CHINA AND INDIA RACE FOR DAMS ON RIVER BRAHMAPUTRA: IMPACTS COULD BE MASSIVE AND UNKNOWN
Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on July 21, 2010
[China certainly wants to utilize Tibetan water resources for its development. It is presumed that one day China may divert waters from the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo (River Brahmaputra), north of the McMahon Line building another mammoth dam, much bigger than the Three Gorges Dam, the biggest in the world. Among many, Engineer Guo Kai’s Shuotian Canal Project has been viewed as a perfect one which would ‘save China with Tibet’s waters’. “This will be another gigantic power plant with an astonishing generation capacity of 20-40,000 Mega Watt! Nothing like this exists today in the world. If built- this will be the largest in the world. How large? Sheer three times bigger than the current world’s largest hydroelectric plant- the Three Gorges Dam. To put it into perspective this one plant can fulfill the entire energy need of Bangladesh five times over. The taming of this mighty river will require nuclear explosives to punch hole in Himalayan Mountains!”]
By B. K. Rana
This giant dam which, submerged 13 cities, 140 towns, 1352 villages, 657 factories & 30,000 hectares of cultivated land, construction works completed last year (1993 – 2009), is the world’s largest dam and largest hydro-power project which will generate “an incredible 18.2 gigawatt of electricity from its 26 hydro turbines. The output is equivalent of 18 typical coal power stations (40 million tons of coal), or the power used by four cities the size of Los Angeles”.
It is evident that China requires more energy as well waters as it has four times bigger the population than that of the United States. And it has enough financial and human resources to undertake such huge projects, which it has been doing since ancient times. ‘China is the greatest economic growth zone in history. Already the world’s third-largest economy behind the United States and Japan, China now accounts for 7.5% of the world’s total economic activity. It’s on track to pass Japan no later than 2010, and may pass the United States by 2020. The country’s economy has increased by a cumulative 371.3% in the last 40 years, an annual average of 9.3%” – outlines Kieth Fit-Zerald, the Chief Investment Strategists at Money Morning in Baltimore, USA. ‘By 2040 the Chinese economy will reach $123 trillion; nearly three times the economic output of the entire globe in 2000’ – writes Robert Fogel for Foreign Policy.
The current Chinese economic growth has been a tool for maintaining socioeconomic balance at a healthful level. Even an 8 % GDP growth rate is very healthy for China but lesser than that may cause some difficulty: some sort of social unrest – lack of job and unemployment. Therefore, China looks for bigger projects to fund and create jobs and empower its own people. And, the Tibetan Water projects can serve the purpose.
Tibet – The Water Tower of Asia:
Since decades Chinese experts have been looking around for water resources. Tibet is also called the water tower of
Asia. Nearly 90% rivers flow downstream from the Tibetan plateau to China, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam also.
certainly wants to utilize Tibetan water resources for its development. It is presumed that one day China may divert waters from the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo (that is River Brahmaputra – pictured above), north of the McMahon Line building another mammoth dam, much bigger than the Three Gorges Dam, the biggest in the world. Among many, Engineer Guo Kai’s Shuotian Canal Design has been viewed as a perfect project which would ‘save China with Tibet’s waters’.
“This will be a gigantic power plant with an astonishing generation capacity of 20-40,000 Mega Watt! Nothing like this exists today. If built- this will be the largest in the world. How large? Sheer three times bigger than the current world’s largest hydroelectric plant- the Three Gorges Dam. To put it into perspective this one plant can fulfill the entire energy need of Bangladesh five times over. The taming of this mighty river will require nuclear explosives to punch hole in Himalayan Mountains!”
But, the real concern in the downstream is not on the generation of hydro-electricity. The proposed dam will “divert 200 billion cubic meters of waters to the Yellow River for easing water shortages in cities of Shaanxi, Beijing and Tianjin in Northern China.” writes The Real Time Bangladesh
The impact would be profound, massive and unknown. The Indigenous Portal also reports:
“The water diversion project at the Great Bend will spell disaster for the Tibetan plateau and the lower riparian
countries, India’s North East and Bangladesh. Officially the projects have been termed as the great South-North water diversion project of China. India fears Chinese reported plans to use nuclear technology in the project will lead to environmental concerns in the Eastern Himalayas. Indian experts say the mega scheme could be disastrous for the 185 million people of India’s North East and Bangladesh. There is also serious concern about the Earthquake disaster: the region’s regular earthquakes that can hit 8.0 on the Richter scale, can destroy the proposed Chinese dam and cause devastating floods downstream.”
Exacerbate Tensions Between Two Countries:
a) One possibility, currently denied though, China may divert water from the Brahmaputra to drought stricken areas in China, leaving India and Bangladesh short.
b) “Area of giant dams is seismically unstable. The tectonic plate on which India sits is pushing against the Asian plate, uplifting the Himalaya Mountains. Recent earthquakes in Sichuan Province have been devastating.”
c) “Dams will sequester silt that normally gets washed to the flood plains of India and Bangladesh renewing fertility and maintaining elevation in light of rising sea levels.”
d) The border between China and India in this area is not settled. An aggressive push to industrialization in this area may exacerbate tensions between the countries. This is being felt in New Delhi.
There was an uproar in Indian parliament last May. The opposition party leaders are seeking answer to the proposed (28 dams and 38 Gigawatt power production) Brhamputra Dam. Please watch the video:
Worried that China might build a very big dam on the Brahmaputra River near its borders, India has recently approved two big dams of their own, “in principle”, on the same river downstream in its state of Arunachal Pradesh. What is interesting, and disturbing at the same time, is that India is building these dams to pre-empt China by establishing a prior use claim.
A key member of India’s Planning Council, Dr. Kirit Parikh, is reportedly pushing for this idea as “a broad strategic vision”. I disagree with Dr. Parikh because China is not known for respecting riparian rights on international rivers. On the contrary, I think his words would only give more excuse for China to push ahead with their plans.
What follows is an editorial I wrote in 2004 in response to the news that India expressed concerns about Chinese plans then:
Let the Brahmaputra Flow
Trin-Gyi-Pho-Nya: Tibet’s Environment and Development Digest. January 12, 2004, Issue 4.
India finally expressed concern over Chinaís plans to divert the Brahmaputra River. In November 2003, several Indian news reports carried a story that the Indian state of Assamís Union Ministry of Water Resources asked their foreign affairs counterparts ìto seek factual detailsî about the project. Indiaís concerns became real after Chinaís official news agency, Xinhua, confirmed Chinaís intentions. According to Xinhua, preliminary studies of the water diversion project were conducted at the proposed construction site in mid-2003, followed by another round of feasibility studies in October. It would not be surprising if China denies having such plans, as did Tibet Autonomous Regionís Chairman, Xiang Ba Ping Cuo, at a press conference last August.
Construction of this mammoth multi-purpose project is tentatively scheduled to start in 2009. The main structures are planned in Tibetan areas of Pema Koe, near Indiaís northeastern border. The area is also known as the ìGreat Bendî of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Tibetan name for Brahmaputra) where the river takes a sharp U-turn to enter into India. At the Great Bend, the Tsangpo River descends over 3,000 meters in approximately 200 km, constituting one of the greatest hydropower potentials anywhere in the world. China hopes to build a hydroelectric plant there that would generate twice the electricity produced by the Three Gorges Dam, currently the worldís largest dam. Plans also include diverting the waters thousands of kilometers across the Tibetan Plateau to the ìthirstyî northwestern parts of China, into the provinces of Xinjiang and Gansu.
If undertaken, the project is bound to raise some serious transboundary issues. Claude Arpi, a Tibet-China-India analyst, called the project ìa declaration of warî by China. “When it comes to a transboundary question, where the boundary is not even agreed upon, it seems practically impossible to find a workable understanding,” Arpi said. In addition to border disputes, the project would make India and Bangladesh dependent on China for release of water during the dry season, and for protection from floods during the wet season. Not to mention the adverse impacts on the millions of people living downstream when nutrient rich sediments and fish will be blocked by the dam. Arpi believes the most serious issue to be the fact that the Great Bend area is located in a highly earthquake prone area. “A huge reservoir and a few PNEs [Peaceful Nuclear Explosions, as proposed by Chinese scientists to make tunnels through the Himalayas for the project] could provoke new earthquakes even more devastating than in August 1950 when thousands died.”
Such massive water control projects are clearly a state (central government) undertaking–without the economic and political support of the state, these projects cannot proceed. Unfortunately, and often ironically, national leaders prefer to marvel at their engineering accomplishments in controlling nature to serve economic development rather than addressing issues of transboundary and socio-environmental responsibilities. In fact, Chinaís plan to divert the Brahmaputra would impair India’s own plan to link approximately thirty of its own rivers, a project that is bound to affect the downstream riparian state of Bangladesh.
Such international transboundary river development projects raise many important issues–from the comparative importance of national economic development to issues of social justice, from the primacy of territorial sovereignty to the merits of international cooperation. As important as these intractable topics of debate are, policy makers ought not to forget the real issue–the concern expressed by the affected people. After all, states exist to provide material and physical security to the people. The goal of development policies should be to benefit the people first, not powerful interest groups like corrupt bureaucracies and businesses.
While the Brahmaputra Diversion Plan will bring sizeable benefits to China in the form of construction jobs, electricity, and water for the “thirsty north,” the price that the affected people and the environment must pay is clearly unacceptable. For the local Tibetans, the project is an imposition on their land and their birthright by the occupying Chinese government. The beneficiaries of the project are foreigners while “locals” are made to bear its price. If China is genuinely committed to human rights and sustainable development as it claims to be, then the Brahmaputra Diversion Plan should not be undertaken.
@The Himalayan Voice