Have you ever heard of Bangladesh? It’s okay to say no, you won’t be the first one…and I’m sure you won’t be the last. It’s a small country, originally part of Bengal until 1947 when India gained its independence and Bengal was divided along religious lines into East and West sections. West Bengal merged with India while East Bengal became a province of Pakistan before gaining its own independence in 1966 and officially becoming known as the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is also widely recognized as one of the countries most in danger of being affected by global climate change. The country is located in a vary low-lying region of the Ganges delta that is already prone to both flooding and droughts, as they have but two seasons: a wet one and a dry one. But modern Bangladesh has one side bordering the ocean with the other three sides surrounded by India…and that therein lies the problem. Why is that a problem? Because that means that every river which flows through Bangladesh must first flow through India.
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In the last decade or so, primarily thanks to advances in both technology and transportation, India has begun damming up more and more of their rivers to irrigate ever-expanding croplands. During the wet season, as the rainwater nears a breaking point, India opens the floodgates of their dams and sends the raging water downstream. This turns an already bad, flooded situation in Bangladesh into a nightmare as an extra torrent of water comes pouring through the already flooded coastal villages. But one of the biggest complaints from the residents and government officials of the country is that the Indian government does not even both to notify them, so they never even have a chance to prepare.
As the seasonal rains taper off, India closes their floodgates and Indian citizens in the far western regions of the country life off the reservoir to sustain them through the dry season. Meanwhile, all the farmers left downstream in Bangladesh see is a premature tapering off of the rivers, thus ensuring a more rapid start to their dry season. In recent years the numbers have become dismal. Since the late 1970s around 670,000 thousands people in Bangladesh have died from floods, not to mention how many have died from malnutrition or hunger during the dry season. And the future does not look any better either, especially when you factor in the rising ocean levels and the vast low lying lands of Bangladesh.
I don’t want to ramble on forever about information that many of you may already know. It’s no secret that dams frequently do as much bad as good, namely the displacement and destruction of low-lying farmlands and settlements during the initial filling process, but also by siphoning much-needed water from the settlements downstream. But unexpected results have also been documented, such as the always tragic yet now proven earthquakes that can result as a result from the increased water weight upon the earth’s crust — case in point the highly controversial Zipingpu Dam and ensuing Sichuan earthquake in China. The Chinese government still to this day denies that the two are related and continues to refuse outside scientists attempting to study the area.
The issue has become so bad in recent years that a documentary was made, Water Wars. It is a captivating and well laid out documentary that not only covers the issues in Bangladesh, India, and China, but also relates to other countries around the world. Case in point the Watersnood of 1953 that occurred in the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as the advanced water/flood control measures and technology that the Dutch have pioneered since then. Few may realize it but a Dutch team was one of the first responders to Louisiana and the southern portions of United States after the infamous hurricane Katrina of 2005. It also illustrates just how scarce of a commodity water has started to become around the world.
- For more reading…
- Himal South Asian Blog Over The Top article
- PeakWater.org articles over Brahmaputra River
- Jeywin: Indian Gov’t article on India-China relations regarding the Brahmaputra River