Monday, October 5, 2009

Tipaimukh Dam: A threat to Bangladesh

Prof M Aktarul Islam Chowdhury

Tipaimukh hydraulic dam (THD) to be constructed by our giant neighbor India in the upstream at a distance of 200km (direct distance 100 km) from Amalshid border of Jakigang of Sylhet district of Bangladesh followed by Fulertal Barrage in 100 km downstream of Tipaimukh dam and 100 upstream of Bangladesh border to divert the water to Indian Province Assam is a stern threat to the existence of Bangladesh hydrodynamically, geo-morphologically, geographically, tectonically-seismically, structurally, ecologically, bio-diversically, anthropologically, agriculturally, socially, culturally, economically, financially causing not only environmental hazard but also socio-economic and health risks to the mass people of Bangladesh from all walks of life .

Throughout the world, 263 trans-boundary (passed through more than one countries bordering geographically) rivers and lakes spread of which 57 trans-boundary rivers are located in Bangladesh of which 54 rivers are trans-boundary with India. About 45000 large dams extended over 140 countries of the world. India constructed more than 6000 dams of which more than 50 dams are constructed by our Giant Neighbor India on 35 trans-boundary rivers between Bangladesh and India without bothering Bangladesh, violating International River Laws and without any negotiation with downstream Bangladesh.

Dams in USA: A total of 75,000, including 6575 large dams; 2400 privately owned hydropower dams; no new large dams in recent years; 100s of dams removed since 1999; plan to remove about 10,000 dams by 2010.

Dams in India: As per CWC (1994), a total of 4291 large dams in operation (3159 in Maha, Guj, MP); over 50% constructed in 1971-90; a total of 695 dams under construction; 22 dams are being constructed in the north-eastern seven sister provinces of India.

India misuses all of these dams withdrawing unlimited waters in up-stream violating international laws and signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), agreements, treaties between the trans-boundary countries. Consequently environment of Bangladesh are at the extreme risks.

Recently Tipaimuk dam on the Barak being constructed by India is the threat to the existence of Bangladesh in the train of environmental havoc and disaster to lean the bio-diversity and wetlands of north-eastern Bangladesh specially in the Sylhet basin.

History of India with Bangladesh is not optimistic rather crucial, and ironic due to illogical withdrawal of water from Ganges in dry season violating conditions of signed treaty & international laws and again flooding Bangladesh releasing gigantic amount of water opening all the gates of Farakka dam in rainy season. Same is the case between India and Nepal.

Bangladesh will face a lot of problems specially in dry seasons in the form of desertification and the severe flooding in the rainy seasons due to release of huge amount of water for the last three decades.

An ironic, sarcastic and double-crossing man-made river-killer Tipaimukh dam by Giant Neighbor Iindia to kill the mighty rivers, streams and canals; dry up haors, swamps and other wetlands of its North-eastern region of Bangladesh.

Features of Tipaimukh Dam: the construction on the river Barak will be completed in 2011; it is rock dam located at the village of Tipaimukh; the THD is being constructed with an objective of holding water, generating 1500 MW electricity, flood control, and irrigation; cost is about 9000 Indian Rupees; length of the dam 390 m, breadth 162.8 m and height 178 m located at 108 m above the sea level storing 16 bcm water.

Environmental impacts of the dam will include: Increase the frequency of very large and small floods; Severity of flash flood in pre-monsoon due to the heavy rainfall in the hilly region due to the instantaneous release of water; Devastating Floods in rainy season due to the release of surplus water in every year .

Decrease of water flow in Surma-Kushiara-Kalani-Meghna; Extreme low flow in of Surma-Kushiara-Kalani-Meghna during dry season after commissioning are expected to low as 10% of the flow of before dam construction. If Fulertal barrage is constructed, water availability in Surma-Kushiara will be severely threatened.

Siltation in the river beds of Surma-Kushiara-Kalani-Meghna due to suppression of sediment flow.

Possible morphological change of Surma-Kushiara-Kalani-Meghna causing change in the river course by probable severe earthquake of Richter scale greater than 8 due to dam failure in the earthquake prone area of Tipaimukh and redistribution of water flow, siltation etc.

Change in water quality (turbidity, dissolved gases, minerals, metals etc.) of Surma-Kushiara-Kalani-Meghna.

Ultimate killing of the rivers in downstream Bangladesh; THD will kill the rivers Surma, Kushiara, Kalani, Meghna and their tributaries and distributaries.

Desertification and hydrological draughtness in seven districts Sylhet, Moulavibazar, Sunamgang, Habigang, Kishorgang, Netrokona & Brahmanbaria at the first stage; . Desertification and draughtness cause the disticts of Narshingdi, Munshigang, Narayangang, Comilla, Chandpur, Shariatpur, Lakhmipur. Barishal at the long term. Desertification and hydrological draughtness will be more severe if Fulertal Barrage is constructed.

Salinity intrusion in the new areas and increase in salinity in existing saline zone of lower Meghna due to the suppression of freshwater flow specially in dry season that will advance to upstream day by day causing severe crisis in water use in drinking, domestic and agricultural purpose, reducing soil fertility affecting crop production; saline water will reach to Sylhet within 15 years of commission of dam.

Loss of fertility of the soil causing severe declination of crops, fruits etc.

Reduction of wetland in haor areas dropping fresh water, curtailing fish due to food shortage, disappearance of migratory birds, dying trees, herbs, shrubs among others.

Harsh effects on swamp forest of haor area leading to loss of animal, plant, birds, reptile and fish biodiversity and ultimate destruction of swamp forest in wetlands.

There will be severe effects in river navigability of Surma-Kushiara-Kalani-Meghna shrinking potential water transport route; reduce the production of paddy and vegetables in north-eastern Bangladesh; cause destruction of fish habitats in rivers, streams and canals leading to tremendous reduction in the availability of fresh water fishes effecting aquatic ecology severely.

It will also cause deterioration of ecosystem (both terrestrial and aquatic); Decrease of growth rate in all species; Plankton, flora and fauna will be under serious stress; decrease of groundwater recharge (one-third/fourth of GW recharged by rain water and rest by flood water, if water flow is reduced by 30 to 50%, normal flood will be disappeared hampering GW recharge) severely; affect forest bio-diversity decreasing the forest of both of the plain land and hilly areas ; Ultimately forests will be destructed. It will increase the probability of disaster in downstream Bangladesh if the dam collapses due to any kind of failure and extremely large down-flow stored water; aeriously affect irrigation for Boro production at late rainy season when water flow will stop. Again if water flow increases by 110% in winter, it will affect boro paddy and vegetables causing food crisis.

The risk of earthquake will increase due to the Tipaimukh dam on the seismic fault line of three tectonic plates. In 1897, Shilong earthquake of 8.7 scale changed the river course of Bramahputra. Tipaimukh will provide 500 feet deep reservoir that will exert more pressure of 160 ton per square meter that will increase the earthquake risk tremendously.

The dam will adversely affect the social life of north-eastern region of Bangladesh specially Sylhet region and lead to loss of livelihoods and habitats of a large number of families.

Bangladesh is already under threat of climate change due to the continuous emission of GHG by the fossil fuel from the industries of the USA - the largest industrialized country of the world, China - the most populous country of the world, India - the mighty Giant neighbor of Bangladesh.

If the Tipaimukh impacts are added the problems already aggravated by the Farakka barrage in the Western and South-western parts of Bangladesh would further worsen.

Things that need to be done on an urgent basis include: Effective bilateral negotiation, common understanding and mutually benefited collaboration through realistic and practicable (that can be implement) water sharing of trans-boundary rivers in black and white (not in paper and agreement only) playing intelligent , tactful and diplomatic role in Bangladesh-India Joint River Commission (JRC) from Bangladesh part like the Indus River between India and Pakistan and many neighboring countries of the world.

Presenting the research study based data by experienced and real expert groups in the JRC meeting with strong arguments, reasons, clues and points etc.

Members of the expert group should be selected from expertise specialists and renown researchers of the specific fields.

Significant number of prior studies to assess the actual scenario of the trans-boundary rivers at the crucial and strategic points applying proper technology and knowhow, economic feasibility, financial viability and equi-participation from all walks of life of the society as well as the scientific and authentic study for flow data, water level data of river, water level data of groundwater incorporated with latest sophisticated ultrasonic mechanism, advanced computer modeling and information technology, before going to JRC meeting.

Academicians, researchers, experts as well as engineers should come forward to raise and open the adverse environmental, socio-economic and health impacts of Tipaimukh in the daily life, life of people in the north-eastern region specially Sylhet basin.

Engineers, experts and technologists should explain hydrodynamic, geo-morphological, geographical, tectonic, seismic, structural, ecological, bio-diversical, anthropological, agricultural, social, cultural, economical threats of Tipaimukh the people of all walks of life for effectively supporting the Government on the issue .

Lawyers, all type of environmentalists, Civil society, media men (both of print and news media), teli-media, teachers community, intellectuals, social workers, NGOs, public representatives such as parliament members/mayor and counselors of city corporations and municipalities/ chairmen and members of Union Councils should come forward and create awareness among the masses.

The government should the raise the trans-boundary issues like Farakka, and specially the crucial trans-boundary issue if Tipaimukh at international forums such as the UN with the collective efforts and proper cooperation of the opposition.

Bangladesh Government should handle the trans-boundary river issues like Tipaimukh issue very tactfully to realise the interest of the country.

In addition to all kinds of Government initiatives the private sector, NGOs, media groups, civil society, academia, research organizations, experts, intellects, and specialists of trans-boundary arena should raise their voice. The Government should play vital role inside the country as well as in bilateral joint river commission and multilateral and international forums.

(The writer is the senior-most faculty and head, civil and environmental engineering department Shah Jalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet, E-mail: aic_cee @


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