited discharge has to be there during lean season also. This discharge will add to the flow and increase lean season flow. (See the portion excess water coming out of reservoir)
Is there any other dam in nearby region that achieves similar goals?
Yes, the Kaptai dam (Bangladesh) on Karnaphuli achieves the similar goals with a much larger reservoir. It controls flood, generates hydropower and increases navigability in downstream Chittagong port. The Karnaphuli river is also a rainfed river and has high seasonal variation in discharge. A reservoir with a dam was able to moderate and coltrol its flow. (source)
It is interesting to note that this dam did not “dry up” the downstream flow at all, rather it augmented the flow during the lean season and buffered the additional flow during the rainy season.The picture shows the inflow (blue pillars in the graph) to Kaptai lake (the reservoir) and outflow (maroon pillars in the graph) from the dam . The inflow amount would have been the same as the outflow, had there been no Kaptai dam. In the second picture, one can see how the total volume of water in the river basin has been augmented using a reservoir. It shows the Karnaphuli river before and after the dam has been erected and the area inundated to create space for reservoir water.
Another river in context can be discussed since it has also been planned to moderate floods. It’s the Damodar river in West Bengal. It used to be the “sorrow of Bengal” in pre-Independence Bengal but was controlled successfully after DVC project with a series of dams and barrages. There are many periods in several years when the reservoir acted as a cushion and prevented catastrophic floods downstream.
The picture below shows the reservoir filling pattern in one of DVC’s storage facility named Maithon (source). Kaptai and Tipaimukh should follow similar patterns to fillup reservior. From October to May the reservoir releases more water than it receives, hence the reservoir water volume goes down. The rest of the period, the reservoir gets filled in.
To understand what is live storage and what is dead storage, one can refer to this simple picture.
Why is there such a huge difference between lean season and rainy season flow?
The Barak river basin region receives a lot of rainfall. The highest rainfall area – Cherapunji – is located nearby. However, virtually all of these rain comes during three months of rainy season due to Monsoon. The picture shows monthly variation of rainfall in Cherapunji. The flow in these rivers, apart from a small component of water resulted from glaciers, is from monsoon rain. Hence, in the rainy season the rivers exceed the capacity of the channel and overflow. In the lean season (summer and winter), the same river is barely seen. It is estimated that the contribution of glaciers in Himalayan rivers is mere 5%. The rest is rain water.
What could be the effect of Fulertal barrage 100 km downstream?
A barrage can be thought as a tool of diverting water. In this case, water could be diverted to irrigate the Barak valley farmlands. This could be done during the lean season when the river flow is augmented, i.e., we have more water than we used to have. This would make good use of the additional flow coming out of the reservoir.
However, the amount of water to be withdrawn at the barrage site, is the key criteria whether it would harm the downstream. If it takes away the augmented portion of the lean season flow – it should not cause any issue. If it takes more, damages are done. (Fulertal/Phulertal barrage – location)
At this point we can do a reality check on how much water can be withdrawn for irrigation. We need to remember that irrigation is not for inundating the landscape, but for effective use of additional water during dry season. Hence, there is an optimal limit of how much water can be withdrawn of a river. The area under cultivation in Barak valley is 220,000 Hectares (in 1992-93, source). I found that Sudan has similar area under irrigation and uses 1.6 BCM of water per year (source, pg 21) from river Nile. Although, Barak valley is not as arid as Sudan is, we can assume at most similar amount of water will be withdrawn from the river. At the same time, the river water volume would be augmented by 15.5 BCM, of which at least 10 BCM would be live storage water. From another angle, India uses 500 BCM water per year to irrigate 54 million hectares. For North East, it’s almost the half of National average due to high rainfall. So, it requires only a half BCM to irrigate Barak valley arable land. Even after withdrawal for Barak valley irrigation, the flow downstream would be much higher in dry season. I am sure that no one is thinking about the effect of an inter-basin transfer. The cost to transfer Barak water to the next basin, incidentally India’s “water-richest” Brahmaputra Basin, would be very high and benefits will not justify the cost. It had to be pumped from one basin to the other. This is why even Indian great river interlinking plan did not take this channel into account.
There is a widely held belief among lower riparian states that any amount of water could be diverted from the river upstream. This is not true. The amount of water diverted from a barrage is proportional to the Population (drinking and sanitary needs) and agricultural land available in the river basin. In this case, neither of these two are large enough to take even the water volume augmented by the reservoir.
Why Farakka causes damages downstream, where this barrage should not cause similar harm?
Farakka does not have any reservoir upstream to augment its lean season flow. So, it’s merely the same amount of water that comes to farakka a significant part of which is then diverted to the feeder canals. This results in reduced flow downstream.
As i mentioned earlier, one of the proposals from Bangladesh side when Farakka was being built, was to add a reservior dam in Nepal to augment the flow of Ganges during the lean season. The World Bank was ready to fund the project. It did not happen because India stuck to its position to augment flows from Brahamaputra basin. Interestingly, I read that India has of late initiated works on what Bangladesh had proposed. Had this been done a little earlier, Bangladesh would not probably been hurt so much.
In case of this (Fulertal) barrage, the flow is augmented in the lean season. Hence it should not reduce the downstream flow in Surma and Kushiyara. Of course, there should not be any desertification with full potential dam and barrage as I argued in the previous section. The irrigation potential can be fully utilized without harming the lower riparian.
Another aspect of Farakka makes it different from Tipaimukh. The water diverted in Farakka is sent to the Bay of Bengal through a separate channel (Bhagirathi-Hugli). However, the flow of Barak can not be diverted in similar fashion to any of other areas – it has to come downstream. Apart from that small amount of water taken for irrigation of 220,000 Ha of land, the rest is virtually non-consumptive use, i.e. it would be passed downstream. The Tipaimukh dam would only change the temporal distribution of river flow.
What’s the possibility that an Earthquake would cause the dam to collapse or at least create a few cracks in it?
Damage due to earthquake cannot be ruled out though the possibility is remote. In case there is a really high intensity earthquake, it could cause the dam to have cracks. I believe Indian designers would take necessary steps to prevent any damage to the dam since it is known to be located on a geo-tectonic faultline. A basic text literature on dams says –
“If the dam site is located in a seismic zone, the most suitable type of the dam is one which can resist the earthquake shock without much damage. Earth dams and rockfill dams are generally more suitable for such sites, provided suitable modifications are made in the design. However, by adopting suitable measures and considering various forces and factors affecting the seismic design, other types of dams can also be provided.”
To add to the above literature, the Tipaimukh dam is indeed a rock-fill dam to mitigate the risk of a possible earthquake. The Kaptai Dam in Karnaphuli is an Earth Dam.
I would also like to add here that Japan has more than 2000 dams even though the whole of Japan is Earthquake prone. There were many earthquakes in Japan for last 100 years and no news of dam failures due to earthquake yet. Last 150 years of history did not record any incident of dam failure anywhere in the world due to an earthquake. In these days, building an earthquake safe dam is merely a choice of technology.
How the 15.5 BCM capacity of the reservoir would be filled up and what would be its consequence?
The first time it would be filled up from the empty position. Hence, it would require 15.5 BCM of water. Most likely, it would be filled up over a few years depending on flow during the rainy season. However, till the fill up is completed, the downstream flow will be lower. Dam fill up is generally done during high flow so that the effect is moderated downstream.
It also needs to be mentioned that reservoir fill up is a one time process. This would have no effect over long term yearly flow of the river. Some of the experts projected (pg 21) that 15.5 BCM of reservoir would cause 491 cumec (which is equivalent of 15.5 BCM per year) reduced flow downstream. This is not true. The dam is filled up only once and the water is used dynamically to fill up in rainy season and to release in dry season (look at Maithon reservoir graph and Karnaphuli inflow-outflow statistics).
Recently there was a contention between India and Pakistan regarding this first time fill up of the reservoir.
How would this affect the ecological balance of the region?
Dams, like all other man-made infrastructures, are actually disasters for ecological balance of a region. When a dam creates it’s own rule of ecology, the existing one is demolished. A brief overview of how Dams cause damage to ecological balance can be found here.
In this particular case, there are a couple of major ecological balance shifting. In India, this could potentially cause destruction of a vast forestland. In Bangladesh, it could potentially damage a vast natural wetland, known as Haor. Although, the extent of the damage to the Haors could not be measured at this point, the damage due to inundation is obvious.
I need to add a point on ecological balance in general. Shift in ecological balance does not always mean a problem in short term. It causes problem in the long term. Any flood moderation structure would cause damage to ecology – be they embankments or dams – as floods are part of ecological balance. There are two options – the first is to allow people to live with the floods and cause no damage to the ecology. The second is to establish a flood moderation embankment and damage the ecology for the long term. In this part of the world, building a flood moderation structure is more popular because of high population density in the floodplains. The problems of flood affected people generally exceed by far the concern of damaging the ecology even in the long term. People assume that by that time, they would probably have sufficient technology to counter the backlash of Nature. Also, the democratic society creates pressure on the Administration to act proactively towards moderation of human problems. If humans are illiterate and unaware of long term damages, the short term solutions get political preference.
Of late, there are a lot of proposals floating against traditional flood moderation structures like river training, embankments and dams. However, the alternatives floated with those arguments are not significantly different than the structures they argue against and the alternatives do actually retain a lot of problems those are created by current structures. Although the alternatives are claimed to be more sustainable in Nature, a complete feasibility study along with their long term effects are yet to be observed, i.e. they are not yet tested to be sustainable, only claimed to be sustainable.
What are the Haors and how they are going to be damaged by this project?
A haor is a wetland ecosystem in the north eastern part of Bangladesh which physically is a bowl or saucer shaped shallow depression, also known as a swamp. It receives surface runoff water by rivers and channels. Consequently, a haor becomes very extensive water body in the monsoon and dries up mostly in the post-monsoon period. The haor basin is an internationally important wetland ecosystem, which is situated in Sunamganj, Habiganj and Moulvibazar districts and Sylhet Sadar Upazila, as well as Kishoreganj and Netrokona districts.
During the rainy season, haors turn into a vast inland sea within which the villages appear as islands. Occasional high winds during July to September generate large waves in the haor, which may cause considerable damage to homesteads. During the dry season, most of the water drains out leaving one or more shallow beels which become mostly overgrown with aquatic vegetation or completely dry out by the end of dry season exposing rich alluvial soils extensively cultivated for rice. As population increased in Bangladesh, boro (a rice variety) cultivation expanded onto these haors, leading to a large area being drained. Thus, the very existences of these wetlands are now threatened.
The wikipedia entry for beels clearly says – “Typically, beels are formed by inundation of low lying lands during flooding, where some water gets trapped even after flood waters recede back from the flood plains. Beels may also be caused by filling up of low lying areas during rains, specially during the monsoon season.”
As the dry season flow would increase and rainy season flow decrease due to the dam – these wetlands would be impacted. The amount of inundation during the rainy season would reduce the water-logging of villages. At the same time, during boro cultivation, less water would be drained out, i.e. less land would be reclaimed to start cultivation. So, there are both threats and opportunities with the new seasonal variation of flow. A lot has been said on effect of Tipaimukh on haors. It is argued that the change in flow would eventually cause haors to dry up. I do see a possibility of haors getting dried up but not as a result of change in flow variation. The haors are already drying up as more and more population is trying to reclaim them. A few of articles (link1, link2, link3, link4, link5) on this topic can make my point clear.
A brief look at the Government of Bangladesh priorities throws light into some different aspects of haors. As per the Daily Star report (latest report), Govt has started a massive flood control measure in Sylhet. This includes raising embankments and creating irrigation channels to divert water from the river flow. An editorial in the Daily Star reported how the embankments were able to save haor crops from destruction. These would also do the same with the haors, reduce the inundated area dry up haors as flood water would not be allowed to enter those. The long term flood action plan (FAP, also known as FCD) of Bangladesh clearly mentions eleven goals of flood moderation. The clause (7) says –
“Reduction of flood flows in the major rivers by diversion into major distributaries and flood relief channels; “
However, this goal also would have adverse effect on haors since river diversion implies less water for wetlands. Bangladesh Government’s own Flood control plans have significant adverse effect on its ecology and especially fishing. In a paper published in Cambridge Journals it was argued that structural changes made under Flood Action Plan actually reduced the fishing. Another paper by Jim Scullion mentions that :
“Whenever flood control projects reduce the area of flooded land there will be a loss of habitat for fish production. FAP 17 results from free-flooding areas showed that there would be an annual loss ranging from 68 kg to 202 kg with a mean of 119 kg of fish for each hectare of flooded land lost. … In only one of eight projects studied by FAP 17 was full flood control achieved and river flooding prevented to increase the production of HYV rice. This resulted in a reduction in annual catch per unit area (CPUA) of 81% and a significant reduction in fishing effort. Species diversity was reduced by 33% mainly due to the blockage of fish movements between rivers and flood- plains. Migratory species were almost eliminated from floodplains (95% reduction in CPUA).”
Although there are efforts to mitigate these side effects of Flood Control Plan by promoting farm-fishing, it was only able to reduce the damage done. So, why Bangladesh is going ahead with such plan that destroys ecology and fishing? It’s the demand of population that drives Flood Action Plan. Preventing loss due to floods is clearly a priority over ecology of Bangladesh due to high population density.
Tipaimukh dam would do the same that Government of Bangladesh already planned for – it would damage the current water cycle of haors. Haors are replenished by the floods and any effort to moderate the flood would cause the same – be it is done in India or in Bangladesh. The choice between “letting people to live with the floods” and “saving haors” – is open to individual personal views. It’s a choice with threats and opportunities. I am afraid one cannot achieve both “save Haor” and “Stop floods in Haor basin” – choice is limited to only one.
The image beside shows the flood map of Bangladesh. The Haor basin is subjected to Flash Flood frequently. This type of flood is
characterized by rapid rise and fall in water levels. Flash flood can occur within a time-period between few minutes to few hours. (Source) The Bangladesh Govt has taken steps to control this flood so far. With Tipaimukh dam in operation, the probability of this kind of flood would reduce significantly. One important addition to this is Haors do exist in India (Barak Valley) also and people of those regions are also affected by floods regularly.
In fact, Bangladesh Flood Action Plan (part 6) categorizes Tipaimukh as a flood control plan. It also writes –
“Operation of the proposed Tipaimukh Dam/Cachar Plain Project on the Barak in India would moderate flows along the Kushiyara River and upper Surma River, decreasing monsoon flood levels and substantially increasing dry season flows. Impacts during reservoir filling could be even more significant. Ramifications for biophysical and socioeconomic environmental components include changes in monsoon cropping, reduced infrastructure and homestead flood damage, slower post-monsoon drainage, increased dry season in-channel fisheries habitat and improved migration access in the pre- and post-monsoon seasons, and so on.”
To know more about Bangladesh hydrology, read a banglapedia article.
To know more about Bangladesh flood, read a paper from BUET. This one puts utmost importance on Early Warning System (EWS) for flood control. If tipaimukh controls water, this could definitely be developed.
A Bangladesh newspaper (The New Nation) has unfortunately copied the above two paragraphs and published without even referring to my name or the blog site. And of course, forget about getting my permission. The quality of copy-paste job is also very low since they didn’t even bother to remove the links.
Are there any other effects of the Dam?
Like the haors in Bangladesh, a lot of small wetlands exist in Barak valley also. Once the flood moderation kicks in, those would also probably dry up due to lack of replenishment. The valley would become dependent on irrigation water during dry season. Since the irrigation water is more regular – it would actually improve the consistency of cultivation in that area.
Similarly, Bangladesh plan for flood moderation and river diversion can also utilize the augmented flow in dry season. But a lot of these benefits would actually depend on how efficient the irrigation planning would be.
On the other hand, a lot of sediments carried by the river would now get deposited under the reservoir. The same would have been deposited to the haors and added fertility to the land, had there been no dams present. At the same time, less sediment would mean better navigability of the river.
I also read about possibilities of Winter flood. I do not have sufficient data at this point to discuss it in length.
How does this case goes as per International Water Laws?
Neither India nor Bangladesh is a signatory of any of the International Water Laws (Such as Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses and Berlin Rules). However, neither of these are very specific laws – these are just framework of cooperation.
As I discussed in details in my earlier post, the equitable share of benefits can be claimed by any of the river basin countries. The obligation not to cause significant harm is a “best effort” clause and to achieve flood control a minimum extent of harm is justifiable. About the equitable distribution of the benefits, I am optimistic. Once the North-East India produces surplus electricity, a fair share of that can be exported to Bangladesh at a reduced price. For the time being, the barrage at Fulertal could divert some of the water to irrigate in Bangladesh, as suggested by B. G. Verghese (Member of Center for Policy Research) in his presentation to World Bank. He also noted –
“Indeed, Tipaimukh was the first flood moderation study suggested by Bangladesh when the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission was established in 1972.” (Supported by Dr Nishat, Indian HC claims the proposals were recorded in the statement of Joint River Commission meeting in 1972 and 1978.)
In this context, I need to mention that lower riparian does not have a veto power over a river development project upstream even if it harms them. For example, only 25% of Nepalese population has access to electricity. A huge population of Nepal is displaced every year due to floods. If Nepal plans to add 10,000 MW of electricity and want to achieve flood control in its rivers – the lower riparian India and Bangladesh cannot object without a mention of less harmful alternatives.
The project at Tipaimukh is still waiting for clearance from the state of Mizoram (Official status). Once that happens, I hope we would see the planners and designers would publish detailed data on the site and will not violate the obligation to exchange information. (update – Data exchange on June 19th)
Update on this — Bangladesh Flood action plan 6 (prepared in 1988 by Bangladesh experts) clearly mentions Tipaimukh as a Flood control option for Bangladesh. The same report also predicts other good effects of the same plan in Bangladesh. This proves Bangladesh was aware of Indian initiative for long.
How are the protests in India?
In India, protests are taking place mostly in Manipur and Mizoram, where most of the displacement would take place. Despite the promise of 12% free electricity, a lot of people stood against the dam. I saw a lot of newspaper editorials, blogs and pictures of protest from Manipur and Mizoram. However, the issue had little impact on the 2009 Indian Election as the ruling parties won again in both of these states. The Govt of Manipur has already picked up 5% stake in the project. I don’t see any reason why Barak valley in Assam is not happy with it. In fact Barak valley people are strongly in favor of Tipaimukh Dam. The author from Bangladesh noted that as many as 95% of Barak valley population are in favor of the dam. In fact when Silchar was under water in 2008, the Institution of Engineers in Silchar prepared a 13 page document to suggest mechanisms for flood control – Tipaimukh dam was the main point there too.
I mentioned in my writing that dams do have short term benefits and it seems people are more interested in those.
Why are there so many protests in Bangladesh against this dam?
I saw protests has basically two categories. The first one is by environmentalists – who always protest any dam construction as they oppose damage to ecology. These people are in India as well as in Bangladesh, and their voice is the same. Whereas a lot of Bangladesh based authors have emphasized on lower riparian effects (such as damages to haors), the environmentalists based in India mostly have protested the loss of forest and biodiversity.
The ruling party does the opposite. They try to defend the dam by merely saying it would do good for Bangladesh. That’s another extreme position and it seriously dilutes country’s ability to bargain a deal. I saw it in Pakistan and Bangladesh is merely repeating the same. Even a graduate knows that any dam can cause problems downstream. They should get all the information required and take necessary action downstream to prevent problems caused by the dam. The internal politics damages every cause of the downstream nation. I am hopeful that I won’t see it when China would dam Brahmaputra. They should get the data and take necessary action to build water-store or barrages to hold excess water of monsoon.
One important aspect of bilateral politics in Bangladesh (and India) is noticeable. The opposition does not at all own the international treaties, neither it is responsible for any international relations of Bangladesh. Only the ruling party is the international face of Bangladesh. For years, Bangladesh has asked for and got loans from ADB and UN for flood prevention and post-flood disaster recovery. The extent of damage these floods caused is also well-known. I found in UN Database, one presentation about 2004 floods claims $2.3 billion loss to Bangladesh. An Editorial on how to combat includes option of high-cost dredging operations. The same Haor region, which is supposed to be affected by this project, lost nearly 80% (in value term) of its paddy production due to flood in 2009 (report). (Someone also wrote in his blog that farmers in Haor region were able to reap their harvest 4 times in last 10 years) Not only that, Bangladesh has asked India to augment the lean season flow for years. After all these, if Bangladesh internationally disagrees with a plan that would reduce the rainy season flow as well as augment the lean season flow – it would become an example of double standard. It would weaken their position to ask for any flood recovery loans from any organization. The current Govt knows this very well and that is what is keeping them away from taking it to any international organization. It’s totally untrue that they are less patriotic than their opposition counterparts are.
I mentioned before that Farakka remains to be one of the major breach of trust by India against Bangladesh. To add to that, India had claimed Farakka would not cause any damage to Bangladesh before they started the project. A project targeted at reducing dry season river-flow by 50% had to damage the lower riparian and that’s exactly what has happened. To add to that injury, India and Bangladesh did not have a water-sharing treaty between 1982 and 1995. India channelled water unilaterally in this period, reducing the lean season flow to as low as 10,000 cusec at times. Till date, India failed to initiate any meaningful measure to the promise it made in Ganges Water Treaty to augment lean season flow in Ganges. If the affected country refuses to believe the promise by India this time, I don’t blame them.
These alarmist allegations though, most of the times, carry little fact. A widespread claim of “desertification” of Western Bangladesh is baseless. The Indian North-East region does neither have much arable land nor a huge population though it is water-surplus. Bangladesh can safely assume the water available from western rivers to be constant in lean season and plan according to them. India doesn’t have any utility of that water until it connects its’ rivers.
Interestingly, The New Nation newspaper in Bangladesh, who has copied my writing, has copied only the “Damage to ecology” part of my writing. They avoided the other parts – especially augmentation of lean season flow due to the dam. A careful pick-and-choose is signature of an alarmist nature and it betrays the true notion of debate based on facts, data and priority.
Windows are open for future politics too. All rivers in Indian subcontinent have largely varied flow in different years. I have seen the data for Ganges, where the maximum is more than three times of that of the minimum flow for a given month between 1934 and 1964. Surma, one of the affected rivers, recorded lowest flow of just 487 cusecs between 1950 and 1960. If the river flow goes down to that level once more due to natural causes, won’t these people accuse Tipaimukh? Also, wouldn’t there be an effort to project the drying up rivers once the first fill up of the reservoir happens?
I do blame Indian Government for not caring for Bangladesh’s woes. They could have done so much better. They could have modelled the input-output waterflow and predicted the effect on the environment more accurately. They could have published monthly expected water flows projected after Tipaimukh completion. They should have promised a minimum flow during first fill up of reservoir. A farmer in haor basin would have benefitted directly or indirectly from each of these data. Keeping the data closed to public eye only causes public suspicion to grow. It is also a breach of International law and in a way refusal to cooperate with the lower riparian. Last but not the least, we, as citizens of India, want more transparency in Indian way of development. I am hopeful that India Govt would look into these issues very soon.
An article published in The Independent BD today highlighted a few points of gain from Tipaimukh project. The article also pointed how to avoid a water war between India and Bangladesh. A key portion of the article reads :
1. Will the reduced wet season flows adversely affect the aman crop irrigation? Probably not, as most aman crop water comes from rain. Nevertheless, there may be areas where water is extracted from the river for irrigation in the aman season. Bangladesh authorities should estimate any such losses; it may mean the costs of pumping from the river to the paddy field are higher as the river level is lower (in the wet season).
2. Will the reduced wet season flows mean that ground water recharge on the Bangladesh side is reduced? To some extent, yes; but how much? This is unlikely to be a major effect as most recharge is from rainwater.
3. Will the reduced wet season flow reduce flood loses? Almost certainly yes. In this sense the Tipaimukh dam will reduce flood caused loses of crops and assets in Bangladesh.
4. Will the increased dry season flow help irrigation? Definitely! The cost of surface irrigation will decline as the pumping cost is lower; while there will be some favourable impact on water table levels in the dry season this is unlikely to be significant.
The impact of the dam on Bangladesh can only be answered by reviewing the details of rice cultivation, irrigation methods on the Bangladesh side and the expected changes in the river flow. On balance the impact on agriculture is probably going to be favourable, reducing flood losses and improving irrigation. There is no real basis for believing that the impact of the dam will be detrimental to Bangladesh agriculture!
Another consequence of the construction of the dam is the risk of earthquakes induced by the dam. This is a serious issue for Bangladesh. The risks are complex and Bangladesh probably needs to engage an expert to prepare an assessment. However, for the size of this project the risks seem not excessive Nevertheless an assessment of such risks must be made. The Indian geologists are particularly strong in RIS (Reservoir induced sesmimology) but a Chinese expert would be preferred!
Use of the river for transportation would be improved with the smoothing of the water flows, in particular raising water levels in the dry season.
Finally, there are suggestions of unfavourable impact on flora or fauna. It is difficult to get excited about this.
A report from an independent personality is really helpful in order to have a neutral and fact-based debate on any issue. The article from Forerest Cookson had helped me to get that.
Also read – Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury on Tipaimukh.
Prothom alo has published something similar to this writing – written by M A Kasem, another water expert.
Acknowledgment – I was helped by innumerable blog entries and research articles to prepare this writing. If someone wants to copy contents of the above please at least notify me first.
After reading and answering a lot of comments, my position remains intact. The way Bangladesh Govt should approach the issue of Tipaimukh dam should be based on objective analysis. The analysis should list out all gains, losses, opportunities, threats and risks caused by this project. Then they should weigh the options to mitigate losses and risks as well as try to optimize the gains and opportunities. At the same time they should have some alternatives to Indian plans. In the end, if it turns out to be a project of net negative impact – they should notify Indian Govt of the possible adverse effects and request them to stop the dam project. If India agrees – all end well. If India disagrees, Bangladesh should request India for an arbitration under International law. If Bangladesh wins – the process should focus on asking India to stop the dam. If Bangladesh fails to win the arbitration – they simply have to focus on mitigating the dangers. But typically an arbitration results in options and not in outcome. Bangladesh should be prepared to choose best option without any bias. At the end of the day, if Bangladesh confronts India, they have to rely on this objective analysis. This won’t be published as newspaper articles to be consumed by common people but would be consumed by experts.