The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Beijing baffles flood experts

New Delhi, Aug. 16: Indian disaster management authorities are grappling with varying reports from the Chinese on the threat of flash floods in both the east and the west — in the Brahmaputra in Arunachal and Assam, and in the Sutlej in Himachal Pradesh.

The reports are inconsistent with the assessments made by Indian experts, technical sources said.

Indian assessments are based on environmental history and interpretation of data from satellite images passed on by the National Remote Sensing Agency. The assessments are made for the disaster management cell under the crisis management group in the home ministry.

A discreet inquiry by India on the possibility of a sudden rise in the water levels of the Brahmaputra in Assam, where the river routinely plays havoc with yearly floods, had Beijing miffed and it wanted to know the source of such information.

On Saturday, a minister in Assam said the state government has been alerted after a report that a hydel project in Tibet on the Yalu Zangbu, as the Brahmaputra is known in Tibet, was leaking. Technical sources in the water resources ministry and the disaster management cell in New Delhi said the report is not confirmed.

However, India is wary of Chinese hydel projects on the Brahmaputra in Tibet. In 2002, after a spate in the Brahmaputra in Tibet, there were flash floods in the Lohit in Arunachal Pradesh when an 80-foot-high wave left a trail of devastation. This time, the water level in the Brahmaputra is rising but that cannot be put down to additional release of water in Tibet since it has been raining in the catchment areas.

In a 2002 memorandum of understanding between Delhi and Beijing, the Chinese authorities agreed to share data on the flow of the Brahmaputra from three monitoring stations in Tibet at Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia.

On the Pare Chu river in Tibet’s Ali Prefecture, where a landslide has created a dam, Indian authorities are a little more nervous. The Pare Chu is a tributary of the Sutlej in Himachal.

The Chinese have not yet granted permission to an Indian technical team to visit the spot. By the weekend, the Chinese had informed India that their own technical team was within 500 metres of the spot that is in difficult terrain.

However, an official from the water resources bureau in Ali Prefecture told Reuters today: “There’s not much the Chinese side can do at the moment. We can only wait for the natural burst of the dykes.”

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