Despite denials from the Chinese authorities, there is strong speculation that plans for a 1000 km-long tunnel is being tested in order to transfer water from the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet to Xinjiang. Given this mix of Chinese denial and Indian apprehension, how should Indian strategists react?
The news that China is planning to divert the waters of the Yarlung Tsangpo (the upper stream of India’s Brahmaputra) to its water-starved Xinjiang province is hardly surprising. It has been a long-standing part of the grand South-North Water Transfer project conceptualised as early as in the 1950s by Mao Zedong and somewhat grandly restated in Li Ling’s 2005 book Tibet’s Water will Save China.
Indian and Bangladeshi water experts have, understandably, raised alarm bells over the plan for the adverse impacts it would have on downstream areas. For India, national security implications follow as the Yarlung Tsangpo also flows into a disputed border region with China. Thus far, China has denied all claims of going ahead with the proposal on account of engineering difficulties and high-cost implications. However, as per the latest development, despite denials from the Chinese authorities, there is strong speculation that plans for a 1000 km-long tunnel are being tested in order to transfer water from the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet to Xinjiang. Given this mix of Chinese denial and Indian apprehension, how should Indian strategists react?
For India, national security implications follow as the Yarlung Tsangpo also flows into a disputed border region with China.
History of water interaction
Understanding the Chinese psyche vis-à-vis its transboundary rivers and political relations is a prerequisite to informing the Indian response. There are four critical points that emerge from the history of interactions over water between China and India.
One, the Brahmaputra agreement between China and India is a suboptimal arrangement within broader bilateral relations. As per the current agreement, China has thus far agreed to share hydrological data on the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra (YTB) during the monsoon season. Why did China agree to cooperate in the first place when it has clearly resisted doing so for years, and with other riparian countries through which the Mekong flows? One of the explanations could be that this gesture of cooperation aligns well with China’s broader political strategy of portraying an image of a ‘responsible neighbour’. Despite two decades of negotiation, further cooperation on water, however, is in a state of a deadlock. The agreement, at best, is a piecemeal discount offered by China.
Two, discussions over the YTB have often been overshadowed by the border dispute. Sino-Indian history is replete with examples wherein despite tense bilateral relations, cooperation over transboundary rivers has occurred. For instance, despite border incursion by the Chinese army in the Depsang Valley in Ladakh in 2013, China and India went ahead to sign the extension of the 2002 Memorandum of Understanding on data sharing on the Brahmaputra river. However, there has been no progress in discussing more pressing issues of who has the right to how much water and the impact of dams and diversions on the upper reaches of the river. In the past couple of years, instances of border incursions before ministerial-level meetings between India and China have often been witnessed.
Three, departing from the past, China’s approach to transboundary water sharing is shifting towards multilateral arrangements. In 2015, China signed the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) framework along with five other countries through which the Mekong flows. This China-led multilateral agreement is an alternative to the Asian Development Bank-led Mekong River Commission, which China never signed. The LMC aligns with China’s Belt and Road Initiative and focuses on land and water connectivity, besides river management. In South Asia, China has been insistent in establishing greater ties with Bangladesh on flood forecasting, water technologies, and water management. In 2016, a mainstream Chinese newspaper highlighted China’s willingness towards multilateral cooperation on the YTB. India, on the other hand, prefers bilateral relations, as it has with Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. India and Bangladesh already have a stressed relationship over Teesta river sharing, whereas China is cooperating more with Bangladesh on water issues. China charges approximately $125,000 for the data it provides to India; at the same time, it sends similar data to Bangladesh for free. By way of improving relationship with Bangladesh, China could well be aiming to encircle India to reach a deal on the sharing of YTB that favours China’s objective of economic expansionism.
Departing from the past, China’s approach to transboundary water sharing is shifting towards multilateral arrangements.
Four, the Indian approach to the YTB issue is influenced by developmental imperatives and domestic politics. The Brahmaputra is an important resource for India’s own water diversion plans — the national river interlinking project — and is considered a powerhouse to meet India’s energy demands in the future. India tends to play the lower riparian card to gain sympathy from its domestic political constituencies, especially of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Bangladesh and Pakistan have criticised India for being hypocritical in its approach with China, as India has been seen as an ‘alleged bully’ in sharing waters with them. While the concerns regarding Chinese diversion plans may be genuine, India also maintains the ‘China threat’ to a certain extent to veil its own administrative lapses and justify dam-building activities to its domestic audience.
What India needs to do
A decade ago, India started planning multiple hydropower projects on the Brahmaputra as a reactive strategy against Chinese dam-building activities on the upper reaches of the river. This strategy is informed by the international law of ‘prior appropriation’, which states that the first user gets the rights to continue using that quantity of water.
A decade ago, India started planning multiple hydropower projects on the Brahmaputra as a reactive strategy against Chinese dam-building activities on the upper reaches of the river.
India will need to be more adept in responding to Brahmaputra river-related issues.
It needs to clearly envision the desired end goal and strategic outcomes for dealing with impending water conflicts.
It needs to de-emphasise China’s role for the time being and restrengthen its relationship with Bangladesh. It needs to push the impending Teesta river agreement and restore its image as a responsible upper riparian.
India needs to mirror its strength and firmness in negotiations with China on water rights, as it did in the case of the Doklam stand-off and in opposing the Belt and Road Initiative, rather than projecting itself as a victim.
Media has long been reporting on China’s plan of northward rerouting of the Brahmaputra waters (known as Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet) from the Tibetan borders through constructions of dams. This has emerged as a prime point of contention with China-India strategic relations. Brahma Chellaney, one of the foremost strategic thinkers of India, described the Chinese design of taking control over Brahmaputra water as “most dangerous”. The fear of drying up of the Brahmaputra has become widespread in Indian public psyche, especially in Assam. This hypothesis of perceived fear is termed in this article as the “Brahma hypothesis”.
The growing water demand in Tibet and the option available in principle to China of building water storage and transfer projects on the Yarlung have given birth to such fears in India.
The apprehension is this can affect Bangladesh further downstream. The concern has aggravated with the news of Chinese plans to build a 1,000-km-long tunnel to divert water from the Brahmaputra River in Tibet to the parched Xinjiang region. It has been reported in sections of the media that the perceived Chinese threats to divert the river’s water prompted the Centre to call an inter-ministerial meeting recently to discuss proposed projects on Brahmaputra.
Amidst the clamour about Chinese projects on Brahmaputra, there has hardly been an objective data-based analysis of the popular “Brahma hypothesis”. These contentions deserve to be examined through data, hydrological regimes, upstream interventions and their downstream implications.
Identifying the flow
The Brahmaputra is identified as the flow downstream of the meeting of three tributaries, namely Luhit, Dibang and Dihang, near Sadiya. The link of Brahmaputra with Yarlung Tsangpo, which originates from the Angsi glacier near Mt. Kailash, was discovered rather recently. Out of the total length of the Brahmaputra of 2,880 km, 1,625 km is in Tibet flowing as Yarlung Tsangpo, 918 km is in India known as Siang, Dihang and Brahmaputra and the rest 337 km in Bangladesh has the name Jamuna till it merges into Padma near Goalando.
As a trans-Himalayan tributary, Yarlung is substantially fed by snow and glacial melts, in addition to rainfall. The normalised melt index (defined as the volumetric snow and glacier upstream discharge divided by downstream natural discharge) of the Brahmaputra is merely in the range of 0.15-0.2, signifying that snow and glacial melt, the main source of run-off in the Tibetan region, contributes negligibly to the total flow.
Making the discourse realistic
The Tibetan region lies in the rain shadow with the Himalaya acting as the barrier to the rain-laden monsoon. The annual precipitation in the trans-Himalaya Tibet averages about 300 mm annually. As the tributaries cross the Himalayan crest line, the annual average precipitation reaches about 2000 mm.
A very large component of the total annual flow of Brahmaputra is generated in the southern aspect of the Himalaya in India by tributaries from Buri Dihing in the East to Teesta in the west.
Data published by Chinese scholar Jiang and team show that the total annual outflow of the Yarlung River from China is estimated to be about 31 BCM while the annual flow of Brahmaputra at Bahadurabad, the gauging station near the end of the sub-basin in Bangladesh, is about 606 BCM. These figures do not support the linear thinking that the flow in a river is proportional to its length inside a country.
Further, while the peak flows during monsoon at Nuxia and Tsela Dzong in Tibet, a measuring station at the great bend in the Tibetan plateau, are about 5,000 and 10,000 cumecs, as presented by Vijay Singh and colleagues, the peak flow at downstream Guwahati is around 40,000 cumecs and the one at Bahadurabad in Bangladesh is approximately 50,000 cumecs.
During the lean season, the flow in Nuxia, as identified from a hydrograph given in Rivers and Lakes of Xizang (Tibet) (in Chinese), is 300-500 cumecs, while the one at Pasighat is to the tune of 2000-odd cumecs, the one at Guwahati is around 4000-odd cumecs, and Bahadurabad is about 5000 cumecs, all these being peer-reviewed data.
This data shows that the Brahmaputra gets fatter and mightier as it flows further downstream. This is more so because of the flow contribution of the various tributaries like Dibang, Luhit, Subansiri, Manas, Sankosh, Teesta to name a few.
This can be noted from the fact that at Guwahati (Pandu), the percentage annual yield of the main river course from Pasighat is barely 34 per cent, while the tributaries like Dibang, Luhit, Subansiri, as also the tributaries joining between Pasighat and Guwahati contribute the remaining 66 per cent. Further downstream, the mainstream contribution diminishes further.
Another concern relates to the impact of the projects on the sediment flow. Can water diversion affect sediment flow? The flow volume and discharge in the Yarlung River is not sufficient to generate and transport carry the very large sediment load as in prevalent in the downstream Brahmaputra.
The annual suspended sediment load near Nuxia in Tibet is around 30 million metric tonnes, (as suggested in a 2016 volume titled River Morphodynamics and Stream Ecology of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau by Wang and colleagues), which is miniscule as compared to same load measured as 735 million metric tonnes at Bahadurabad.
Therefore, the large amount of suspended sediment load that gets deposited in the downstream to form a fertile Jamuna floodplain cannot be carried by the Yarlung-Tsangpo stretch. It is created further downstream in India, where precipitation is almost 12 times higher than the rain shadow Tibet.
A popular hypothesis
Prima facie, it can be said that the impacts of water diversion (or even hydropower like the Zangmu Dam) in the Yarlung-Tsangpo cannot have substantial impact on the flow regime in the Indian boundary, especially in the Assam floodplains and Bangladesh. The concern of many in India has been based on the perception that structural interventions always reduce downstream flows, which, in case of Brahmaputra, is not true.
Based on the hydro-meteorological data, it seems highly improbable that a cloudburst can occur in the rain-shadow Tibet so as to cause floods in Assam.
Therefore, the “Brahma hypothesis” or the myth spread in the media does not stand the test posed by scientific data and knowledge. Informed science should inform public perceptions, policy, hydro-politics, and water governance, rather than jingoistic emotions or linear, reductionist logic.
China Plans World's Longest Tunnel To Divert Brahmaputra Water: Report
Beijing: Chinese engineers are testing techniques that could be used to build a 1,000-km long tunnel, the world's longest, to carry water from Brahmaputra river in Tibet close to Arunachal Pradesh to the parched Xinjiang region, a media report said today.
The move, that is expected to "turn Xinjiang into California", has raised concerns among environmentalists about its likely impact on the Himalayan region, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
The proposed tunnel, which would drop down from the world's highest plateau in multiple sections connected by waterfalls, would provide water in China's largest administrative division, comprising vast swathes of deserts and dry grasslands.
The water would be diverted from the Yarlung Tsangpo River in southern Tibet, which turns into the river Brahmaputra once it enters India, to the Taklamakan desert in Xinjiang.
China's longest tunnel is the 85-km Dahuofang water project in Liaoning province, while the world's longest tunnel is the 137-km main water supply pipe beneath the city of New York.
India, a riparian state, has already flagged its concerns to Beijing about various dams being built by it on Brahmaputra river, which is known as Yarlung Tsangpo in China.
Beijing has been assuring India and Bangladesh, which is also a recipient of the waters from the river, that its dams were of the run of river projects and not designed to storing water.
Wang Wei, a researcher who helped draft the latest Tibet- Xinjiang water tunnel proposal, which was submitted to the central government in March, said more than 100 scientists formed different teams for the nationwide research effort. He was part of the team which was led by China's top tunnelling expert, Wang Mengshu.
The team, according to the report suggested draining the Brahmaputra at Sangri county in southern Tibet, close to Arunachal Pradesh.
"Sangri county featured a large, relatively flat valley that was ideal for the engineering project. An artificial island would be built in the middle of the river to create rapid turbulence, which could filter out sediment, and direct water to a well. The well could control the amount of water flowing into the tunnel," the report said.
The Chinese government started building a tunnel in the centre of Yunnan province in August that will be more than 600-km long.
Researchers said building the Yunnan tunnel would be a "rehearsal" of the new technology, engineering methods and equipment needed for the Tibet-Xinjiang tunnel, which would divert the Brahmaputra river to the Taklimakan Desert in Xinjiang, it said.
Chinese engineers say the Tibetan Plateau, often referred to as "the roof of the world", stops the monsoon from Indian Ocean reaching Xinjiang leaving the Gobi Desert in the north and the Taklimakan Desert in the south unsuitable for human settlement.
In recent decades, Chinese government departments, including the Ministry of Water Resources, have come up with engineering blueprints involving huge dams, pumps and tunnels, the report said.
The project's enormous cost, engineering challenges, possible environmental impact and the likelihood of protests by neighbouring countries have meant it has never left the drawing board.
But Zhang Chuanqing, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Rock and Soil Mechanics in Wuhan, Hubei province, said China was now taking a quiet, step-by- step approach to bring it to life.
"The water diversion project in central Yunnan is a demonstration project," said Zhang, who has played a key role in many major Chinese water tunnel projects, including the one in Yunnan.
"It is to show we have the brains, muscle and tools to build super-long tunnels in hazardous terrains, and the cost does not break the bank," he was quoted as saying by the Post.
The construction of the tunnel on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, the country's second-highest, would make political leaders more confident about the Tibet-Xinjiang project and more likely to approve it, he said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
China 'poisoning', diverting Assam's lifeline Brahmaputra river? Sinister plot exposed
Dec 06, 2017 | 19:31 IST | Times Now Bureau
New Delhi: Amid fears that there was a China hand behind the water of the Siang river turning black, Times Now has accessed laboratory reports that show there might be a sinister China plot at play.
Is China polluting Brahmaputra River too?
The Siang river originates in southern Tibet and becomes the Brahmaputra upon entering Assam through Arunachal Pradesh.
Recently, Congress MP Ninong Ering, representing the Arunachal East constituency in Parliament, had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying the water of the river changing its colour was an unusual phenomenon in the winter months.
In his letter, Ering had pointed out that there were reports of China constructing a 600-km tunnel in its Yunnan province to divert the Siang water to the Taklamakan desert through the Xinjiang province.
China had then denied any such development and refuted its alleged role in the river water turning black.
However, the results of the laboratory tests conducted on the Brahmaputra river water show it is unfit for human consumption.
The samples which were put to test contained heavy cement type content.
Arunachal Pradesh CM expresses concern over Siang river turning river, asks Centre to take measures.
The Assam government has already expressed suspicion that China is likely polluting Brahmaputra river.
Speaking exclusively to Times Now, Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said his government fears China is either undertaking some big construction work on the river under its territory or is trying to divert the waters of river Brahmaputra. This could have led to the unusual change in the colour of the river water. Of late, the river has been turning muddy for four to five months long after the Monsoons have passed.
Sarma said his government has already flagged the concern to the Ministry of External Affairs. Further, China has not shared the hydrological data of Brahmaputra for the entire 2017, the minister said, fuelling suspicions that something secretive might be taking place and is a matter of big concern, keeping in view the unusual change in the properties of the Brahmaputra river water.
Meanwhile, the lab tests conducted on Siang river have also revealed alarmingly high levels of pollution. The turbidity level is 482 NTU against a permissible limit of 0-5. The level of iron in the water is also high at 1.6.
China says no question of polluting Siang river as Arunachal Pradesh is its territory
According to scientists at the State Water Quality Testing Laboratory in Itanagar, a higher iron level is normal in groundwater but is unusual if found in surface waters of a river. The scientists fear that some deep-mining or excavation work in the upstream region of the river must have led to this unusual change in the river water.
Earlier, Union minister Arjun Ram Meghwal had said that a preliminary study of the Siang river found that its water could be turning black due to a recent earthquake in the region.
The Union minister of state for water resources added that according to the preliminary findings, the path of the river was temporarily obstructed after an earthquake in Tibet on November 17.
Congress MP Ering had, however, termed the remarks of the minister as absurd.
He had mentioned in his letter written to the PM that the reports of the Tsangpo (Siang or Brahmaputra) being diverted had appeared a few months back.
"After these reports appeared, the water of the river Siang has turned muddy and slushy. It has been two months since the Siang turned black and contaminated. It is an unusual phenomenon.
"The reason for the river getting dirty is unknown. I have already put up questions for discussions in Parliament under rule 377. But since the House is not in session, I am requesting you to use your good office to seek the reason for the river turning muddy in this season, when the water is usually crystal clear," Ering had written in his letter to Modi.
He had also pointed out that there could be no reason for the river getting contaminated in the month of November other than a possible heavy land excavation on the Chinese side, adding that it had to be verified by an international team.
Certain reports claim that the water of the river has become unusable and that a large number of dead fish has been found in the river in the recent past.
China blocks Brahmaputra completely | Vinayak Bhat
Latest satellite imagery shows the river Brahmaputra disappearing into a 900 m underground tunnel in China.
In what is perhaps the first evidence of a possible diversion project by China, latest satellite imagery shows a massive new dam on the Brahmaputra river — Yarlong Tsangpo in Tibetan — with an underground tunnel that seems to engulf the entire water flow for almost one kilometre.
The Brahmaputra is sacred to Indians and Tibetans alike and has its origins in the Angsi Glacier in Purang county of Tibet. It has been in the news for water reportedly turning black on the Indian side and in connection with Chinese plans to divert it to the arid lands of the Taklamakan desert.
Although the Indian government has said that there is no evidence of any water diversion project, satellite imagery from 26 November 2017, courtesy US commercial vendor of space imagery DigitalGlobe, indicates a new project in an advanced stage. This report – based on latest satellite images — examines only the actual ground position. Measurements are made on very low resolution images and may not be exact.
The available images show a new 200 m wide dam that seems to have completely blocked the water of the Brahmaputra. The entire river seems to be forced into two inlets of almost 50 m width each towards the west of the river. The water flow comes out after around 900 m downstream in two outlets very similar to the size and shape of the inlets.
The project – currently under construction – is located 60 km east of Shannan township as the crow flies. The location is also almost 40 km east of Sangri county.
Source: Vinayak Bhat
What has raised questions about this project is that another project – Tsangmo or Zangmu Dam — has recently been constructed just 13 km downstream. This run of the river dam was made operational in end-2015 and has a capacity of 510 MW power production. Beijing did not pay any attention to India’s objections to the Tsangmo dam.
POSSIBLE DIVERSION PLAN
The construction of another dam 13 km upstream of Tsangmo which diverts the entire water inside the mountain suggests that its purpose may not just be hydropower generation. The purpose of this project is possibly for diverting a portion of the Brahmaputra to the parched areas of Taklamakan desert.
The geography of the area, when studied deeply with the elevation profile, clearly indicates that China may actually be planning to divert the waters of the Brahmaputra approximately 1,100 km northwest of the project site.
The path indicated on the image below shows the possible route of the underground tunnel which does not touch any water body on its way. The height difference at the project site and the point of Taklamakan desert suggest that a clear downslope will be available for the water to flow naturally without any additional constructions for large storage wells in between.
Source: Vinayak Bhat
India being downstream of the Brahmaputra has full rights over its waters and any diversion of water from this river could likely hurt Indian agriculture. During any emergency, a sudden release of water from this project can also cause havoc on the Indian side.
Satellite imagery shows that polymer resin adhesives are being sprayed by China all around this project area as a dust suppressant system. The resin adhesives are commonly used for large construction projects but are never used for projects near water, according to some water projects construction engineers, since these polymer resin adhesives are said to be harmful to humans and animals.
The resin sprays have been observed over the last two months. The rough estimate of time for water flow to reach India from this project location is 15 to 20 days. The colour of the Brahmaputra water in Assam acquiring a darker shade, according to reports in the media, could possibly be due to the use of these resin adhesives at this project site.
CONSTRUCTION IN FULL SWING
Satellite images clearly show stone crushers and cement plants at the site. The products of this facility are obviously used inside these tunnels for construction purposes. The material being quarried from inside these tunnels is being piled along the river up to the road level. Most of the stones have been crushed to different sizes and some of it may be pushed into the river along with the water flow.
A large number of tippers and other vehicles are seen carrying material to and from this area. An administrative area is also seen east of the project with a large number of red-roofed houses and barracks, possibly living quarters for staff and may also contain administrative buildings.
Has the direct water data sharing from China been resumed yet or still being circuited through BD?
Total base flow has limited impact from Chinese side (given catchment area starting in Arunachal compared to Tibet), but the surges and spikes along with pollutants from construction will definitely be an issue.
China is not to blame for black Brahmaputra – but people in Arunachal and Assam face imminent danger Satellite images show landslides triggered by earthquakes have led to three dams being formed upstream of the river, in Tibet.
by Chintan Sheth and Anirban Datta-Roy
Published Dec 23, 2017 · 06:30 am
For more than a month now, the mysterious discoloration of the Siang River has puzzled the people of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. The turbidity levels of the river are exceptionally high for this time of year. Testing of the blackened waters has indicated that the water is dominated by clay and silt. The heightened turbidity levels (425 nephelometric turbidity units against a December normal of 12-15 nephelometric turbidity units) has made the water progressively unfit for human use and even affected aquatic life, with reports of dead fish coming in. Such a phenomenon has never been witnessed by the local people before and various theories were put forward to explain it.
The Siang river is called the Yarlung-Tsangpo in Tibet, and the Brahmaputra after it merges with the Dibang and Lohit rivers in Assam. Considering the fact that it originates in Tibet, and flows for more than 2,000 km within China, suspicions for the discolouration naturally fell on China. News reports highlighted Chinese plans to divert the waters of the Tsangpo to irrigate parts of the Taklamakan desert in northwest China’s Xinjiang autonomous province. The turbidity was thought to have been a consequence of Chinese construction activity, although there was no evidence to establish this.
The Siang river is usually blue at this time of the year.Clear and present danger
Our analysis of this phenomenon indicates that while the causes of the Siang’s dark waters are completely natural, the potential danger to downstream inhabitants in India is serious and urgent.
The Gyala Peri mountain lies North of the Yarlung-Tsangpo river and West of the Yigong-Tsangpo river, a tributary. It is here that the Yarlung-Tsangpo cuts the world’s largest gorge between Gyala Peri and the Namcha Barwa mountain. The Yarlung-Tsangpo then merges with the Yigong-Tsangpo and turns 180 degrees South to flow, as the Siang, into Arunachal Pradesh.
On November 17, at 4 am Indian Standard Time, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck below the summit of Gyala Peri. For the next 32 hours, this region was swarmed by five earthquakes, all measuring more than 4 in magnitude. A final 4.7 magnitude quake struck the area on November 23. No aftershocks were recorded.
Data source: USGSMassive landslides on river
The intense vibrations triggered a massive chain of landslides along the Yarlung-Tsangpo river. Several satellites have taken images showing approximately a 100 sq km area of landslides. The volume of material lost is yet unknown. The satellites have captured dust and debris in the air, indicating that landslides continued even 20 days after the earthquakes struck. This landslide area is 400 km upstream from Pasighat, the headquarters of East Siang district, and 200 km from Geling near the international border with China. The affected part of the river is 30 km in length.
The blockage of the Yarlung-Tsangpo river at three locations along a 12-km stretch that falls in Tibet’s Bayi district is a matter of serious concern. Three natural dams have formed one after the other (see image below). While the dams are significantly smaller than the dam that had formed on the Yigong-Tsangpo river in 2000 after a landslide, it is too early to rule out the possibility of these three dams merging and becoming larger.
Based on preliminary calculations from low-resolution data, the current total volume of the Gyala Peri dams is about 1 billion cubic metres, one third the volume of the waters that were dammed on the Yigong-Tsangpo in 2000.
The volume calculations are from coarse data and do not take into account any debris within the dams. However, the dark colour indicates it is not shallow like other parts of the river. Nevertheless, the blockage of river flow by debris is unpredictable as the area may be unstable with falling rocks and mud. Real-time satellite monitoring is required to keep track of how the dams are changing in order to allow areas downstream in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam to prepare accordingly.
This is perhaps the largest landslide of the year and catastrophically larger than the landslide that took place on April 9, 2000, on the Yigong-Tsangpo. That slide was caused by a similar series of events. Two earthquakes, measuring 3.5 magnitude and 4.6 magnitude, struck the Zhamu creek in Tibet that day. The landslide blocked the floodplain river, creating a dam with an area of 2.5 sq km, and 90 meters deep. The natural dam gave way on June 1 that year. Within 12 hours, areas all the way downstream till Assam were flooded. The floods lasted for days. It was the biggest outburst from a landslide-dammed lake ever documented in modern history. The surge swept away large forest areas and several bridges along the Siang. Several elders still remember the intense wave of water that rushed down.
Figures circulated in the aftermath of the incident claimed that 30 people died and more than 50 villages in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam were destroyed. The Arunachal Pradesh government put the damage at Rs 100 crores, but the true cost of this flood is still being felt. Apart from the destruction of bridges, the river deposited sand and debris on terrace farms where the indigenous Adi people cultivated their food crops. Several fields still remain spoilt even 17 years after the incident. People also reported the loss of many Mithun cattle, which is vital to the economy and culture of the Adi people.
Current concerns of the dark colour of the waters of the Siang are well grounded based on past events and must be taken seriously. Usually, the Siang becomes clear blue after November. This prolonged discolouration after the monsoon, coupled with numerous dead fish have alarmed people living along the river.
Immediate action needed
Earlier suspicions and rumours that implicated Chinese dams upstream on the Yarlung-Tsangpo river are incorrect as satellite images distinctly reveal that the origin of the sediments is from the slopes of the Gyala Peri.
In the aftermath of the 2000 flooding, the Indian media had similarly pointed fingers at Chinese dams, assuming that the event was caused by the breach of man-made dams in China. We now know that it was not a man-made dam and the Chinese government failed to warn India of the possible consequences of a breach at that time. Such a warning could have significantly minimised the loss of life and property downstream. The evidence presented above shows that a situation akin to June 2000 cannot be ruled out.
A panel of remote sensing experts, geologists, hydrologists and disaster management experts needs to be set into action right away for the safety of the people. It is also critical for the people of Arunachal to scientifically study the geography and ecology of their region not only prepare for disasters but to develop sustainably.
Chinese checkers: Arm twisting with rivers
December 24, 2017
Flights Of Fantasy [ M Panging ]
The pollution of the Siang/ Brahmaputra River has continued unabated for the last few months. Oily, mucky and slurry water is flowing down the river with increased turbidity and pollution.
This flow of polluted and contaminated water has the potential to seriously affect the lives and livelihood of millions of people living in the Siang/ Brahmaputra belt and Bangladesh. The contaminated and polluted water will also affect the entire ecosystem of the region. Since many animals like cattle, wild animals, birds, and such are dependent on this river, it will have a major impact on livestock, aquatic life and migratory birds.
The contamination of the Siang/Brahmaputra has been reported in most media of North East India. A few MPs and political leaders have also raised this issue. However, busy with the Gujarat and Himachal elections, the mainstream media has paid lip service to this serious issue.
It seems most crisis of our region emanates from China. There is a history of conflict with our northern neighbour. Everyone knows about the Indo-China conflict of 1962 where the Chinese forces entered almost 100 km inside the Indian Territory. There have been many border violations and skirmishes like the Sumdorong Chu incident of 1987.
Readers may recollect the flash floods which occurred in Arunachal Pradesh in 2000. These floods happened without rains in the area and were termed as the ‘China floods’ with many lives and livestock being lost, and many areas being washed away. It was later revealed the flash floods were caused by collapse of a natural dam in Tibet. This was followed by the 71-day ‘Eyeball to Eyeball’ confrontation over Doklam a few months ago.
China has already commissioned one 510 MW dam over the Yarlung Tsangpoat Zangmu. Three more dams are under construction at Dagu, Jiexu and Jiacha. There were also reports that China is planning a 1000 km long tunnel to divert the waters of the Yarlung Tsangpo to the arid region of Xinjiang.
And now we are faced with this issue of contamination of the Siang/Brahmaputra. If the contamination and pollution of the Siang/Brahmaputra continues for prolonged period, it would affect the lives and livelihood of humans, animals, birds and affect the entire ecosystem of the area. Many opine that it would be worse than war -almost akin to slow poisoning.
Some theories propound that the contamination and pollution of the Siang/ Brahmaputra is caused due to landslides caused by a series of earthquakes in Tibet. However, the water composition may indicate contamination of the Siang/Brahmaputra due to some massive construction work in Tibet.
Rivers are international property and belong to all citizens of the area through which it flows. Right to river water is one of the most fundamental and universal right and cannot be denied. Presently, there is no water treaty between India and China, and the government must initiate steps for a water treaty with China at the earliest.
On the flip side, if China considers Arunachal Pradesh as their territory, why should they contaminate Siang River?
Why are there so many problems with China? In case of any conflict with China, it would directly affect Arunachal and Assam. Can we do something about it? Is anyone seriously interested?