31 Oct 2017/Tuesday
According to a report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), China is working on an incredibly ambitious water diversion project involving the Brahmaputra, one of India’s largest rivers, which may become another point of tension between the two Asian neighbours.
Chinese engineers are testing techniques that could be used to build a 1,000-kilometre (km) tunnel—the world’s longest—to carry water from Tibet to Xinjiang, a barren region in northwest China. The project would divert water from the Yarlung Tsangpo River in southern Tibet, which turns into the Brahmaputra once it enters India, to the Taklamakan desert in Xinjiang. The feasibility of the proposed Tibet-Xinjiang project is being tested along a 600km tunnel in China’s Yunnan region.
2,880 km-long Brahmaputra originates in Tibet, where it is known as the Yarlung Tsangpo. Beijing’s plans for the Brahmaputra include two diffrent projects. The first involves the construction of number of hydro-electric power projects on the river and the other, more ambitious project, envisages the diversion of its waters to the arid North. This will have major impact on two lower riparian states: India and Bangladesh.
Though, the construction of series of dams on Yarlung Tsangpo gives China the ability to control the water as per its desire but the most worrying part is the proposed northward rerouting of its water. This diversion would result in a significant drop in the river’s water level as it enters India. It will have a serious impact on agriculture and fishing in the downstream areas as the salinity of water will increase.
Experts dismiss these fears, drawing attention to the enormous technological and other challenges posed by the difficult terrain through which the Brahmaputra runs in Tibet – it flows here at an altitude of around 3500 meters above sea level. They argue that if the Chinese have to divert its waters to the north, they will have to haul the water up over an altitude of another thousand meters at least. Besides technological challenges, there are financial and environmental costs that stand in the way of implementing the water diversion plan. China feels that if it can construct Railway Line in Tibat, an unthinkable proposition few decades back ; it can achieve this feet also.
As Sino-Indian relations become strained over ongoing border disputes, growing water scarcity in China is set to aggravate tensions even further. Home to 20% of the world’s population, China contains just 7% of the world’s fresh water, putting its available water per capita at one of the lowest levels in the world for a country of its size. The demand for water is expected to grow by more than 10 percent annually in most Chinese cities, and more than five percent annually for its industries.
This shortage further becomes worse by widespread pollution, despite government efforts. More than 90 percent of China’s underground aquifers, supplying 70 percent of the country’s drinking water, are polluted. More than half of the population currently drinks water polluted with organic waste, and more than 75 percent of surface water is unsafe for drinking or fishing. At least 30 percent is unsuitable for agriculture or industry.
Implications for India
The tensions surrounding China’s diversion of water underscores a basic fundamental problem—that China, India, and Bangladesh lack a multilateral mechanism for managing differences and promoting cooperation on river issues. The concern is that in the absence of such a mechanism for the Brahmaputra, water security challenges such as drought and pollution could amplify political tensions between the three states and eventually perhaps even result in armed conflict, or what some have called “water wars.” This concern will only increase in size, as populations in these countries grow and factors such as climate change and development put added stress on scarce water resources.