In cooperation with Water Rights Forum (WRF), Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD) organised a seminar on "Equal Sharing of Trans-boundary Rivers including Teesta and Actions to Restrain the Inland Rivers, Water Bodies from Grabbing and Pollution" on the 16th of June 2015 at Dhaka Reporter's Unity.
Two separate keynote papers were presented by Engineer M. Inamul Haque, Chairman, Institute of Water & Environment and former Director General of Water Resource Planning Organisation (WARPO); and Rowshan Jahan Moni, Deputy-executive Director of ALRD. Distinguished panel discussants were Dr. Shapan Adnan, researcher and former Professor of Chittagong University; Professor Anu Muhammad, department of economics, Jahangirnagar University; Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Chief Executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyer's Association (BELA); Dr. Md. Abdul Matin, General Secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA).
Mr. Shamsul Huda, Executive Director of ALRD chaired the seminar.
Engineer M. Inamul Haque in his keynote speech emphasised ratification and resorting to UN International River Convention, 1997 giving importance to water usage, not distribution. According to this convention, natural flow of the water cannot be diverted from international rivers. India has long been implementing river linking projects constructing numerous barrages for various domestic interests resulting in withdrawal of water upstream making downstream in Bangladesh dry even though India is repeatedly saying that they will not do anything that would harm Bangladesh. On the other hand, the country’s domestic rivers are also being polluted and grabbed e.g. Buriganga and Karnaphuli.
Ms. Rezwana Hasan, Executive Director, BELA expressed her incomprehension regarding Bangladesh government’s stand on Teesta water sharing policy. She considers the present Bangladesh government is submissive to India. She added that even if there’s an agreement to appease Bangladesh, India won’t provide sufficient water since they have been withdrawing water upstream. She mentioned that Bangladesh should have ratified UN International River Convention which has been effective since 2014 though it was initiated in 1997 due to lack of ratification by minimum 35 countries. Bangladesh still has not ratified the convention. She said that Bangladesh should have clear stand and have a comprehensive water policy. There is no clear water policy in Bangladesh. She also mentioned the destructive actions to the local water resources.
Ms. Rowshan Jahan Moni, Deputy Executive Director, ALRD presented the summary of the paper clippings of the period from October 2013 to March 2014 on river pollution and grabbing published by ALRD titled Songbadpotre Dokhon Dushoner Kobole Desher Nod-Nodi [Grabbing and Polluting Rivers of the Country in the newspapers]. It consists of 64 news reports from 9 local dailies addressing issues regarding 26 rivers from 22 districts of the country.
She mentioned that there are 405 rivers in Bangladesh among which 57 are trans-national and there are other water bodies like haor, baor, beel, canal, and pond.
She said that two factors are contributing to water crisis in the country – climate change and human intervention. She cited two examples of river grabbing from the published clippings – commercial plots are being sold grabbing land of the Turag valued BDT 30 billion and the width of Moriom bibi canal of Chittagong has been reduced to 10 feet from 80. She also referred to industrial pollution, excessive extraction of ground water as causes of water crisis and poor management.
She called for actions from the development organisations on raising awareness building of the people capacity building of the people’s organisations and enhance people to people interactions both at intra and international levels especially in the Himalayan region. She suggested that the government should formulate a comprehensive framework and roadmap for short, mid and long term allocating required budget to address the issues. Finally she commented that there must be political will, commitment and consistency to resolve the problems.
Dr. Abdul Matin, General Secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon [Environment Movement] commented that common people of both Bangladesh and India don’t favour government’s so called development projects blocking, diverting and withdrawing river waters. They don’t like destroying environment in the name of development. He said that mostly the big businesses are behind all these projects.
Regarding the Teesta he suggested agreement for water usage, not distribution following UN International River Convention, 1997.
Referring to water management he dumped Bangladesh Water Board as rubbish which is destroying the water bodies instead of preserving in the name of development projects and looting money. He advised that this organization should be abolished to protect the water bodies of the country.
He also mentioned that the government formed a Task Force on river management to formulate proper policies. But unfortunately no policy suggested by the Task Force is being accepted or implemented due to corruption practices in the respective agencies.
Economics Professor Anu Mohammad of Jahangirnagar University said that both Bangladesh and India are destroying natural resources in the name of development. He said that natural resources and ecological diversity are invaluable basic ingredients of a livable world. He added you may increase GDP at the expense of natural resources like Sundarbans which is immeasurable by money. We should get away from chasing GDP growth based development only. Giving an example he said “You may build a building for business occupying a river which will grow GDP.” He questioned, “Is it actually development?”
Regarding installing power plants he cited example of carrying machineries of power plants to Tripura we have made road across the Titash. He asked, “Do we need power more than the rivers?”
He concluded that we must not fall behind such GDP growth.
Professor Shapan Adnan of Chittagong University commented that the issue is related to life or death of Bangladesh and its nature. He said since the 60s WAPDA, a government agency responsible for water development, has been developing barrages and polders to control water which was detrimental to water bodies and livelihood of the people.
Regarding trans-boundary rivers he said that India always want bilateral discussion and agreement on the issue whereas it should be multilateral. In the rainy season, India opens up the barrage gates which floods downstream Bangladesh but there is no system in place for information sharing to be alerted and there is dearth of water in the dry season. He is also skeptic about getting water even after having agreements with India if they withdraw water upstream. And if we have bilateral agreement we won’t be able to go to international courts. He’s also skeptic about Bangladesh’s success negotiating with India. He suggested the bargain of transit facility would have been linked to water sharing with India.
He added that present trend of neoliberalism help increase growth but it increases inequality in the society.
He thinks the problems cannot be resolved without raising awareness of the people.
The chair of the seminar Mr. Shamsul Huda, Executive Director of ALRD said that the opposing initiative of calling for equal distribution of international waterways while destroying local rivers making those into drains, filling in for constructions and businesses is double standard and it should be discarded once and for all.