Sustainable Development of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Basins Edited by Asit K. Biswas and Juha I. Uitto, Oxford, Rs 450
Like many other natural resources that are trans-boundary in nature, water is also the subject of disputes among nations. With each of almost half the world’s river basins shared by two or more countries — and because of growing population and pollution levels, water is expected to become an increasingly scarce resource, and drinkable water even more so. The literature on water conflicts is extensive, branching out into many disciplines and approaches. It is important to understand the background of river-water disputes, the structure of possible and actual negotiations, and patterns of cooperation among riparian nations in realizing proper development of river basins.
Sustainable Development of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Basins presents the possible development options for the shared waters of rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna as perceived by policy-makers and experts from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indian and Nepal — the four countries that share the basin. The basin, home to nearly six million people, constitutes the second largest hydrologic region in the world, next only to the Amazon. The dispute over the sharing of water has been a long one, and the need for international agreements on the utilization of this scarce resources has become acute.
The authors address the issue in an integrative way, considering natural, historical, political, and cultural aspects. Asit K. Biswas focusses on the management of any international water dispute. R.B. Shah, the former chairman of the Central water commission of the government of India identifies the thrust areas of future cooperation, including hydropower generation and flood control, between India and Bangladesh. The recent agreement of December 12, 1996 has two important features that are different from the preceding agreements of 1977 and 1983. First, it will remain in force for 30 years, while the earlier ones were for five years only. Second, it aims for optimum utilization and multi-purpose development of water resources.
One of the most intractable problems in river basin development is that of environmental sustainability. The continuing scarcity of potable water shows that the existing interventions for drought proofing have failed to counteract the overall process of land degradation in rural areas. Also, most projects have not contributed appreciably to improving rain-fed agriculture. Somnath Mukherjee looks at these environmental problems in water resource development in Bhutan. B.G. Verghese deals with the implementation of policies, and shows how the paperwork could be taken to the field.
The editors note that a major problem in dialogues is that of information sharing; information freely available in one country is often hard to get in another. However, the International Water Resources Association, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank are now trying to bring key stakeholders together. The south Asian countries share one common ecosystem and a wealth of natural resources in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basins. Judicious use of this capital will benefit the subregion as a whole.