Save The Brahmaputra River
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To the Honourable Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi,
As you already know, the Brahmaputra river of South Asia is the fourth largest river in the world in terms of annual discharge. It drains an area of around 580,000 square kilometers, covering four countries: China, India, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Its basin in India is shared by the states Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Sikkim and West Bengal (Source: Singh et al 2004). It is one of the world’s largest trans-boundary river systems and provides a rich diversity of resources.The Brahmaputra basin, with a total population of about 83 million (across all four countries), is extremely rich in cultural diversity, with many ethnic, socio-cultural and linguistic groups (Source: Mahanta et al. 2014). Clearly, any intervention (natural or man-made) in the river ecosystem will affect the livelihoods of many people who are dependent on it.
We would like to express our concern on the recent spate of sporadic reports highlighting water diversion plans, possible construction activities, dumping of chemicals detrimental to aquatic ecosystems in the upstream areas of the Brahmaputra River and natural tectonic occurrences (an earthquake near the Indo-China border that occurred on November 18, 2017).
This is compounded by further speculations and a lack of consensus on the root cause of the water in the Siang River in Arunachal Pradesh turning turbid and blackish and the downstream areas of the Brahmaputra River turning visibly turbid.
We would appreciate further information and formal updates on this matter by the Central government as well as relevant authorities on this matter which according to us, has not received the serious attention that it deserves. We appreciate that the Minister of State for Home Affairs Mr. Kiren Rijiju, of Arunachal Pradesh, tweeted on December 7, 2017 that the central government was “continuously tracking and assessing” the river. However, we believe that this matter requires more than these efforts. We are also aware that the Congress MP from Arunachal Pradesh, Mr. Ninong Ering, has requested your office to take up the matter with China.We also appreciate that India’s Foreign Minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj has approached China on this matter. However, we feel that there is a lack of transparency on this matter and no formal statement or declaration by the Central Government with respect to urgent measures being taken amidst the multiple media reports and alarming satellite images circulating online indicating the presence of such “alleged” activities in the upstream areas of the river.
Further, since early December 2017, the turbidity (which is a measure of suspended particles in the water) of the river has seen a sudden spike after it enters into India from China. NTU (Nephelometric Turbidity Units) is a measure of Turbidity. For human consumption recommended Turbidity level is 1-5 NTU and for Aquatic Life - it is desired to be less than 50 NTU. However, the reported Turbidity level in the Siang (The Brahmaputra in Arunachal) after the recent spike has been measured at over 400 NTU.This high level Turbidity (especially if it contains toxins) over a sustained period can have serious ecological/economical consequences in the entire North Eastern Region of India and Bangladesh.
(Source: https://www.heraldgoa.in/India/Brahmaputra-turbidity-beyond-permissible-level/123789.html https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/india-says-chinese-construction-on-river-dirtying-water/2017/12/12/fd73076a-df27-11e7-b2e9-8c636f076c76_story.html?utm_term=.801315dfc5a0
Needless to say, this is an alarming situation in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, since the livelihoods of several thousands of people depend on the river ecosystem and what is certainly lacking in this situation, is a proper information dissemination channel that would provide information to the concerned citizens and stakeholders about recent data, updates and developments of a scientific, social and geopolitical nature with respect to the Brahmaputra River. Until then, there is no means to ascertain how the intensity of the crisis is going to affect the common man in the long run. The fears have been further compounded by the loss of biological organisms such as small fishes as reported by the local media outlets in downstream areas. There have been reports of fish and other aquatic animals dying in the Siang Valley which has triggered further questions about monitoring the activities in the region.
To understand the source of the issue, data related to upstream activities needs to be shared. Before 2008, India used to receive information from China free of cost. In 2008, India signed an agreement with China, according to which, it would pay INR 82 lakh annually to China for data from the period May to Oct (the flood months). Until last year, this information was available to India. However, this year India hasn’t been able to get access to any data from China. Bangladesh, at the same time did receive the information. (Please refer to the article :http://tibet.net/2014/07/india-agrees-deal-with-china-for-flood-data-on-brahmaputra/ A two-pronged solution approach can be adopted which includes:
1. A cross border international river policy stretching the need for sharing hydrological and environmental information inclusive of seismic and construction data (based on inputs from experts and representatives from China, India, Bangladesh and Bhutan) so that the ecosystem of the region is not compromised in the pursuit of developmental agendas.
2. Awareness and transparency across the region to move from speculation to clarity.
We strongly believe that the root cause of this sudden spike in turbidity levels of the river water and its ecological impact on the region needs to be ascertained and a proper monitoring system be put into place to ensure that the quality of water in the Brahmaputra River be maintained at a healthy level for human consumption as well as aquatic life - so that further adverse impacts in the entire ecosystem could be avoided. We also appreciate that the Assam state government has sent samples taken from the Brahmaputra for testing to the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology in Hyderabad and IIT-Guwahati. This also highlights the need for this systematic and long-term monitoring of water quality on a fortnightly basis as well as monitoring the trends of not just chemical and turbidity parameters but also heavy metals, BOD (Biological Oxygen Demand) and toxins. However, the recent NDTV report clearly states that the IIT-Guwahati test results found the turbidity level at1249 NTU, or Nephelometric Turbidity Unit, which is 250 times more than the safe limit and more than twice the figures recorded earlier.The IIT report said the water also has very high iron and lead content and that it could be "inferred without reservation" that the water from the Siang river in Arunachal Pradesh "is not suitable for drinking purposes" unless it is treated and dangerous for human consumption. (Source: https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/brahmaputra-river-now-muddy-and-black-could-be-poisonous-says-iit-guwahati-study-1789898
Irrespective of the trigger (man-made or natural), the intensity of the impacts are alarming and we would like to request your office and the concerned authorities to urgently consider this matter and let us know when a technical report on this situation can be made available to the public.
Lastly, we would really appreciate your active response on this matter as it will help alleviate the fears of the people in the North-east and elsewhere and prevent creating a situation of panic among them due to speculative reports of a sensitive nature. As a global community, we are happy to extend any form of collaborative support (scientific, academic and community-based) towards any future government initiatives on this matter.
A group of concerned global citizens
WHO ARE WE?
We are a group of concerned global citizens spanning across different countries who have always felt proud of having been associated with the North-east part of India, its rich biodiversity and unique cultural heritage. Through this online petition, we take this opportunity to bring to your notice the looming problem and activities along the Indo-China border that could potentially destroy the biodiversity and the livelihoods of thousands of people in the North-east region, especially Arunachal Pradesh and Assam as the water remains unusable thereby, creating serious water-security issues. Its long-term ecological and environmental impacts will also reach lower riparian Bangladesh.
We also believe that a strong mobilizing effort throughout the region and outside and active civic engagement that covers a wide spectrum of stakeholders (scientists and research organizations, NGOs, local people and other businesses along the river) will lay the foundation for a broad and robust sustainable response mechanism by the government over matters related to the river ecosystem in future.
APPEAL TO THE SIGNATORIES OF THE PETITION
We would like to appeal to the readers of this petition to help this online signature initiative gain the required momentum by spreading the word and contribute towards saving the River Brahmaputra, which is the lifeline of North-east India. Your support towards the river Brahmaputra and the current threat, can go a long way in developing a shared vision and understanding of livelihood, water security, sustainability and environmental justice issues along the Brahmaputra river, promoting further efforts in the North-east region towards trans-disciplinary knowledge and collaborative research, creation and strengthening of existing knowledge hubs, and enhancing the capacity of the civil society stakeholders to participate in the management of natural resources.
1. Mahanta, C., Zaman, A.M., Newaz, S., Rahman, S.M., Mazumdar, T.K., Choudhury, R., Borah, P.J., Saikia, L. (2014). Physical Assessment of the Brahmaputra River. IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Pp xii + 74
2. Singh V.P., Sharma B., Shekhar C, Ojha, P. (2004)The Brahmaputra Basin Water Resources, Kluwer Academic Publishers, ISBN 1-4020-1737-5.
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