Rivers and regional cooperation
Regional water sharing and management are today a critical factor in relations between and among states. And nowhere is it more pronounced than in South Asia, where the problem of a sharing of common rivers has often undermined the prospects of bilateral as well as multilateral cooperation. In turn, this absence of cooperation has led to bitterness or mistrust at the political level, to a point where bilateral ties have remained static. But such conditions are today in clear need of reversal owing specifically to the newer and bigger issues thrown up by climate change. The emphasis that has been placed on the global environment in the past decade, if not more, now serves as a warning that unless the spirit of regional cooperation comes into play everywhere and especially in South Asia, it will be the common future of the peoples of the various countries involved that will suffer.
That is the point we would like to stress today. Indeed, it is a point which was effectively deliberated upon at an international seminar in Dhaka on Saturday. Cooperation and understanding, it was made clear, are at present the key elements that can offset the effects of climate change in our part of the world. The difficulty with a lot of people is that the consequences of the changes being wrought in the climate are a factor they yet cannot comprehend fully. One does not blame them given that human nature is never quite ready to believe in the inevitability of things unless the realities are there on the ground. Where the matter is one of the changes taking over the global climate, the effects have already begun to be felt through a series of unnatural movements, such as sudden rains, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and the like. In other words, climate change is well underway and unless nations come together to handle its consequences, it is the earth that will be in jeopardy. The compulsions for a way out of the quagmire have never been greater owing to the common dangers all of us face. Which is why the future of the climate in our part of the world can be handled better and to everyone's satisfaction only when and if a common approach is taken about the Himalayas, the rivers Padma and Brahmaputra and the Sundarbans. That point was made by a speaker at the seminar on Saturday. Indeed, it is the crux of the problem we face today.
The disquieting bit about existing political conditions in the region has been expressed by none other than Bangladesh's foreign minister. While recalling the initialling of the Ganges waters treaty in 1996, she has lamented the excruciatingly slow pace in reaching a deal with India on the Teesta. And one can hardly ignore her feeling that if such is the case, it will take a very, very long time for deals to be reached on all the 54 rivers common to Bangladesh and India. The need, therefore, is a quickening of the pace. Beyond that, it is of the utmost urgency that the leadership of the South Asian region get together and work out the modalities by which the damage already done to the environment can be checked and the manner in which a mechanism to preserve and augment existing climate resources can be brought into play. If 40 per cent of the world's poorest people inhabit South Asia, there is surely no time to lose.