Rivers influence geopolitics in South Asia: Shahidul Haque

The 7th International Water Conference 2022 is being held virtually, organised by ActionAid Bangladesh

Experts at an international conference on Friday stressed taking basin-wise watershed management to address water problems in trans-boundary rivers of South Asia, saying the river issue influences geopolitics in the region.

“Water management has to be basin-wise management starting from the origin and down to the point where river reaches to the ocean”, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) Syeda Rizwana Hasan said while speaking at the conference on its second day.

The 7th International Water Conference 2022 is being held virtually, organised by ActionAid Bangladesh.

Terming rivers a living entity, Rizwana said this value is totally lost in Bangladesh-India negotiation and decision-making process.

She said the nature-based negotiation approach is missing, and the negotiation process should be accountable and transparent regarding the water management and allocation.

Former foreign secretary Shahidul Haque said nowadays water is seen as a strategic asset, not only as a resource.

“In South Asia, river influences geopolitics. Geopolitics is a tool to analyse in the context of political views and national interest,” he said.

Delivering his remarks as a chair on the second day of the conference titled ‘Teesta River Basin: Overcoming the Challenges’, he said geopolitics should not be seen as zero-sum game. “It should be win-win situation looking through the geopolitical lens,” Shahidul said.

The second day of the conference focused on the thematic issues -- Structural Interventions and Regional Geopolitics around Teesta River Basin and Teesta River Basin and its Ecosystem and Gender Implications.

Urging for a basin-wise watershed management in the region, parliament member Hasanul Haq Inu said barrages and dams are affecting the ecosystem of rivers.

Keeping agriculture and food security at centre, executive director, Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) Atiq Rahman said restricting the flow of water by barrage and holding water can disrupt the lives and livelihoods of the river-based people.

He said West Bengal and Bangladesh are fortunate to have good civil society organisations that can act as a catalyst to mitigate any conflicting issues like Teesta river water.

As per the rule, the joint river commission between Bangladesh and India has to be sat twice in a year but the real scenario is different and no fruitful outcome is visible, said general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) Sharif Jamil.

He said the entire river system among the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna should be looked holistically and five riparian countries should sit together and manage these entire three basins because this is an integral part of single river system.

Noting that the Teesta river is linked with 25 rivers in Bangladesh, Tuhin Wadud, a professor of Begum Rokeya University and director of Riverine People, said: “No decision should be taken on the Teesta without consultation with the people living on the banks of the river”.

He said each river has its own characteristics and when it comes to adopting any master plan for the river, it is important to keep in mind about the people and the environment along the river.

Ajaya Dixit, advisor, ISET-Nepal; Sharmind Neelormi, professor of Jahangirnagar University; Minket Lepcha, storyteller, filmmaker, independent researcher; Mahbuba Nasreen, professor and director, Institute of Disaster Management and Vulnerability Studies, University of Dhaka; and Shahnaz Parvin, project coordinator, Gana Unnayan Kendra (GUK) also spoke on the second day of the conference.

Zehrin Ahmed, communications coordinator at Bangladesh, Youth Environmental Initiative (BYEI); Chhaya Namchu, affiliated with West Bengal Lepcha Development Board, and Mayalmith Lepcha, general secretary of Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT) shared their thoughts from the grassroots.