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'Saline death' for half the country

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River-linking by India

'Saline death' for half the country

Impact assessment report sees ecological disaster in Bangladesh; Teesta, 3 other rivers to perish; experts fear damage may go far beyond the forecast

Salinity will creep into Manikganj, Kushtia, Goalanda, Bhairab and beyond if India implements its controversial river-linking project.

And the biodiversity of almost half of Bangladesh, even of the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest, will be ruined, a group of Bangladeshi experts has assessed.

The experts conducted a study five years ago to ascertain the impact of the Indian project that involves linking 30 major rivers and diverting the water of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra.

About 30,000 square kilometres of Khulna and Barisal divisions and parts of Rajshahi and Dhaka divisions will be severely affected, they have noted. The capital also falls in the danger zone.

“We basically conducted a qualitative study based on information we got from several sources. The effect could be even worse,” said a senior hydro and geo-environment analyst who was involved with the study.

There will be no flow in the north-western rivers -- the Teesta, Mahananda, Dharla and Dudhkumar -- during the monsoon as water will be diverted to the river Fulhar through the river Mechi.

The mega plan has remained highly contentious since it was first devised in 1980. Environmentalists and neighbouring countries oppose it, saying its execution will wreak havoc on the ecology of the entire region.

India maintains the Rs 5,000-crore project will increase its irrigation coverage from 120 million hectares to 160m and boost crop production.

The issue drew the attention of the media both in Bangladesh and Indian again on Monday as the Indian Supreme Court ordered a quick implementation of the project and appointed a high-powered committee to put it into action.

Biodiversity, agriculture and industry of the Ganges Dependant Area (GDA) -- both sides of the river Padma -- and parts of the Meghna river bank will be badly hit if India executes its river plan.

The GDA alone covers 20 percent of the country and is home to around 30 million people.

“A large population in the country will be devastated due to lack of sweet water,” said M Inamul Haque, chairman of Water and Environment, a non-government organisation.

The river-linking project aims at diverting river water from India's north-eastern region, an area with 3,500mm rainfall a year to its west, a region with annual rainfall as low as 700mm.

The result would be an extreme environmental degradation not only in Bangladesh but also in some parts of India, he said.

“It would destroy the biodiversity in half of the country's plain land and wetland.”

The assessment report of Bangladeshi experts echoed the view of Inamul Haque.

They forecast a decline in river water and sedimentation, rise in salinity of soil, surface and groundwater, damage to agriculture, fisheries, navigation routes, coastal biodiversity and fisheries, and an increase in river erosion.

The experts who conducted the study do not want to be named.

They say if the Indian project is implemented, the Madhumati, Dhaleshwari, Padma and Meghna rivers will face saline intrusion.

The mighty Brahmaputra, which is known as the Jamuna and which meets up two-thirds of the country's demand of water during the dry seasons, will lose navigability.

Some other rivers -- Gorai, Madhumati, Nabagnaga, Ichhamati-Mathabhanga, Kapotakkhya, Betna, Meghna, Surma, Kushiara, Old Brahmaputra, Dhaleshwari, Buriganga, Shitalakkhya, Arial Kha and Turag -- will shrink.

The scheme will require construction of large barrages to store water for lean period. India will have to release water during the monsoon, resulting in prolonged floods in Bangladesh, said a young hydrologist who also conducted a portion of the study.

The study also says the river project will lead to inundations in Barisal and Noakhali.

Source : theDailyStar

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