Category Archives: National Security/Strategic Issues/Foreign Policy

Damming a river

Damming a river

Dams harm rivers. Photo: R S C Anjan/ Drik News

Dams harm rivers. Photo: R S C Anjan/ Drik News

Zulfiquer Ahmed Amin

THE Farakka Barrage, when commissioned in 1970, seemed to be a venture by India for saving the Kolkata port from silting up. In next few decades, the outcome in the lower riparian Bangladesh was disastrous due to the dearth of water in the entire south-western region. The country also experienced continuous losses in the agricultural, fisheries, forestry, industry, navigation and other sectors. It also caused fatal damages over the years through floods, droughts, excessive salinity and depletion of groundwater.

The project also resulted in massive devastation in Malda on its upstream, Murshidabad in West Bengal and south-west of Bangladesh on its downstream. Excessive sedimentation, increasing flood intensity, and river erosion are some of its effects.

Bangladesh is facing desertification along the normal course of the Padma river, with no water in the water-body, and the mighty river has become the reason for continuous floods and bank erosion.

Farakka, thus, was a major breach of trust by India against Bangladesh as India had repeatedly claimed before it started the project that the dam would not cause any damage to Bangladesh. The same assurances are being given about the Tipaimukh dam.

Land and water are ecologically linked in a natural system called a watershed. Any river is the product of the land it inhabits — the type of rock and soil, the shape of the land, and the amount of vegetation are some of the factors that determine the river’s shape, size and flow. When these ties between the land and the river are breached by a large dam, the consequences are felt throughout the watershed, as well as by the web of life it supports.

The main hydraulic effect of a dam is the discharge of the collection basin to a stationary reservoir instead of a stream-bed. Therefore, an instant change will start downstream, which dries partially or totally whenever the reservoir begins to accumulate water. During this temporary or periodically repeating time interval, the hydrological balance can collapse, and structural damages are observed in the water dependent ecosystem.

Dams have a significant impact on the disruption of natural sediment movement processes in rivers, which is blocked by the dam. Sediment builds up in the reservoir behind the dam, while creating sediment starved conditions below the dam, which lead to channel bed degradation, channel narrowing and bank erosion. It is natural that the river, which is accustomed to carrying sediment and now has none, will pick up the sediment from the streambed below the dam.

Dams are engineered to withstand the force of a certain number of tons of water –however large the reservoir is planned to be. When the pressure builds up the dam bursts, killing people and destroying settlements downstream. This disruption of sediment movement often disconnects a river from its natural floodplain downstream or submerges riverine floodplains upstream of a dam. In some cases this leads to river systems that are no longer naturally sustainable.

Dams hinder growth, development and maturation of fishes. They hold back not only sediment but also debris, which includes leaves, twigs, branches, and whole trees, as well as the remains of dead animals. The lives of organisms, including fish in downstream, depend on the constant feeding of the river with debris.

Many fish must move upstream and downstream to complete their lifecycles. Dams act as a barrier in this migration. The cold, clear water of downstream will be starved of nutrients and provide little or no habitat for animals. A river with a dam eventually becomes little more than a dead channel of water.

About 7 to 8 percent of the water in Bangladesh is obtained through the river Barak to Surma-Kushiara river basins. Agriculture, irrigation, navigation, drinking water supply, fisheries, wildlife in numerous haors (wetlands) and low lying areas in entire Sylhet division, some areas of Comilla and Mymensingh districts, and some peripheral areas of Dhaka division depend on this water.

The river system also supports local industries like fertilizer, electricity, gas etc. Around five crore people of Sylhet and Dhaka division will face problems as Surma and Kushiara will lose five feetof water in the rainy season. Massive environmental degradation will take place, severely affecting weather and climate, turning a wet, cool environment into a hot, uncomfortable cauldron.

Haors around Surma-Kushiara river located in Sunamganj, Habiganj and Moulvibazar districts and Sylhet Sadar Upazila, as well as Kishoreganj and Netrokona districts, receive surface runoff water from rivers and channels in the rainy season and serve as the granaries and fisheries of the northeast. During dry season the water drains out, leaving an alluvial-rich soil suitable for cultivation of boro. The rice farmers plant when the water recedes in the winter, and harvest before the monsoon waters come.

The water carries not only fish larvae but also much-needed nutrients into the haor, which turns into a vast nursery for fish. When the water recedes in the winter, the nourished fish move out into the rivers and are caught by the fishermen. The total area of this wetland covers nearly 25,000 square kilometres and supports approximately 20 million people.

They literally live by the ebb and flow of the waters. Any artificial alteration of this haor could affect food security and bring disaster to the region.

The north-east region of India is one of the six major seismically active zones of the world, which includes California, Japan, Mexico, Taiwan and Turkey. The Tipaimukh site is located in Zone-V of the Seismic Zoning Map of India. As per available records, about 16 earthquakes of magnitude greater than 7.0 have occurred in this region, of which 2 had a magnitude more than 8.5. An earthquake of significant scale will destroy the dam, with unimaginable damage to life and property.

While Bangladesh is concerned over the dam on the Barak river, India, too, is busy raising concerns about China’s plan to build a dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) in Tibet to generate 40,000 Megawatt power, and to divert 200 billion cubic meters of waters to the Yellow River for easing water shortages in Shaanxi, Beijing and Tianjin in northern China.

India’s proposed Tipaimukh dam and China’s proposed dam over Yarlung Tsangpo bear much similarity in terms of scale of destruction, threats and challenges both in the upstream and the downstream portion of the rivers. India is playing a double game. While objecting against China’s plan to dam Yarlung Tsangpo, India is aggressively pursuing mega-dams construction spree in India’s north-east, notwithstanding concerns in the north-east and Bangladesh.

Against the backdrop of its nonviable cost-effectiveness, immense economic and environmental damage coupled with utter human sufferings, when worldwide decommissioning of dams has over-taken commissioning, India’s insistence may cause deterioration of Indo-Bangla relations.

Dr. Zulfiquer Ahmed Amin is a physician and specialist in Public health Administration and Health Economics, and is presently working in Kuwait.


BSF kills two in Dinajpur

BSF kills two in Dinajpur
Our Correspondent, Dinajpur

The Border Security Force (BSF) of India yesterday gunned down two Bangladeshi nationals on Shundra border in Dinajpur district headquarters.

The deceased were identified as Ashraful Islam, 40, son of Fazar Ali of Jhulkagram village, and Mohammad Aminul Islam, 30, son of Moksed Ali of Jaygirpara village in sadar upazila.

The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) sources said BSF troops at Shundra border outpost (BOP) fired shots at around 4:30am yesterday when Aminul and Ashraful reached near the border, leaving them dead on the spot.

BSF also took the bodies into Indian territory.

Ashraful and Aminul were returning home from near Hamjapur of south Dinajpur in India where they had gone to see their relatives, said victims’ family sources.

BDR officials of Dinajpur-2 Battalion admitted the incident and said they had lodged a strong protest against the killings. They also sought cooperation from their counterpart so that a calm prevails on the India-Bangladesh border.

BDR also urged the BSF to return the bodies.

A tension mounted on the bordering areas following the killings.

Vested quarter blamed for damaging rising shipbuilding sector

Vested quarter blamed for damaging rising shipbuilding sector

Sept. 8: A vested quarter is out to damage the flourishing shipbuilding industry of the country, one owner of a ship building firm complained today.

Shakhawat Hussain, Managing Director of the Western Marine Shipyard Limited, told The Independent that they had submitted a tender for building a tug boat for Karachi Seaport at a cost of Tk 30 crore. But a vested quarter of Bangladesh complained against them to the Pakistani firm questioning his company’s credibility, he said, adding as such he had to procure a certificate from Shipping Ministry and sent it to the Pakistani firm as a supporting document to clear the confusion.
He alleged that the tender for the Tk 30 crore work was about to be cancelled had he not been able to quickly act and procured the certificate from the ministry. But he did not specify who made the complaint to the Pakistani firm or whether there was any professional or business rivalry involved.

The Western Marine Shipyard chief said that the industry picking up in Chittagong and Dhaka and receiving orders from foreign countries for building seagoing vessels in recent years. This is generating employment for thousands people from different background. Professionals from seven to eight disciplines like naval architecture, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and civil engineering can find jobs in the sector.

Sources said shipbuilding industry, if receive government support and patronization, can turn into a topmost foreign exchange earner and be a major source of employment generation in the country.

“This industry can alone contribute to more than 3 per cent of the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) of the nation,” they said, adding shipbuilding industry can earn more than Tk 25,000 crore annually.

A large number of shipbuilding industries have already been set up in the country under private sector. Of them, two industries have already attracted the attention of foreign buyers.

The Western Marine Shipyard Limited in Chittagong and the Ananda Shipyard limited in Dhaka had obtained several orders for building oceangoing vessels from the foreign companies. Accordingly, both the shipbuilding industries have already started the building ships in their shipyards and a few were already delivered or in process of delivery to foreign buyers.

He further said that the ship-owners of the world have now been turning to newly emerged potential countries like Bangladesh to order for building new ships because of lower costs and also because the developed countries who used to produce ships were turning to other to industries.

BSF kills 70 Bangladeshis in last eight months

BSF kills 70 Bangladeshis in last eight months with the latest killing on August 31

From 1 January 2000 to 31 August , 2009 stands at 797

Tuesday September 01 2009 02:03:02 AM BDT

BSF has gunned down yet another Bangladeshi on Monday 31 August taking the total of such killings to 70 during the eights months of this year. The latest victim was identified as Ershad Ali 32, a cattle trader who was killed along Putkhali border on Monday.(The Bd Today)

According to a UNB report: Indian Border Security Force (BSF) killed a Bangladeshi cattle trader at Putkhali border early Monday. BDR sources said BSF troops of Angrai camp caught Ershad Ali, 32, after a chase while he was returning home from India.The Indian border guards then beat him and tortured him with electric shock, leaving him dead on the spot. The body of Ershad, resident of Khalshi village in Benapole port thana, was left at no man’s land from where BDR recovered it.

According to statistics projected by ‘Adhikar’, a non-government human rights watchdog, some 62 Bangladeshi civilians were killed by the Indian BSF from January 1 to July 11 this year. It said: in more than nine years between 1 January 2000 and 10 July 2009 a total of 789 people were reported killed, 846 injured and 895 abducted by the BSF.

With the latest killing on August 31 the total number of Bangladeshis killed since 1 January 2009 stands at 70 , and that from 1 January 2000 to 31 August , 2009 stands at 797.

The killings of unarmed Bangladeshis by the BSF on the border are continuing in clear violation of the spirit of good neighborliness as well as international law and despite repeated pledges by the Indian authorities to stop it. In every meeting between BSF and BDR and also between the higher level officials of the two countries, the Indian side assures that killing of Bangladeshis by its forces on the border would come to an end immediately. But this pledge is seldom implemented.

Indian BSF had pledged very recently once again to stop killings of Bangladeshi citizens on the border. The assurance was given by BSF Chief Mahendra Lal Kumawat at a joint press briefing on conclusion of the three-day high level BDR-BSF conference in Dhaka on July 14. But it appears that BSF does not mean what it says and hence it continues killing Bangladeshis.

BSF kills 2

BSF kills 2
Star Report

Indian Border Security Force (BSF) killed two Bangladeshi nationals at Meherpur and Benapole on Sunday and yesterday.

The victims are Ershad Ali alias Engine, 32, a cattle trader of Khalshi village in Benapole, and Sariful Islam, 30, of Ishakhali village in Meherpur.

BSF troops of Angrai camp caught Ershad Ali yesterday at Benapole when he was returning from Bongaon and beat him up and tortured with electric shock that left him dead, BDR sources said.

BDR later recovered the body.

In another incident, BSF shot Sariful Islam dead at Ishakhali border on Sunday. BSF took away the body after the incident.

BSF informed BDR of the incident Sunday night.

A BSF team of Taipur camp at Tehatta thana in Murshidabad opened fire on him when he was crossing the border about 4:30am, BDR sources said.

China to give $1b in project funds

China to give $1b in project funds
Unb, Dhaka

China plans to provide over $1 billion for funding three projects in Bangladesh as Dhaka and Beijing are negotiating the terms of the loan.

The projects are: Shahjalal Fertiliser Plant, Digital Telephone Project, introduction of 3G and expansion of 2.5G network, and Pagla Water Treatment Plant.

“It’s my view that these projects coincide with policy goal of the government to improve agriculture production, living environment of the people and to build up digital Bangladesh in 2021,” Chinese Ambassador Zhang Xianyi said.

Speaking to the news agency on the 12th meeting of the Joint Commission on Economic and Trade Cooperation in Beijing, Xianyi said Bangladesh came up with other projects concerning development of infrastructure — road, bridge and railway.

At the meeting, China agreed to extend the term of the unutilised 50 million yuan ($ 7.35 million) interest-free loan for another five years.

The ambassador said China agreed to conduct feasibility study on the seventh friendship bridge on Arial Kha River at Kazirtek in Madaripur. A team from Beijing will come here this year for an appraisal of the project. The Chinese government will build it as a grant to Bangladesh if it is feasible.

The ambassador added both sides at the meeting agreed on further expansion of trade and economic cooperation and accelerating regional cooperation proceedings.

On bilateral trade, the two sides expressed satisfaction over the expansion of the trade volume from $2.48 billion in 2005 to $4.70 billion in 2008.

Asked about a huge trade imbalance, the envoy said China would continue to take constructive measures to expand imports from Bangladesh. China gave preferential treatment to 1,717 items of Bangladesh and special preferential to 162 items under the Framework of the Asia-pacific Trade Agreement. Out of the 162, 84 items enjoy zero taxation.

Besides, he said, Beijing imports 10 percent of total production of jute and jute products from Bangladesh. “We want to import as much as we can but items must be compatible in quality and price,” he added.

At the meeting, Bangladesh sought better access to Chinese market, which was welcomed by the Chinese side.

On economic cooperation, the Ambassador noted that China will write off unpaid debts of interest on loan provided to Bangladesh up to the end of 2008. This is for the first time China exempts debt stemming from interest as a gesture of friendship in the wake of economic recession.

On investment, the ambassador said some $30 million was invested in Bangladesh in 2008, three times higher than the previous year’s.

Govt mum as BSF kills Bangladeshis: Khaleda

Govt mum as BSF kills Bangladeshis: Khaleda
Staff Correspondent

The BNP chairperson, Khaleda Zia, on Thursday blasted the government for its silence over repeated intrusion into Bangladesh by India’s Border Security Force and incidents of killing of Bangladeshis in frontiers.

‘Who have they [the government] shown their allegiance to? They [BSF] are repeatedly intruding into our territory and killing people. But our government is yet to raise any protest,’ she said as she exchanged greetings with the Hindu community on the occasion of Janmashtami.

She also accused the Awami League of deceiving the Hindu community by treating them only as their ‘vote-bank.’ Bangladesh Hindu-Bouddha Kalyan Front members, led by former state minister for water resources Gautam Chakrabarti, met Khaleda in her office at Gulshan.