ECC Platform Library

 

Villagers in Bhutan and India come together to share river

11 September, 2018
Shailendra Yashwant, The Third Pole

Paddy fields, India

Paddy fields, India
Paddy fields in India. | © Nadir Hashmi/Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

The experience of the Saralbhanga River, which flows from Bhutan to India, shows the power of involving local people in river management.

There are 56 rivers that flow down from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan to the eastern state of Assam in India to meet the Brahmaputra River. The hills of Bhutan are covered with lush forests, but on the Indian side of the border there are vast tracts of dry plains with occasional patches of severely denuded forests. Not very long ago the forests were contiguous across the borders but internal migration, poverty and increasing demand for fuelwood changed the landscape drastically on the Indian side of the border.

A large share of Bhutan’s revenue comes from hydropower projects, although it has been declining over the years, from 44.6% in 2001 to 20% in 2013. Most of these hydropower projects have been developed in cooperation with India. Bhutan currently has an installed hydropower capacity of 1,488 MW, although it hopes to increase this to 20,000 MW.

Due to climate change all the rivers flowing from Bhutan to India have changed their behaviour dramatically in the last decade – with long periods of dryness, shallow flow and then repeated flash floods, followed by massive amount of silt, sand, sediments, stones and boulders hurtling downstream across the border into India, constantly altering the river’s course. This has caused hardships and misery to people on both sides of border.

Downstream communities in Assam have regularly raised the alarm, attributing these changes to dam building upstream in Bhutan. They are worried that the plans to build more dams in Bhutan will lead to more flooding, erosion and more destruction than good. The Bhutanese government and their Indian dam consultants have dismissed these objections in the past, but the recent erratic weather patterns have upset all predictions and is now shaping the future flow of the river and Bhutan’s relationship with India.

The inhabitants of the India-Bhutan border are among the poorest of the region. The mostly tribal population is recovering from intermittent periods of ethnic conflict and armed clashes in Assam that has displaced over 400,000 people since 1996. Mass exodus and internal migration have affected employment, land rights and traditional occupations. As a result returning families depend heavily on natural resources for their livelihoods. Some 70% of the region’s population is food and energy deficient.

Deadly floods

The flash floods in Bhutan’s Sarpang district in 2016 wreaked havoc in downstream areas in Assam’s Kokrajhar and Chirang districts, with the excessive silt turning large tracts of farmland into desert. The silt flow was so huge that the hundreds of farmers in Patgaon, located and close to National Highway 31, still cannot cultivate rice even now.

On July 21, 2017, when the Sarpang River broke its banks again, the town of Sarpang Bazar was entirely washed away by floodwater, cutting the border town of Gelephu off from the road. Fifty-two families were left homeless after continuous heavy rainfall.

Floodwaters and landslides cut off the highway from Phuentsholing on the Bhutan-India border, and landslides brought down power transmission lines, leaving many parts of Bhutan without electricity. The department of roads reported that nine gewogs (districts) were totally cut off.

After the flash floods, Bhutan tried to divert the river away from human settlements to mitigate the damage and also gave permission to stone miners to retrieve and sell stones and boulders from the dried up riverbed, causing much consternation amongst local farmers who were concerned that these activities will increase the current and flow of silt in the river.

Women in Khagaria village pray to the river to bring the flood situation under control.
Women in Khagaria village pray to the river to bring the flood situation under control. | © Ritesh Kumar/indiawaterportal.org/Flickr [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

Another controversial measure taken by the Bhutan government was to embargo the building of a nine foot tall check dam in the middle of the river, traditionally built and maintained by Indian farmers to divert the water through the Jamfwi aka dongs (irrigation channels) to their villages. Without water from the Jamfwi check dams, the farmers downstream cannot irrigate their crops. This caused much concern and consternation among downstream communities.

Any changes in the river, its flow, its course and its siltation adversely affects farmers. Upstream damming and increased landslides in the mountains have changed once perennial sources of water into dry rivulets in winter. Without irrigation, most farmers are unable to cultivate their land. Women have to go long distances to fetch water for their homes.

The Saralbhanga River (also called Swrmanga) flows from Sarphang district of Bhutan to Assam in India. About 500 farmers from five villages close to the border contribute to building, repairing and maintaining this check dam on the river, a traditional diversion based irrigation system of the Bodo tribe, which is called the Dongo or Jamfwi system.

The Jamfwi or Dongo irrigation system water channels fed by the Sarlabhanga river is the traditional system used for irrigation in Korkrajhar district. The Jamfwi or Dongo irrigation system channels water across the border into India through a labyrinth of small canals to irrigate rice and vegetable farms. Communities on both sides of the India-Bhutan border consume the produce.

Anarsingh Iswari, a leader of the Akhand Buryogari Bandh Committee in Navnagar, in Assam grows paddy, black dal and ginger using the traditional irrigation system. When the Bhutan government put an embargo on building of check dams, Anarsingh and Raju Kumar Narzary, executive director of the Northeast Research and Social Work Networking (NERSWN), a Kokrajhar-based NGO and members of All Bodo Students Union, Bodo Women’s Forum for Peace and Development, met the officials of the Bhutan India Friendship Association (BIFA) to raise the concerns of the farmers.

Traditional irrigation triumphs

The BIFA officials facilitated an urgent meeting with the deputy commissioner of Sarphang district of Bhutan and after understanding the plight of the farmers, the Bhutanese officials agreed to allow the farmers to continue to build check dams and also decided to help the farmers divert the water of Saralbhanga River for irrigation purposes, which they have been doing for centuries. This has given huge relief to at least 5,000 farmers.

For 18-year-old Azlka Musahary, a student who helps her family on their farm, this has come as great relief, mainly because she has to walk a shorter distance to collect water for their household needs. Longer conversations with women of the Saralpara village reveal how central the Jamfwi or Dongo irrigation system is to the survival of the villagers.

At the community level, women participate in all decision-making around the amount of water to be lifted for each household and the contribution to the maintenance of the irrigation system. It is the women who have the most at stake and are the ones who want a more permanent solution, a treaty between the two countries if possible, so that there a better conversation about water flow on both sides of the border.

“Water issues in river basins are becoming more and more complex and far reaching at all levels — local, regional, and national. The story of conflict resolution on Saralbhanga River is a great example of successful people to people engagement supported by administration on both sides,” Animesh Prakash of Oxfam India told thethirdpole.net. Prakash is in Oxfam’s Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA) project, which aims to contribute to poverty reduction and to reduce marginalisation of vulnerable river basin communities. The project plans to do this through increased community access to and control over riverine water resources.

“We need to build on the foundation set by the students union and civil society on both sides of the border with continued strategic engagement to promote collective actions to mitigate and adapt to the climate change induced havoc playing out in these parts of western Assam. Peace is essential for implementation of any poverty alleviation and development programme in the region,” Prakash added.

Clearly, this successful interaction has led to growing interest among local civil society organisations to participate in processes and influence practices at all levels in integrated water resource management and ensure they are more inclusive of community concerns.

“The golden anniversary of India-Bhutan Friendship offers a perfect opportunity for both the governments to explore how best to cooperate for joint projects to mitigate and adapt to the vagaries of our rivers in interest of citizens of both our countries,” Ugyen Rabten, Chairperson of Bhutan India Friendship Association, told thethirdpole.net. “His Majesty the King of Bhutan has repeatedly expressed his interest in building on the past good relations with India to alleviate poverty and sufferings on both sides of the border and what better opportunity than to deal with this clear and present danger posed by the this devastating consequence of climate change.”

This report is part of ongoing documentation by the author of Oxfam India’s Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA) project in India. This five-year (2017-2021) regional programme funded by the Government of Sweden works with communities in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) in Nepal, India and Bangladesh and the Salween in Myanmar.

 

[This article originally appeared on thethirdpole.net]

Article
Source
Topic
Adaptation & Resilience
Civil Society
Climate Change
Conflict Transformation
Water

Region
Asia

Topics

Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

Read more

Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

Read more

Cities

Sorry, no description found.

Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

Read more

Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

Read more

Co-Benefits

Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

Read more

Development

Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

Read more

Energy

The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

Read more

Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

Read more

Finance

Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.

Forests

Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

Read more

Gender

Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

Read more

Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

Read more

Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

Read more

Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

Read more

Security

Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.

Water

The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

Read more

Regions

Asia

The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

Read more

Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

Read more

Europe

As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

Read more

Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

Read more

Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

Read more

North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

Read more

Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

Read more

South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

Read more

Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

Read more