Bangladesh suffers an estimated annual loss of Tk 135 billion in agriculture alone due to India's unilateral water withdrawal from 54 common rivers in the upstream, a former UN water expert told a discussion in the capital yesterday.
“Two-thirds of Bangladesh, an alluvial land, will turn into desert in the next three decades unless India's unilateral water withdrawal from the trans-boundary rivers is stopped,” Dr SI Khan said.
A platform of engineers and architects, Progotishil Prokousholi O Sthapati Forum, organised the discussion at Dhaka Reporters Unity.
The Teesta barrage project at Dalia in Lalmonirhat to irrigate over seven hundred thousand hectares of agricultural land in greater Rangpur, Dinajpur and Bogra now remains useless during dry season (February-May), as India has already withdrawn water, he said.
Bangladesh needs at least 25,000 cusecs of water flowing in the Teesta in dry season for agriculture and environment but now gets only a maximum of 800 cusecs due to Indian withdrawal, he said.
It will not only ruin Bangladesh's traditional agriculture, fisheries, underground aquifer, river ecology, biodiversity and navigable channels but also increase costs of agricultural production with groundwater from Tk 450 to a staggering Tk 6,000 per acre, said Khan.
The expert stressed that the quantity of river water must be calculated all throughout its course from the source to the confluence, not at any mid-point, while sharing water.
Rivers like the Teesta and the Brahmaputra flow through China, India and Bangladesh, he said, therefore unilateral withdrawal of most of the water by India alone was a contravention of all international laws and conventions.
Bangladesh must immediately raise the issue at the UN, demand compensations, and equal shares of water of all trans-boundary rivers including the Teesta and the Ganges, he said.
About the necessity of barrages and dams, he mentioned that the USA had decommissioned 5,000 dams and Japan 3,000, as those were harmful to the environment and economy.
Referring to a former irrigation minister of India, Dr Khan said India had 6,500 billion cumecs (cubic metre per second) of water in all while it needed only 900 billion cumecs.
Subrata Sarkar, convener of the Forum, said India's withdrawal of 85 percent of dry season water through the Gazoldoba barrage in West Bengal since 1996 had reduced the flow to 500 cusecs in Bangladesh part of the Teesta basin at present.
Noted water expert M Inamul Haque, a former director general of Water Resources Planning Organisation, said the Karatoa, the Atrai and the Punarbhaba rivers in Bangladesh were part of the Teesta basin but withdrawal from the Teesta had rendered those dead with silt. It has also resulted in a drastic fall in Dhuptila aquifer level in Barendra region, he added.
Md Sabbir Mostafa Khan, head of water engineering department at Buet, also spoke.